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Local student BLM protesters experience support, hostility

When Ren Hammond saw the Confederate flags and the Trump 2020 and White Lives Matter signs on display Saturday on South Main Street in Bryan, across from the Walmart entrance, she knew she had to do something.

Hammond, 14, a freshman at Bryan High School this coming school year, messaged her friend Tatum Blatteau, also a 14-year-old BHS freshman.

“It really (ticked) me off. I told Tatum, and we decided to come out here (Sunday), right across from where they were,” Hammond said, explaining that the idea is to show their support publicly for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as gay and transgender people.

They made homemade signs and set up on the corner in front of the McDonald’s on Sunday as a counterprotest. On Monday, Blatteau and Hammond returned and were joined by their friend Cassandra Nichols, also 14 and a student with the K-12 online school.

“We just feel like a lot of people are being denounced. It’s like Black culture doesn’t matter ... it isn’t respected or accepted by the white culture,” Blatteau said.

“People say that Black Lives Matter brainwashes teens ... that it’s racist. We disagree with that,” added Hammond, who said she is biracial and identifies as gay and transgender.

Hammond and Blatteau said they’ve received much support, with passersby honking their horns and giving them the thumbs up sign. But they’ve also been somewhat surprised at how much hostility they’ve experienced, including name-calling and several instances of what they consider threats and attempts to intimidate them.

“We’ve had people flipping us off, calling us names. One woman was videotaping us. Then she came up to us and called us (prostitutes),” Blatteau said.

Both said a man parked next to them in the McDonald’s parking lot, got out of the car and hurled insults at them.

“Before he left he said he was going to come back and unleash the purge on us,” Hammond said, as Blatteau nodded in agreement.

Hammond and Blatteau also said they were dismayed at the amount of hostility and negative comments they were subject to on a local social media page.

“It was just a lot of hate,” Blatteau said, showing a reporter her phone with one of the messages that she said has since been deleted.

Hammond and Blatteau said an unidentified Bryan police officer visited them Sunday, was very pleasant and even brought them some ice on a day when the temperature was in the high 80s. They said he was friendly and reminded them they could be on the public sidewalk and to be respectful if someone needed to walk by them.

“As long as everybody is civil, and stays on the sidewalk and where they’re supposed to be, we have no problem. It’s about taking everybody’s safety into consideration,” Bryan Police Chief Chris Chapa said Monday.

Hammond, Blatteau and Nichols said they intended to join an ongoing Black Lives Matter protest on Bryan’s courthouse square later on Monday evening.

“It’s not just Black Lives Matter; white lives matter; gay rights matter,” said Hammond, who noted she has first-hand experience at facing hostility both at school and with her family for being gay, transgender and biracial.

“No one stops it. No one cares. The older generation says do something (to affect positive change), so we’re doing something,” she said.

Wellmann new priest at St. Pat's

Two Williams County Catholic churches have a new priest in the Rev. Andrew Wellmann.

Wellmann previously served a parish in Newark, Ohio, before Bishop Daniel Thomas assigned him to be the parochial administrator for both St. Patrick and Sacred Heart parishes in Bryan and Montpelier respectively.

Wellmann started in the position on July 1, taking over for the Rev. James Halleron, who left for medical reasons.

He originally hails from Delphos, where he was active in the church and went to St. John’s Catholic School from preschool through high school.

“(The priesthood) was something I just considered as an option and I seriously considered it,” he said. “I went to college, not the seminary at that point, I just went to college.”

For one year, Wellmann was a general studies major at Ohio Northern University.

While there, he thought he should give the seminary a try.

“In life, you have to try and that’s what I did,” Wellmann said. “That’s part of what the sermon is about, is listening to the voice of God and discerning what it is He is asking of you and then having the courage to do it.”

He first attended the Pontifical College Josephinum, a seminary in Columbus, where he studied philosophy.

From there, he went to Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, near Cleveland, where he studied theology.

