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Senate passes congressional map that continues GOP stronghold over state; House consideration and passage likely coming next

Ohio Senate Republicans rushed through a congressional redistricting map Tuesday introduced to the public less than 24 hours before.

It was passed out of committee 5-2 along partisan lines before being passed by the whole chamber later in the day 24-7, also along partisan lines.

The passage came on the same day a committee who had been considering a different map as part of Senate Bill 258, substituted the map that state Sen. Rob McColley, sponsor of the bill, said was spearheaded by Senate President Matt Huffman, along with House Speaker Bob Cupp.

An analysis of the map on Dave’s Redistricting App shows seven Republican districts, two Democratic districts and six districts listed as competitive for being within a 54-46 margin. Five in six of the “competitive” districts lean Republican, and the one that leans Democratic, Ohio’s 13th district, does so by 0.88%.

Senate President Matt Huffman said negotiations had been going on since the census data came out, but that in terms of congressional redistricting, Dems and the GOP were “at loggerheads.”

Huffman accused Democrats of gerrymandering, saying their demand was for a map that had six Dem districts and six Republican ones, which he didn’t think was “within the spirit of the reforms.”

“I think we all pretty much knew where we were at,” Huffman said on Tuesday.

Minority Leader Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, had previously said on the Senate floor that he had hoped for better.

“I was hoping for a little more compromise. I was hoping there would be a little more conversation,” Yuko said.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, said in an argument against the maps on the Senate floor that it was obvious that the 13-2 maps were gerrymandered in favor of the GOP, and even the Democratically leaning Hamilton County was drawn in favor of Republicans in terms of the next election.

“This supposed competitive district leans Republican by more than 3 points…making it an automatic uphill battle for the Democrat,” Thomas said.

The constitution’s “plain language” was the most important part of determining district lines, as McColley argued on the floor of the Senate. Huffman said there were things they had to interpret, such as the shapes of districts, but issues not explicitly stated in the redistricting rules had to take a back seat.

“In the end, the constitution comes first, and those aspirational things come second,” Huffman said.

Thomas and other Democrats criticized the lack of racial data used in determining the maps, just as supporters of Democratic maps had said GOP maps unfairly split communities, particularly communities of color. Huffman doubled down on the fact that Republicans didn’t use racial data, saying it’s illegal for them to do so unless “there is appropriate evidence presented which requires that.”

He said the maps were drawn with race in mind as a divisive factor.

“(Thomas) is wrong that we simply tried to draw lines having to do with race in this case,” Huffman said.

In Senate Local Government and Elections Committee Tuesday morning, McColley defended the map, Huffman and Cupp by saying he supports it as drafted.

“(Cupp and Huffman) have done an awful lot of due diligence and have done an awful lot of discussions on this map, so anything that I’m going to do is going to be deferring to them,” McColley said.

McColley also seemed to suggest that Ohio could be a swing state in saying district lines shouldn’t be the “end all, be all arbiter” for determining political power and the results of future elections.

“You can look in the legislature, you can look in Congress, you can look other places and realize that in many cases, the shifting sands of politics and the issues of the day ultimately are what decide elections, it’s not just simply because you are a 50.1 (percent lean) or a 49.9,” McColley said. “Given a period of time, these seats could switch back and forth potentially over the course of a decade.”

The map was universally panned by anti-gerrymandering groups like All On the Line and the League of Women Voters and Ohioans who have spoke up in committee hearings since the beginning of the process.

Many complaints, as in previous map hearings, rested on procedure, with testimonies that were put in ahead of the 24-hour advance submission rule being tossed out by their authors, because they pointed to a map that was no longer on the table.

Fair Districts Ohio member Trevor Martin said the abbreviated timeline of last night didn’t allow for a comprehensive review of the maps, only an “eyeball test” of the district lines and shapes.

“We have no idea what we’re looking at, what we’re looking at is a mess,” Martin told the Senate committee. “It’s like you don’t hear us, and it’s infuriating.”

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, asked in vain for more hearings because without shape files to look at, zooming on a PDF was their only option, and not the ideal way.

Katy Shanahan, of the Ohio chapter of All On the Line responded for several testifiers when state Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, said the anger and accusations of cheating by the Senate GOP expressed by advocates was “a unique method of persuasion on the part of those who are opposing this bill.”

