During Monday night’s regular meeting, Portsmouth City Council passed several emergency items in effort to deal with drainage and flooding issues around the City.
Council passed three emergency items that were up for a first reading. Two of those ordinances addressed drainage issues, and Portsmouth City Council waved the rule requiring that an item be read on three separate dates for an ordinance authorizing the appropriation of $30,000 from General Fund revenue for the repairs of the Munn’s Run creek wall.
City Manager Derek Allen added that after the wall is repaired the city will start making plans to clean out the creek. Valley Street resident Jackie Craig was present at the council meeting and explained that the creek had not only been washing out the wall but was also so full of debris that it would flood during times of rain. Council also waved the three readings rule for an ordinance authorizing the appropriation of $20,000 from the General Fund to make drainage improvements on Sheridan Road specifically to the Sheridan Road drainage basin.
The third item to be passed as an emergency on Monday night was an ordinance authorizing $40,000 from the City’s General Fund to be used to replace the boiler at the Municipal Building.
Council did a first reading of three items including authorizing approval of legislation submitted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for the resurfacing of a portion of U.S. 23 and Ohio 73 within the City; the authorization of $450,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund for road improvements on Perishing Ave., much of which is grant funded; and an ordinance authorizing the City Manager to hire an assistant in the pay range of $23,251-$38,829.
Council member Jo Ann Aeh immediately expressed her disapproval, stating, “I’m not in agreement with that.”
Aeh explained that Allen had informed Council that the new position was needed for in order to have someone to assist with pursuing property related insurance claims for damages to City property. She added that such responsibility should be the role of the insurance agent. Aeh also added that claims have been coming down each year and that Allen already has an assistant and makes use of the Community Development Director who handles some of his secretarial work. Aeh stressed that if the City has the money to hire another person, there are other departments in greater need.
Councilman Gene Meadows expressed concern over Allen making a statement that he already had a person in mind for the position. Meadows explained that though he has no complaints with hiring an assistant, he thinks the position should be advertised and the best person should be hired.
“I’m afraid if you already have one person picked out, there is no hiring procedure,” he stated to Allen.
“We’re on the same page,” was the City Manager’s response.
Allen also confirmed that the position would be non-classified and that it would pay no more than he current assistant is paid at a salary of $31,200.
Before hearing concerns of community members present at the meeting, Council also passed a resolution supporting the Portsmouth Fire Department in adding emergency medical services (EMS).
“This is a service that’s greatly needed,” Councilman Kevin E. Johnson commented.
Before adjourning, several members of the public addressed concerns including a local business owner and resident who presented the City with questions concerning the drug epidemic.
According to Teresa “Pokie” Blankenship, of Buckeye Bail Bonds, too many felons are allowed to walk the street. Blankenship explained to Council and City Solicitor John Haas that her understanding is that it is the role of the police to make an arrest. It is then the role of the solicitor to decide who gets charged with what. And, eventually, a judge determines guilt and consequence.
However, according to Blankenship, police are arresting individuals (often repeat offenders charged with drug trafficking), and then these individuals are released on their own recognizance, meaning there is no bail bondsman monitoring them. They are permitted to walk out of the court onto the streets where they continued their criminal behavior without giving the court anything other than their signature and their word to come back.
“People come and go in Municipal Court as they want,” she added.
Blankenship explained that after being released back on the streets, these people do not often return to court for their scheduled court date. Rather, they are given a court date and often a court appointed attorney, fail to appear and then a warrant is issued.
Because police staffing is so low, the department does not have the manpower to go out and arrest such individuals again. There was never a bond issued, so there is not a bondsman responsible for ensuring these people return to court. So, people with felony charges remain on the streets until they decide to show up for court whenever they choose and add themselves to the docket, which they can do as long as they arrive prior to court beginning.
Without their attorney present, they then are given another court date and another attorney. They are not usually given any new charges for failure to appear and are still often sent back out on the streets so long as they promise to come to court for their next court appearance.
Blankenship explained that this is common in felony court, stating that on one day last week there were 30 people on the docket for felony court. Of which, only eight showed up, and several of those were transported over from the jail.
Blankenship explained that some may think her complaints are due to the impact on her business.
“It does hurt my job, but it also hurts my community,” she stressed, stressing that these practices contribute greatly to issues of crime and drugs in the community.
She also questioned the City about the financial cost of this practice to the City and ultimately the tax payers.
Portsmouth City Council will meet again at 6 p.m. on August 28 in Council chambers located on the second floor of the Municipal Building on Second Street in Portsmouth.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.