Washington Court House City Manager Joe Denen delivered an impassioned “State of the City” address Wednesday night by highlighting not only the fiscal and governmental status of the city, but also by emphasizing the importance of the community’s compassion and “collective soul.”
“I love fire departments, service departments, cemeteries, courts and police departments. I love construction projects and roads and bridges,” Denen said during the regular Washington C.H. City Council meeting held at the council chambers. “However, the state of a community is more than government, it is our collective soul. With more force than laws, you shape this community every day by your actions. You mold the community with your habits, your attitudes and your desires.”
Denen added that he doesn’t believe in bragging about accomplishments, listening to gossip or getting caught up in partisan politics.
“I do believe that if you do your duty with dignity, the story usually turns out fine,” he said. “I have enough confidence in you to say that — confidence that people care. Confidence that people believe in their future. Confidence that despite static, the song is still heard.”
Earlier in his address, Denen did spend time talking about the demand for labor within the city.
“All communities, small and large, have challenges attracting and retaining workforce,” Denen said. “Simply more people are needed in manufacturing, transportation, services, the building trades, retail, commerce and the professions.”
Denen said the city is utilizing analytical data to find more businesses that may be compatible with the community.
“Greater diversity in retail shopping and dining will broaden the appeal of Washington Court House and in turn our ability to retain and attract labor,” he said.
Denen made clear in his address that the city will continue to invest resources into safety services.
“Simply, firefighters and police officers,” he said. “At the same time, we will invest in the service department and the infrastructure of our community. We do this while keeping an eye to maintaining reasonable financial reserves.”
The heroin and opioid epidemic that’s impacted the lives of so many in this community, and all of Ohio, was described by Denen as a “colossal problem.”
“Far too many of us have seen the sorrow of addiction touch our families. The people of the life squad, the Fayette County Memorial Hospital, the health department, the police department, the sheriff’s office, social services, grandparents, numerous churches and mental health services are shouldering a great burden,” Denen said. “While the dedication of many is notable, I must tell you that the efforts of the health department have been extraordinary.”
Denen personally thanked Leigh Cannon (the Fayette County Health District deputy health commissioner), the health department nurses, and citizens working through Faith in Recovery — a focus group that serves to address how to meet the community’s needs for the three stages of detox, treatment and recovery housing.
“The insight provided by people like Barry Bennett (executive director of Pickaway Area Recovery Services) has been invaluable in crafting a local response to opioid addiction that continues to build in depth and resiliency,” said Denen. “If you are an addict, I have confidence that you have the strength to make the choice to seek treatment. If you are an addict and you have children, please seek treatment. You and I know that drug use is frequently learned at home. A child deserves the opportunity to know a loving parent free of opioid cravings. A child deserves the opportunity to experience life. You love that child and you can make that choice.”
Congressman Mike Turner (R-10th District), who was in attendance to provide council with an update from the federal level, thanked Denen for this heartfelt address.
“That was an excellent address and quite motivational…not only when you look at it from this community but also from a national perspective about how we dedicate ourselves to the people,” said Turner.
Expanding on the opioid topic, Turner said there are currently two issues related to the crisis that the federal government can help alleviate.
“When someone is incarcerated, many times it is the first time that we’ve learned of their opioid addiction,” said Turner.
Many times, said Turner, those who had been Medicaid-eligible prior to their incarceration are no longer eligible.
“So the federal dollars that should be there available for their treatment are no longer available for the community and no longer available for that individual,” he said. “We’re working to try to change that. A person who a day before, they are arrested and a day after they get out of jail is less likely to avail themselves of important treatment. And the benefits that they have should carry through with them while we have the ability as a community to intervene.”
Turner said the federal government is also working to assist the children who are birthed by women addicted to opioids.
“We are finding innovative ways to intervene and help that child in their very first moments that they have been born and struggle with withdrawal and addiction,” he said. “So we’re trying to provide federal dollars that could help in instruction to medical facilities on how to care for those children and also provide them some offset to those increased costs.”
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, council members provided committee reports.
The finance and personnel committee met on March 19. They reviewed the statement of cash for the month ending in February and the investments of the city.
Also present at the committee meeting was Frank Kohstall, Office of Treasurer of Ohio, who shared information regarding online posting of financial information. The committee discussed various aspects of the question, however no consensus was forthcoming.
The committee also noted a request regarding council e-mail accounts. The committee recommended the administration proceed with a council e-mail account for any council member who may request one.
Also on on March 19, the economic strategies and cooperation committee met. The committee members reviewed the current status of industrial projects and the progress with downtown buildings and businesses. The committee noted that the Main Street Committee had their first meeting with good participation from downtown merchants. They also were given a list of upcoming events to be held downtown.
The committee members also reviewed marketing results presented by the Buxton Company of current businesses compatible with the City of Washington Court House. Also discussed was the concept of a Special Improvement District. It was the recommendation of the committee that the concept be presented to the Main Street Committee for further review.
Two ordinances came before council: one for rezoning a Center Street property from single family residential to general business district was placed on second reading, and one to amend and adopt sections of the city income tax code was placed on first reading. The one resolution, to appoint Anne Quinn to the Historic District Review Board to fill an unexpired term, was placed on first reading.
The meeting adjourned at 8:10 p.m. City council meetings are held the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month and are open to the public.
Record-Herald stringer Bev Mullen contributed to this article.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica