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Amphitheater under construction
Amphitheater construction begins in Bryan

Orange fences and construction equipment provided the signs early last week that after years of fundraising and planning, Bryan’s Project 2020 initiative officially began construction of an amphitheater in Bryan’s Recreation Park, adjacent to the bathrooms near the Imagination Station.

Mike Shaffer, a committee member and shareholder with the Project 2020 initiative, said there is some uncertainty regarding when the amphitheater will be completed due to some supply chain issues as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but he anticipates it should be built sometime around late summer to early fall of this year.

Kent Purk, a partner with the Defiance architecture firm of Beilharz Architects, has worked on design of the feature, which Shaffer said includes a raised stage approximately 38 feet wide and 34 feet deep.

Eventually the project will also include an interactive fountain with 15 lighted jets that “dance,” adjacent to the amphitheater. However, that part of the project will likely be pushed off to next spring, Shaffer said.

At this point, the $260,000 raised for the project is enough to cover the cost of the amphitheater, but when the coronavirus outbreak changed the allotment of some state funds the group was anticipating, Shaffer said it became clear that Project 2020 will need to do some additional fundraising to add the fountain.

“We’re very excited to get the project going,” Shaffer said. “We’ve just got to figure out which events can be planned with the restrictions in place and get some things on the calendar. It would be very optimistic to think we could do something yet this fall, but there’s potential for a soft opening.

“Really I think next summer there will be some more focus to get a few events on the schedule if everything works right. But we’re excited and it’s kind of cool to see everything finally come to fruition,” Shaffer said.

Project 2020 originated in 2009 when a group of area residents came up with the idea to build money over time in order to finance a single, major project in the Bryan area.

In 2017, the Bryan Area Foundation, which has helped oversee the initiative, put out a call for possible ideas to put the money to good use. Shaffer said the committee met late last year and was unanimous in making the amphitheater the final recommendation.


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Squirrels, trees and electrical issues led to recent BMU power outages

Bryan Municipal Utilities has experienced an uncharacteristically high level of electrical outages in May and June, with no one overriding reason as the culprit, according to BMU Electric Superintendent Al Sullivan.

Several outages in June were caused by “eight squirrels, six trees and three electrical failures,” Sullivan said Tuesday.

The June issues contributed to an increase in the timespan of BMU’s typical outages. Called the BMU System Average Interruption Duration Index, it rose from an average of 10-12 minutes in a typical May and June, to 55 minutes in May and June 2020.

The number is calculated by dividing the sum of all customer interruptions’ duration by number of customers served.

The U.S. median is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

“The storm season and the squirrels are a never-ending battle for us as far as them getting into places they shouldn’t be,” said Sullivan. “We do squirrel-proofing and cover up things, but they still seem to get into certain areas they shouldn’t. Any time they touch something energized it’s going to cause an outage.”

Sullivan said areas are prepped to deter squirrels periodically throughout the year, along with any time an incident pops up.

“We try to do our best and shield them from our poles,” said Sullivan. “But it’s not 100%.”

A few downtown Bryan residents may have noticed an outage on June 3, during which a squirrel got into a switch in the area of Titan Tire, which tripped the breaker and “blipped” power.

On June 10, storms reared their head. Numerous downed trees in places like the 400 block of East Wilson Street, the 05000 block of County Road 15.75, the 100 block Sycamore Lane and in the 1900 block of East Wilson Street — plus a damaged line between the power plant and Daggett Substation — conspired to cause tripping of multiple circuit breakers and power outages.

Sullivan noted that an extensive effort was undertaken to remove and trim trees near lines over the past year, but that secondary line areas might still pose problems.

In the second large-scale outage of the month, on June 19, a lighting arrester failure occurred at Bona Vesta, tripping breakers at the corresponding substation and causing an outage that lasted about 45 minutes and affected 717 customers.

“It could’ve been weakened by a storm before and all of a sudden it decided to explode,” said Sullivan. “Those things are known to do that. They’re only good for a certain amount of amperage. We’ve got thousands on our system and you can’t replace them all at once ... You can’t visually see what’s wrong with them.

“We try our best to be proactive,” he said.

On June 28, two squirrels got into a primary underground riser and broke a protective device, which in turn tripped the circuit breaker at the corresponding substation, causing 0.6 hours of outage affecting 716 customers.


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Chief: Mental wellness, not race, source of officer drawing gun on black driver

Stryker almost became the next battleground in the ongoing national tensions between police officers and the Black community, but cooler heads prevailed in an incident that the town’s police chief said shows the importance of police officer mental wellness.