He was ordained in 2018, doing an internship in Mansfield before spending two years at a parish in Newark.

Now, he has two parishes and a school.

“I’m very excited to have the church but I’m also excited to have the school because a school is a reminder that the church is alive, that the church is young,” Wellmann said. “When you have the ability to interact and to form young people, it’s a big obligation, a big responsibility ... but it’s also a big joy.”

Part of that responsibility this year will be handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

School officials and Wellmann are working on finalizing the pandemic response plan.

“That is something we’re going to release as soon as it’s ready,” Wellmann said. “We just have a few more things we’re finalizing. Of course, you know, it changes. Something like that is so fluid and so fluctuating. And that’s part of it. But, we’re making good progress.”

The church has resumed in-person services, though they are seating people every other row and are mandating the wearing of masks.

“We’re doing all we can to keep people safe, healthy and comfortable,” Wellmann said. “I’m pretty pleased with how we’ve done ... We just monitor the latest updates and act accordingly.”

Wellmann has been in Bryan and Montpelier for less than a month, but he has already helped with a reverse raffle, which he said went really well.

Overall, he likes the parishes.

“We have great people, we have talented people ... very bright stars, I like to call them,” Wellmann said. “I’m very grateful for people being patient with me, for showing me around, for showing me things because that’s a really big part. When you’re new somewhere, there’s a lot to learn. People have been very helpful, very kind to me.”

After only three weeks, it’s a little hard for him to say if there is anything in particular he’d like see done or changed at the parishes.

However, he said he was a “high energy” person.

“We’ll just see where that goes,” Wellmann said. “I do have some ideas, a lot of people have ideas. We’re just going to see what we can work together and accomplish.”

He also likes the Williams County community and is looking forward to checking out the parks.

There’s also Sonic.

“I love Sonic,” he said. “I get the blasts, the Sonic Blasts and the slush. Those are my favorite items.”

Outside of his duties as a priest, Wellmann enjoys watching the New York Yankees and The Ohio State University football.

He also enjoys concerts, reading and being out in nature and traveling. Wellmann’s parents are still in Delphos and his sister is in Chicago.

When it comes to saints, saints Andrew and James are big parts of his life, coming from his first and middle names.

Of course, he also had nothing but good things to say about St. Patrick.

“He’s great,” Wellmann said. “I really like St. Patrick. You know, St. Patrick is special because he did so much to evangelize the whole country of Ireland.”

His other parish’s patron is also special.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, though not a saint, is still great as “you can’t do better than the heart of Christ,” he said.

On a personal level, Wellmann selected St. Nicholas as his personal role model for Confirmation.

“I also have to mention Pope St. John Paul II, who is, I would say, really my favorite saint of the modern era,” he said. “He’s had a big influence on me, I would say.”

How two state legislatures passed two FirstEnergy bailouts on the same day

In a 24-hour span last summer, two state legislatures passed two separate bailouts that will divert millions of taxpayer dollars annually into FirstEnergy coffers.

In Ohio, lawmakers passed House Bill 6 on July 23, 2019, which tacks an 85-cent monthly surcharge on ratepayers and $2,400 for industrial customers to bail out two FirstEnergy Solutions nuclear plants.

Federal prosecutors, who arrested the Ohio House speaker and four allies last week in connection to an alleged racketeering scheme to pass the bill, said the legislation was worth about $1.3 billion for FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries.

Across the river that same day in West Virginia, lawmakers passed House Bill 207, which exempts a FirstEnergy plant outside Parkersburg from $12.5 million from the state’s business and occupation tax. Company officials told lawmakers the bailout would save 160 jobs.

Allegations of foul play linger over both bills, which were passed by their respective states July 23, 2019.

Federal prosecutors alleged FirstEnergy funneled $61 million through a “criminal enterprise” controlled by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to guarantee HB 6’s passage. The money was allegedly used to fund preferred candidates, pressure their votes, enrich the conspirators personally, and thwart any effort to recall the legislation through a ballot referendum.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice’s added HB 207 to a slate of bills he wanted considered in a special legislative session on a weekend’s notice.

