Employees, office holders and union officials spoke Saturday afternoon to the crowd made up of ORV employees and community supporters at Green High School in Franklin Furnace.
The main speaker for the day was State Rep. Dr. Terry Johnson, R-89, who has opposed the closing since it was announced by the Ohio Department of Youth Services last week.
“You represent what is best in our society,” Johnson told the crowd. “You are among the best that America has to offer. I appreciate you. And I will go to the wall to fight for you.”
Several speakers took the opportunity to bash Gov. John Kasich, while others attempted to keep political differences out of the mix.
“Politics should have nothing to do with our presence here today,” Johnson said. “As far as I’m concerned, they can take politics and throw it in the river.”
Several speakers, including Eddie Parks, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, turned the rally into a chance to attack Senate Bill 5.
“Senate Bill 5 is a bad deal,” Parks said. “Senate Bill 5 is going to take away collective bargaining of all state employees ó all state employees. We don’t want to go back to the ‘30s and the ‘40s. We want to move forward. We are middle-class, taxpaying citizens and we’re proud.”
One of the speakers who drew the loudest cheers was Scioto County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Basham when he told the audience, “It is not over yet. Don’t bow your heads.”
Before the rally, Johnson talked about a letter he sent this week to Kasich.
“The essence of it is, I understand that we have an $8 billion deficit that we have to fill, and $8 billion in state terms is not $8 billion in federal terms,” Johnson said. “We can’t print money. We’ve got to do something to make up that $8 billion. And I understand the pain is going to be felt across the state by everybody. But when you come to an issue like this, when you have these other facilities in the state, and this is the best facility, why close our facility? I want to know exactly why.”
In that letter Johnson wrote, “ORV has a leaner staff to detainee ratio than other youth detention facilities scheduled to remain open and a better operational history as well. There has never been a murder, successful suicide attempt, or an escape from ORV. Sadly, this cannot be said of all DYS facilities.”
One of the people attending and speaking who may be closer to the history of the facility was Scioto County Commissioner Skip Riffe.
“The way this really became here ó what makes it personal to me ó is, back in the late ‘80s, then-Gov. Dick Celeste wanted to build several of these in the state,” Riffe said. “So he goes to my father, (House) Speaker Vern Riffe, and talks to him about getting the money appropriated by the legislature. Dad said, ‘that’s fine governor, I’ll do that as long as one is located in Scioto County. So that is really how that facility got here.”
Members of the crowd carried signs reading “Save ORV” and “368 Jobs Lost.”
Johnson’s legislative aide Scott Evans met with the director of the DYS Martha Spohn earlier in the week and briefed Johnson afterward.
“He came away with the knowledge that they are firm in their decision,” Johnson said. “Our job is to get them to be less firm or change their mind.”
Johnson’s mind is probably best expressed in the last line of the letter to Kasich: “I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision and I am available to meet at any time.”