The incident involved a white police officer with the Stryker Police Department, Keith Hough — who has since resigned — drawing his gun on a black truck driver, Kenya Sayles, during a traffic stop.

The incident occurred on Saturday, June 20, around 2:33 p.m., when Sayles failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, according to Stryker Police Chief Steve Schlosser.

Video taken by Sayles during the incident and posted online shows him reaching his arms out of the window of the cab of the tractor trailer as Hough has his weapon drawn and pointed at Sayles, ordering him to exit the vehicle.

“Put your gun away, officer, I’m not armed,” Sayles can be heard telling the officer. “I’ve got five kids, I’m not dying today ... Put your gun away, I’m not armed.”

This exchange happened a few times before Hough holstered his weapon. They had a seemingly amicable discussion afterward, with Sayles even telling him to “do your job” as he pats him down.

“How do I know you’re not going to kill me?” Hough asks on the video, later telling a visibly shaking Sayles: “I’m not going to harm you, man.”

They even share a hug.

“I understand your job, training just needs to be something else,” Sayles said in the video. “I really appreciate you putting your gun away ... That showed professionalism, I really thank you for that.”

Schlosser, in an interview with The Bryan Times, said Sayles admitted to rolling through the stop sign and didn’t see Hough trying to pull him over for about half a mile due to the 53-foot trailer behind him, and sound from his radio.

“It wasn’t until he saw oncoming traffic starting to pull over, then the red flags go up,” he said. “Then he looked into the side-view mirror and saw Keith, officer Hough ... was behind him trying to initiate the traffic stop. He immediately pulled over.”

Schlosser said Sayles wasn’t cited for the rolling stop. The video shows Hough giving him a warning.

The incident came as protests are taking place around the world — sometimes turning violent — over the death of George Floyd, who died when a white officer knelt on his neck for around eight minutes.

The officer involved in Floyd’s death has been charged with murder with other officers at the scene also being charged in the death.

While Schlosser said this incident wasn’t racial motivated, he said there are problems that need to be worked out nationally.

“We won’t deny that there are issues, there are absolute issues with police officers using unjust use of force, there is no doubt in my mind,” he said, later adding: “Kenya Sayles went through that very issue. That was what was going through his mind at the initial onset of this stop.”

Schlosser, who has spoken to Sayles several times since the incident, said Sayles eventually got the feeling Hough was afraid and didn’t know what he was doing.

“It was a feeling he needed to talk this officer down,” Schlosser said. “He was able to look into Officer Hough’s eyes and he said he could see the change, once Officer Hough realized he needed to put his gun away and that Kenya wasn’t a threat.”

He said they were both feeling afraid.

The whole incident wasn’t driven by race, but rather by fear, Schlosser said. Hough didn’t even know Sayles’ race at the time he drew his weapon.

“After talking to Keith on a very intimate level, I believe that he was genuinely afraid for his life at that particular moment; That’s why he drew his duty weapon,” Schlosser said. “That doesn’t make it right ... He violated our escalation of force policies.”

Hough had been with the department for around two years and Schlosser was proud of his overall performance, he said, even having to properly go through the use of force in the past.

Hough also offered his resignation after that day, something he had been planning to do since before the start of his shift.

“He had his letter of resignation ready to go, Saturday was going to be his last shift with us,” Schlosser said. “He came to the determination that even though his heart was in it, his mind was not ... It wasn’t a training issue. It certainly wasn’t a racial issue. This is a mental wellness issue.”

Schlosser elaborated: “(Hough) admitted he was manipulated by the mainstream news, the constant barrage of villainizing police by the mainstream media,” Schlosser said. “The villainization of police through Facebook, YouTube got to him, has been getting to him, over the course of the last six to eight months.”

Hough has his heart in the right place, Schlosser said, and he is serving as a probation officer in Paulding County.

Schlosser also empathized with Sayles, saying he would have had the same reaction in his position.

The two have met several times about the overall issue and this specific incident.

“The more they got into it, the more Kenya realized this young officer is basically crying out for help, honestly that is the feeling,” Schlosser said. “Kenya knew immediately once Keith put his gun away that this was not a police person against the Black community issue... This was an officer mental wellness issue.”


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Kunkle Fourth of July parade is canceled

The Kunkle Fourth of July parade has been canceled.

The decision was reached mutually between organizer John Huffman in consultation with the Williams County Health Department, which acted on its understanding of current Ohio regulations that rule out parades.

“I don’t have any hard feelings for the health department,” said Huffman, chief of the Madison Township-Kunkle Fire Department. “There was nothing we could do but follow the state regulations.”

The feeling was mutual.