What Justice didn’t tell lawmakers was FirstEnergy was in active litigation with a coal company he owns. FirstEnergy alleges Bluestone Energy Sales Corp. owes the company $3.1 million for a breach of contract when a deal turned sour. The lawsuit is ongoing.

The Akron-based utility also employs Larry Puccio, a close Justice adviser, as its lobbyist in West Virginia. Puccio lobbies for two of Justice’s private companies as well.

Ben Salango, a Democrat challenging Justice for governor, issued a statement last week calling on the incumbent to “come clean” and release information about his dealings with FirstEnergy.

Justice, who has received $4,000 in contributions from FirstEnergy PAC and the company’s CEO since HB 207 passed, responded to Salango’s statement at a press conference.

“From the standpoint of hinting toward that we would, me, that I would take a campaign donation and everything, and do it inappropriately is so ridiculous it’s off the charts,” he said. “There’s no chance in all the world that I would do such a thing.”

Lame duck Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael said he recalled the local county commissioners were the bailout’s largest supporters, given the 160 jobs that would have been lost without the bailout.

“It should impact how [Justice] handles it, it wouldn’t impact how we handle it,” Carmichael said.

FirstEnergy, its subsidiary, and its political action committee all received subpoenas last week, company CEO Charles Jones told shareholders on Friday.

Jones stood by his support for “legislative solutions” to support the plants and his opposition to the recall efforts. He said the situation was “serious and disturbing” but the company acted properly throughout.

“Let me be clear, at no time does our support for nuclear plants in Ohio interfere or supersede our ethical obligations to conduct our business properly,” he said. “The facts will become clear as the investigation progresses and we support bringing the facts forward.”

A FirstEnergy spokeswoman did not respond to written questions and referred a reporter to the call with shareholders.

Montpelier mulling home energy ordinance

MONTPELIER — The Montpelier Village Council had the first reading of an ordinance setting rules for renewable energy-generating devices on personal and business properties.

Village Manager Jason Rockey said the council considered the idea behind the ordinance in 2015, but nothing happened.

“I know there has been talk residentially of people wanting to put solar power at their houses,” he said. “It’s not something that we’re just going to be able to ban as people will just look for other places to be able to build those projects. And they’re not, necessarily, a bad thing for the village.”

The village needs to accept the technology and have control over it, Rockey added.

Mayor Steve Yagelski said he remembered the discussion coming up before and believed part of the reason for council’s inaction was from the fire chief.

“His concern was if there was a structure fire and it has, whether it be solar or wind, they come up and cut our power to the house, but the back feed is still generating power. That’s a safety concern,” he said. “That’s what stuck out to me.”

Rockey said that was discussed in the ordinance, requiring a disconnect the same as a backup diesel or natural gas generator.

The ordinance also touches on other topics, including rate, stating the purchase price for power supplied to the village will be equivalent to the average cost per kilowatt hour the village paid during the previous year.

On-site generation of power will be limited to 10 KW or the customer’s estimated peak load, whichever is less.

Customers must also apply for and enter into an interconnection agreement with the village. A bi-directional meter must also be installed at the customer’s expense. An application fee may also be charged.

“If you don’t have anything controlling it, it’s going to start going in and you’re going to be in trouble,” Rockey said. “By passing an ordinance to control it, our electricians will go out to inspect it.”

There is also interest in residential and business solar power as Rockey said three or four different solar companies have also called him to see what their rules are.

Councilman Nate Thompson said solar and wind power options are getting more and more popular.

“I think it’s coming here,” he said.

Rockey said he got the information for the ordinance’s wording from John Courtney of Courtney & Associates, based off information from American Municipal Power.

Village Law Director Chris Walker looked over the wording.

The ordinance had a successful first reading with a 4-0 vote. Councilmen Chris Kannel and Don Schlosser were absent Monday.