Several topics were discussed at Wednesday’s Washington Court House City Council meeting, including a request for community members to “stay local.”
City Manager Joe Denen gave a speech to the council in which he requested that as people begin to travel and businesses start to reopen, that residents consider shopping locally.
“Local merchants and businesses out there have done an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances of making our situation as comfortable as it possibly can be. We need to remember that — now that we are going to be moving around a little bit more, we need to think about those folks and staying local as you go out and about. It reduces your risk and also would be very beneficial to the local economy right now. The more that you can get out, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy being out among people a little bit more again, the better off we’ll be in terms of your health and the local economy,” said Denen.
Denen briefly discussed finances and how withholdings aren’t “doing badly” however, income taxes are currently off by about half.
“Most of that is from where the filing date has been moved back, because that activity will reflect 2019. So, you moved back the filing date — you only have about half the number of people that have filed. If you have your taxes done, you need to stop in at the income tax department and please file them.”
If the documents are ready to file, they can be dropped in the night box outside the department as well or be mailed. The city tax department is located at 117 N. Main St. in Washington C.H.
“We’ve been very fortunate in this community, that can change very rapidly though. In our case, strong reserves helped going into this. We’ve stopped a number of equipment purchases this year, we have about five retirements this year that will help out considerably, and we need to continue to watch what’s going on to see if we need to continue to make further adjustments as we go on throughout the year.
During the meeting, council member Steve Schiltz asked about the current unemployment rate in the county.
“You’re up to a bit more than 1,400 people. In relatively short order you went from (approximately) 26 on to 1,400 relatively quickly,” said Denen.
Another topic brought up during the meeting was the legal “weight” of certain restrictions occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as not going to the public parks, which was asked about by council member Ted Hawk.
Denen explained that the parks themselves are not closed as people can take walks through them, etc. although the playground equipment is currently not legally usable, due to an order from “the director of health.”
“Has that been tested or proven?” asked Hawk.
“Well, if you go out and test it, what will happen is — if it’s reported to us, then a nice policeman will show up and ask you not to do that, and… you don’t want to go there, Ted — there’s no point in that.”
“Well, when will this end? My question is, this disease is like a lot of other diseases. It’s here and it’s bound to always be here. Are we always going to build, like the splash pad, and then not be able to use it?” Hawk asked.
Denen explained that he doesn’t have the ability to answer those types of questions at this time.
“We’re non-partisan here, but in my personal life, I’m a strong Republican,” said Hawk. “I think that some of these things that DeWine has mandated — I mean, we’re all responsible citizens. Some things are up to us to protect ourselves. I mean, we ought to have a right to go to the playground and use it, if we want to, at our risk. We can wear masks, we can wear gloves, we can spray everything down before we use it.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” explained Hawk, “that we send people to go die in foreign wars and think we can make society risk-free, we just can’t. We can’t continue to live without taking risks. I think it’s more a case of personal responsibility as far as to whether or not to use a piece of playground equipment than it is the right of the state to close it down, to put tape around it and say, ‘you can’t use it.’ So, just from my standpoint, if there’s things that we can open up, I’m in favor of it anywhere we can. I just don’t know how we’re ever going to be safe from this disease. And we can’t just continue to try to stay safe from it. I mean, we can continue to do what we can and to wear masks and do all that. But I think there’s going to come a time when we gotta live. And I’m not alone in this feeling, there’s a lot of other people that feel this way.”
Later on in the meeting, Hawk asked City Attorney Mark Pitstick about the legality of the restrictions.
“Well, let me just say, I think that it is absolutely imperative that you follow any directions that the state government gives you unless there is something from the state legislature that says otherwise — absolutely imperative. We have no expertise in disease, and what the consequences of a particular disease are,” said Pitstick.
“As a business,” Pitstick further explained, “if I don’t observe every safety precaution that the state of Ohio puts out — and it doesn’t make any difference who puts it out, then I, as a business owner, am liable. There is a negligence factor there, and I can be sued by an individual who comes in and claims that they have contracted the coronavirus as a result of me not enforcing a particular rule or legislation by the state of Ohio. So, whether you like it or not makes no difference. I think, for personal safety, it is absolutely essential that everybody follow the state guidelines.”
Council chairperson Jim Chrisman agreed with Pitstick, saying his response was a good answer.
The discussion then trailed into how the city is doing what it can to follow restrictions and safety precautions, as well as discussing that even with people having a personal responsibility to protect themselves, that doesn’t stop them from being able to sue someone over the situation.
“Well, like Ted said, there is a personal responsibility,” said Chrisman. “But I think that most of us would have to admit that common sense went out the window a few years ago, respect for the uniform went out the window several years ago, respect for the government has gone out the window. So, your point is well taken Ted, but that’s a push, I think.”
“One thing I would like to emphasize,” said Pitstick, “I think the social distancing fact is going to continue for several months. Masks will probably continue for a few months. Council meetings will probably continue like they are for a month or two (closed to public with all attendees spread out). I think that’s prudent, and appropriate, and I think we need to protect each other as much as we can. I think we have a personal responsibility to each other as we do to ourselves and to our community — in my opinion.”
Hawk then asked, essentially, if the liability would continue on and then be included for the flu during the flu season.
“All I can say to you is, that if the state puts out certain requirements — for instance, you wear a mask, you social distance, you have to keep your employees so far apart, you have to put some kind of barrier up between your employees if they’re working in close vicinity of one another, and I don’t know what other requirements are out there, but I think if you do not follow those requirements, then you are subject to a civil suit if someone were to come down with the COVID virus. There’s no doubt about it. There’s hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits that have already been filed.”
Hawk then explained he is fine with the precautions of sanitizing, wearing masks, etc. but still showed reserve.
Pitstick said, “Whether we like it or not, the state of Ohio and our public health officials have given us guidelines. I think when you have professional individuals, who you’ve hired for that purpose, to tell you when and what to do under a specific set of circumstances, it’s your responsibility as a citizen to follow those. You may not like it, but I think you have a responsibility — and businesses as well as government have the same responsibility.”
Also during the meeting, two new pieces of legislation were heard and placed on first reading during the meeting.
The first piece was an ordinance that, if passed, would allow the adoption and enactment of a supplement to the city’s code of ordinances. The supplement was completed by American Legal Publishing Corporation of Cincinnati and includes recommended revision and/or addition of certain sections in relation to the Ohio Revised Code.
The second piece is a resolution authorizing Denen to award a contract to Cox Paving for a 2020 street and alley marking paving program by accepting the lowest bid of (and not to exceed) $317,470.95.
Washington Court House City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month. They are located in the second floor council chambers of the City Administration Building, 105 N. Main Street. Meetings will be streamed live on the YouTube channel “City of Washington Court House, Ohio” at www.youtube.com/channel/UCRwMxUBn8XIQTjnSvFaGDgA.
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.