“John and I talked this morning and the decision was based off where things are; The governor extended his orders yesterday,” said Watkins. “There’s some hope Thursday it could change, but going day-to-day, it’s hard to plan and I understand that.

“John was good to work with. We tried to do our best and we communicated on a regular basis,” said Watkins. “Unfortunately, this is where we’re at.”

Health department officials and Huffman had waited as long as possible to see if there would be any changes on restrictions regarding parades from the governor’s office ahead of the holiday, but Huffman’s planning deadline has been hit with no change at the state level.

“Even if they opened it up, there’s still not enough time,” Huffman said.

Leading up to the decision, Huffman had proposed several measures to make the parade more viable amidst the pandemic, which the health department deemed insufficient to meet state regulations which broadly prohibit parades.

Annually, the parade is the biggest in the county and temporarily swells the little town of Kunkle’s population from 308 to around 1,000.

“It’s a big community thing, everybody from the county, it affects everybody,” said Huffman. “We haven’t ever missed one before, this will be the first in 58 years.”

Due to the current climate, no make-up event is in the works.

“It’s probably too early for that,“ said Huffman. “We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.”

Some 250 Port-a-Pit chicken dinners already sold will still be available for pick-up at noon at the Kunkle-Madison Township Fire Station on July 4.

Kunkle now joins communities across the state that have had to postpone or cancel Independence Day events of all types.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced he was extending existing COVID-19 orders one week.

On June 26, Ohio had 987 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, its highest single-day total, followed by another 817 on June 27, 854 on June 28 and 737 on June 29. To date, Ohio has seen 45,537 confirmed cases and 2,704 deaths.

Similarly, the U.S. hit a new peak for single-day new confirmed cases on June 26 at 44,726. So far, the U.S. has seen 2.64 million confirmed cases, resulting in 128,000 deaths.

That compares to 61,000 deaths from common influenza virus strains during the 2017-18 season and 34,200 flu deaths in the 2018-19 season.

Case-by-case

However, in Williams County, to date there have been just 63 total cases, 47 confirmed with one death and seven hospitalizations recorded. That notion has led many, including the Williams County Republican Party, to call for a county-by-county approach. Such an approach has been touched on by the governor in his press conferences during the past several weeks.

Watkins expressed his hope that in the coming days the governor will roll out some of those measures, which have not been formally detailed by DeWine’s office as of time of publication.

Watkins explained how a parade might be viewed differently in the eyes of the state as opposed to events like car shows, which are now allowed.

“One of the things, with a car show people are moving around, they’re not standing in the same place for extended periods,” said Watkins. “One thing we know when you’re in close contact for an extended period is the virus has a good deal of ability to move from person-to-person ... I think that’s where they’re coming from.”

Size of the event, too, plays a role.

“All of this comes down to risk. The larger the group, the higher the risk,” said Watkins. “Even if we get down to (the governor implementing) county-by-county (regulations), that’s what you’ll still deal with.”


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Williams County Republican Party expresses disappointment with DeWine

The Williams County Republican Party was among six county party structures in western Ohio to sign a letter expressing disappointment with the statewide method in which Gov. Mike DeWine has handled the COVID-19 issue.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, on June 4, county party officials from Williams, Van Wert Mercer, Darke, Shelby and Preble counties sent a signed letter directly to DeWine. In mid-June, Warren County’s Republican Party officials took similar action.

A copy of the letter obtained by The Bryan Times outlines the group’s issues with DeWine’s approach.

“Your early interventions were based on the science and models you had on hand at the time, and these precautions were supported and applauded,” the letter states. “However, we now know much more than we did in March and have watched your public health orders assault the very values we spoke about above.

“Our manufacturing base has shuttered, our rural health systems have been forced into layoffs and our small businesses are on the brink of financial collapse while the actual viral impact has been minimal to the vast majority of our citizens.

“Your broad-stroke policies simply do not work for communities like ours, and the repercussions cannot be ignored. Too many of our fellow Republicans are angry, disappointed and dismayed at the big government approach you continue to take to a problem that no longer requires such intrusive methods.”

The letter further indicated economic damage perceived by party members was “translating politically” and implored DeWine to work with legislators to use “best practices gleaned from surrounding states to allow personal responsibility to once again liberate all Ohioans.”

Two years ago, Williams County residents voted in favor of DeWine and his running mate, Montpelier native Jon Husted, to the tune 9,323 votes, about 69%, in the November 2018 general election.

In the May 2018 primary, 2,253 votes, about 75.55%, were cast in favor of DeWine and Husted.

Reached by The Bryan Times on Tuesday, Williams County Republican Party Chair Patti Rockey declined further comment.