“So, you’re right, a lot of what you’re hearing today is exasperation, it’s frustration and it’s righteous anger that we have to stand here and beg you to care enough about our democracy to do the right thing and deliver on your campaign promises to give us a fair map and a fair redistricting process,” Shanahan said.

Portman wants to build but opposes Build Back Better

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) got to watch the president sign the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law Monday morning but stands against a separate proposed bill, the Build Back Better Act.

Portman held a press call Tuesday afternoon to discuss both between votes on Capitol Hill.

“It was a big week for Ohio and the country,” he said. “The infrastructure bill is great example of what happens when we set aside partisanship.

“Our infrastructure is in bad shape,” he said. “We’ve been talking about that for three decades and now we’re finally doing something about it.”

Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge, which merges Interstate 71 and Interstate 75 over the Ohio River, was a prime example, said Portman, a Cincinnati-area resident.

“Three percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (finished goods) travels over the bridge every year but it is functionally obsolete, carrying more traffic than it was ever designed for. The bottlenecks are a constant problem. Now we have a tool to combine local, state and federal funds to finally address it,” he said.

The Infrastructure bill also increased federal funding for airports throughout Ohio, “which everyone was talking about,” Portman added.

He noted that $25 billion was earmarked for lead remediation, Great Lakes restoration to counter toxic algae blooms and safe drinking water initiatives.

“An unprecedented amount,” Portman said.

The bill provides funding to increase broadband internet access throughout the state and a national-level cybersecurity center to counter international threats. It also includes funding to support domestic production of steel and iron as well as personal protective equipment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This infrastructure bill is counter-inflationary, supporting long-term investment over eight to 12 years to improve bridges, ports and supply channels,” he said. The administration’s $4.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, on the other hand, would exacerbate inflation issues, he said.

“It involves higher taxes, the single highest tax increase we’ve ever seen,” Portman said. “That’s going to be tough on families and businesses already dealing with the highest inflation rate we’ve seen in 30 years.”

The bigger problem, he said, is that most of the act’s funding is transitory, based on stimulating the economy.

“Adding so much at once increases demand but we’re still dealing with supply restrictions,” he said.

That is a perfect recipe for inflation, he said.

“We added a $1.8 trillion stimulus in March and saw a 0.9% inflation increase by October. If that trend continues we’ll see an 11.4% (increase) by the end of the year. That’s really going to make it tough on Ohio families struggling with the high cost of gas, home heating and groceries. I’ve urged the administration to shelve that. It just overheats the economy,” Portman said.

North Central parent upset after urination incident

PIONEER — North Central Local Schools Superintendent William D. Hanak opened Tuesday’s school board meeting in triumph, introducing each member of the district semifinalist varsity volleyball team and their individual accomplishments during the single best season on record.

However, a little while later, tempers flared during the time allotted for public discussion.

Hanak introduced the team by stating, “It’s kind of a unique situation. This is, in fact, the best team ever to come through North Central in the history of the school which started in 1958.

“They’ve won an awful lot of games and excelled in the classroom,” he said. “Sectional champions, district semi-finalists, all-state scholarship team. 19-5 overall, 6-1 in the Buckeye Border Conference and, for the first time ever for the school, Kendal Bonney achieved 1,000 career kills. They are fantastic kids, fantastic students and fantastic athletes and we are very proud of them.”

Then, before the team left the room, parent Jamie Terrill stated, in open session with the media present, that her 8-year-old son had an “accident” in class on Oct. 27.

The problem, she said, was that the school’s Eagle Bucks program rewards students for positive behaviors, including participation in regularly scheduled bathroom breaks. It “promotes kids trying to withhold necessary bodily functions because they want to earn more Eagle Bucks,” she said. “Doing so can cause a whole bunch of medical crises, not to mention them not being able to hold it and having the same situation my son had to deal with already.

“Rather than demerits, I’d like to see it used as positive reinforcement or a reward system instead of teaching finance that they will learn later on,” Terrill said. “They are young children and they shouldn’t have to learn that stuff. They should be kids a little longer.”

Audience member Felice Lanham added that she was “appalled” by what she was hearing, “not just (from) this lady but many others with children urinating in their pants. Why can’t children go to the bathroom when they need to? What’s behind that?”

Board member Anthony Burnett responded by stating the Eagle Bucks program has been in place nine years, and dates to when his own daughter was in school. This was the first such incident he had ever heard of and he met with the faculty and administration as soon as it came to his attention.

“Nothing is keeping any child from going,” he said. “One classroom takes six breaks a day and another five. If a child has to go in between they are allowed to go. We don’t keep them from going just so they soil themselves in a classroom.”

He also stated that he disagreed with the pay-to-go process and the school had “reversed the system.”

Said Hanak: “It’s not just about going to the bathroom. When you’re in a classroom you can’t just send kids out all the time while you’re with a bunch of other kids. The whole concept is about safety as well.”

Hanak said the pay-to-go process had been eliminated and no student would be penalized for using the facilities, but they would still get bonus points for not leaving the classroom between scheduled breaks.

“So you’re encouraging them to hold it as long as they can?” an unidentified audience member shouted.

“They can go to the bathroom any time they want,” Hanak said. “They can and they do. Nobody here is encouraging anybody to not go to the bathroom. Nobody in this school would want somebody to go the bathroom in their pants and not do anything about it. That’s not who we are, that’s not who North Central is and it’s not who these teachers are. They are outstanding people who do a great job; They work hard to make things the best they can plus educate kids but it’s hard to educate kids when they aren’t in the classroom.”

Terrill then insisted the school “eliminate bathrooms altogether from Eagle Bucks. My son shouldn’t have to sit in dry (urine) clothes because nobody pays attention. You opened the door for so many, many things. Children don’t forget anything. He will carry this for the remainder of his school career wherever he goes.”

Lanham reiterated that she had “heard from many, many parents, because I’ve asked them, that this happened before to their kids. This bathroom thing is ridiculous and it’s been going on for years. Some say this has happened to their kids three times.

“You just hear so many stories,” she said. “Maybe you should check into how many times this has happened over the years.”

Board member Tim Livengood, who also serves as the village of Pioneer police chief, replied, “Sometimes one coming forward brings up others. They hear it or see it posted on social media and it gets in the hands of many people.

“We have to have an opportunity to sit down and look at the program,” Livengood said. “Can we please everyone? Absolutely not. There will always be something; If you look long enough and hard enough you can find fault with anything.”

That’s when a second unidentified parent stated, “My child was involved, too.”

In other business, the board went into closed, executive session from 7:23-8:05 p.m. to discuss employment. Afterward, in a four-to-one decision, they approved the creation of a new custodian/bus driver job description. Leigh Boothman, who cast the lone vote against the measure, declined to comment on her vote when asked by The Bryan Times.

Local police committed to crisis intervention

PIONEER — Every 911 call represents a crisis of some sort, so the Pioneer Police Department has committed to certifying its entire force through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.

Patrol officer James Walters completed the course at Northwest State Community College last week and officer Parker Phillips finished up two weeks before that. The 40-hour course is funded by grants from the Four County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMhs) Board at no cost to any department. It was initially developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate in Memphis, Tennessee, along with the Memphis Police Department to deescalate confrontations caused by mental illness. To date, 187 law enforcement officers in northwest Ohio have completed the training.

“Our goal for the department, because there’s so many different crises going on in this day and age, is to get all our officers trained,” Police Chief Tim Livengood said. “I’ll take the course next year along with my lieutenant and school resource officer.

“We handle about six well-being checks a month and not all of them are behavioral health issues but we’ve clearly seen, since the COVID-19 pandemic started, more behavioral health issues reported,” he said. “It’s the isolation and the fact that people have to stretch out time between their appointments. Law enforcement has to deal more and more with that when people can’t get to their appointments in a timely manner.”

Drena Teague, a retired mental health professional, coordinated this year’s training events.

“It seems we always start with a number of the participants who are skeptical about what they are going to learn or how mental health professionals can possibly teach them anything because they have no idea what a police officer goes through,” Teague said. “As the week progresses and instructors begin presenting, the officers seem to relax. Officer safety is emphasized along with effective de-escalation techniques for a mental health crisis, and the new techniques are presented as just another tool that they can use.”

Parker said the best part of the course is finding out how many resources he was able to reach out to and he keeps a binder in his cruiser with all the names of the organizations and phone numbers. “It’s not just ‘Get to the hospital and we’re done here,’” he said.

“We got to tour A Renewed Mind in Napoleon, the Maumee Valley (Guidance Center) in Defiance and the Bryan Community Health Center,” he said. “I never knew what they did there. I thought they were just a part of the hospital.”

Napoleon Police Chief Dave Mack and Detective Jamie Mendez taught the course with students from the Bryan, Pioneer and Defiance police departments, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, the Juvenile Detention, Training and Rehabilitation Center in Stryker and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Mack was one of the first officers in the region to use CIT techniques in 2007 and he saw results immediately.

“This lady was in her apartment, banging her head against the wall for about six hours, non-stop,” he said. “She was freaking out the neighbors ... 375 pounds and six inches taller than me with a history of violence. She came at us with a baseball bat once and we had to use batons.”

To de-escalate the situation, “Mack got down on one knee wedding-proposal style and said, ‘Hi. I’m Dave,’” Napoleon Police Lt. Ed Legg said. “Thirty minutes later, they walked arm-in-arm into an ambulance and rode to the hospital together.”

“We spend a lot of time talking about time because it’s relative,” Mack said. “It takes me seven minutes to arrest somebody for disorderly conduct, another 15 to fill out the paperwork and another 20 to drive them out to the Corrections Center (of Northwest Ohio) in Stryker, but the effect on that person can last for years. They lose jobs, friends and neighbors and family, all because of the stigma that comes with an arrest.

“But time changes if we get into use of force. Then the officer may have to deal with effects for years if he, she or an innocent bystander gets injured ... An extra few minutes to assess and de-escalate usually leads to a better outcome. Everything goes better for the officer, the perpetrator, both their families and the community as a whole.

“Mental illness is like cancer. Nobody wakes up and asks for it,” Mack said. “They don’t say ‘I want to be bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed. It’s just the cards they’re dealt and the criminal activity associated with that is a side effect. They aren’t trying to be defiant or belligerent. It’s just stuff they can’t control sometimes. We need to find help first then deal with the consequences of those actions later, if we need to at all.”

The Bryan Police Department is also working to get all of its officers certified as well. "We sent three in October and two in November,"  Interim Police Chief Greg Ruskey said. 

Many components to Cops and Kids

WEST UNITY — Every year, police officers from all around the county come together to give needy kids a good Christmas and fond memories of officers in the Cops and Kids program.

Commonly called Shop with a Cop, the Cops and Kids program will be held this year on Dec. 11 at 9 a.m. at the Bryan Walmart.

West Unity Police Chief J.R. Jones said it takes the effort of several different components including police departments, the Fraternal Order of Police and the schools.

“There’s a lot of components that work with this,” he said at the the Williams County Mayors Association meeting Wednesday evening. “It’s the community, the donations, obviously we couldn’t do this without all that. As of today, I’ve already taken over $1,000 in West Unity for donations.”

Churches, non-profits and everyday citizens all help with the vital donations.

Jones said the experience can be “eye opening.”

“I know I’ve had some kids who maybe only spend a quarter of the money on themselves,” he said. “It’s (spent on) Mom, on Brother, Dad.”

Jeremy Viers, president of the Captain Custar FOP Lodge and a member of the Bryan Police Department, said the FOP has been doing the program for as long as he can remember.

“We rent out the movie theater, we have two movies and pizza and spend the whole afternoon with the kids,” he said.

In addition to school children, he said they have also included the Williams County Board of Developmental Disabilities and many departments have other side programs to reach different groups of people.

The FOP hires an outside solicitor to both come to the area and to call in order to solicit donations. Viers said the person who usually handles it is named Doug Baker.

Because of this, it can be confusing at times whether or not it is a real call or a scam call.

“What I tell people is if they are unable to identify (the caller)... they can drop off the donations to their local police department,” Viers said.

Because they want to focus on the kids most at need for this program, the FOP teams up with the schools throughout the county to find the kids to participate.

Amy Welling, the care coordinator at Millcreek-West Unity Local Schools, said last year 16 kids from Hilltop participated in the program.

“We have a form at school that is sharing information,” she said, adding the participating kids are in kindergarten through fourth grade. “I will call families who have said yes to that and ask if they need any assistance. Most of the time, people say, ‘No, I think we’re OK this year, but if we need anything I’ll let you know.’ So, I really feel like they are being honest with me.”

Welling works with Kiwanis, as well, which helps families at Christmastime through Job and Family Services. She tries to refer students whose families do not work with JFS for the program.

Overall, she said it’s a great thing for the kids.

“This is a wonderful program, the kids absolutely adore it,” Welling said.

After the presentation, the Mayors Association voted to donate $1,500 to Cops and Kids.