Vice Mayor Robert Weisgerber

The Know Nothing Council

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In the mid 1800’s the United States saw the rise of a new political party, the American Party. This new political coalition was able to get a few legislators elected, and even fielded a candidate in the 1856 Presidential election. Many of us learned about the American Party, but we know them by a different name, the Know Nothings. This name was given because of the secret nature of how the party acted in public. When anyone was to ask a member of the American Party anything about their political group, “I know nothing” was the response to be given. The Know Nothings believed only their supporters and colleagues were important enough to know what was going on. The groups secrecy, and lack of transparency, led to a very quick downfall of their political coalition.

During the course of the Mayor Kathy Bailey administration, I have asked a lot of questions about the governing thoughts of the Mayor and her five loyal members on the Loveland City Council. I have spoken in open forum to ask my questions, I have made a number of public records requests, and I have even sat down on the rare occasion with members of the Mayor’s majority. In all three instances I find myself asking the questions, and the council majority responds with a form of “I know nothing”.

Let’s start with the public forum. At the charter required public meetings of the City Council, the public is given five minutes to speak on a subject of their choice. Many people use this time to talk about an issue that faces them personally. I have used my time in the public forum to ask questions, or voice concern, over policies that the council is considering. At the March 12th meeting I used my five minutes to ask questions related to the proposed DORA (Designated Outdoor Recreation Area) legislation. As a point of clarification I should say that I spoke in a public hearing, not the open forum. I asked very specific questions about the legislation, questions that had not been answered in the past. City Manager Dave Kennedy answered most of my inquires, yet not one elected member of the city government said a word. When the time came for the council to discuss the legislation, without me being at the podium, a discussion did not take place. No one addressed any of my concerns. The council acted in manner of knowing nothing or not wanting to know something.

This has happened at almost every public forum / public hearing that I have participated in. Yet I am not the only citizen to be told by the council that they know nothing. At the February 26th meeting, the council was silent in the face of serious questions from a resident. The resident was eventually engaged, but it was not a pretty sight (read about it here). Last summer, the Mayor Bailey majority was presented with concern from another resident about the painting of the city water towers. Once again that resident was presented with no information on the council majority’s plans. When it comes to residents that do not 100% agree with the council majority, residents with valid questions, the council majority sits back and says “I know nothing”.

Public records brings the know nothingness of the council majority to a whole new level. Public records are exactly as stated, records that are for the public. Shortly after the Mayor Bailey majority took power, Vice Mayor Robert Weisgerber lamented the burden of the city having to produce public records (read about it here). The political action committee that supports the council majority has used the public forum, and social media, to criticize people who make public records requests. The idea of the public wanting information seems troublesome to the council majority and their political supporters. Wanting to know something seems to be a problem for the council majority and their supporters.

Yet what happens when the public does receive public records. Of the requests I have personally made over the last year, the records I get have almost no communication from the Mayor Bailey majority. When it comes to the farmer’s market (read about it here), PACE financing (read about it here), or problems in the city’s public works department (read about it here), I requested the communications of the elected members of the city council. In each instance there was little to no dialogue going on for the public to see. When we look at public records to see how the Mayor Bailey majority governs, and what questions they ask on important legislation, the council majority says “I know nothing”.

When it comes to engaging with the council majority away from chambers, my experiences have been a mixed bag. I have approached members of the majority in public, and they have been gracious with their time. When the time comes to vote on a questionable ordinance, my discussion with the member of the majority is forgotten. When I question their promise of transparency and engagement, attacks come from social media, and elected members of the city council engage with those attacks. It does seem that discussions are being had outside of chambers. Councilman Kent Blair said at a recent council meeting that “we (the council majority) have discussed this (road funding) at meetings in the hallways and over pizza”, but when a citizen with a question about how the council majority governs, the council majority says “I know nothing”.

Does the Mayor Bailey majority discuss any of the issues that face the city? If they do, then why are those discussions not there for the public to see? If all the discussion is being done in “the hallways and over pizza”, do we have a transparency problem in Loveland? If all the the discussions are being done in a way to hide the intent of the council majority from the taxpayers of Loveland, what must be done to bring these discussions into the sunlight? If there is no discussion going on at all with the council majority when it comes to the governance of the city, should the taxpayers of Loveland be afraid of the lack of curiosity coming from our elected officials? What ever the answer may be, what we have seen from the communication strategy of the Mayor Bailey majority is that all difficult questions are answered the same way. “I know nothing”.

Note from the author: On February 27th, 2019 I made additional public records requests related to the city’s public works department. On the date of this posting, I have not received the records. If the council majority does have any discussion related to questions or policies, I will update this article.

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland.

Contact him on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him

Building the History of Loveland

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Recently I attended a meeting of the Loveland Historic Preservation Design Review Committee (HPDRC). This is a new city council approved committee that is tasked with drawing the boundaries for what is to become the codified historic district for the City of Loveland. So, why did I attend this latest meeting, and how is this group’s actions important to the people who live, work, and play in Loveland?

Let me first answer the question to why I decided to attend the HPDRC meeting on September 26th. Being a resident of Loveland, I was very curious on how this particular group of people decided what should be considered historic, and therefore afforded certain governmental privileges due to the recent addition of Loveland into the Certified Local Governments (CLG) program. My curiosity was also peaked because at the meeting where the committee drew the historic boundaries, longtime council member, former Mayor, and current Vice-Mayor Robert Weisgerber was in attendance and addressed the the HPDRC. What the Vice Mayor said is not known because the meeting minutes did not include his comments (minutes to the July 25th HPDRC are included in the Agenda packet for the August 22nd meeting). What we do know is that Vice Mayor Weisgerber did speak, and his house is included within the historic boundaries. Anytime an elected official speaks at a meeting and their comments are not recorded for public viewing, my curiosity starts to peak. That is why I attended the September meeting of the HPDRC, I wanted to know how the committee decided on these particular boundaries for Loveland’s soon to be historic district.

Now let’s answer the second question, why should we care. One needs to understand what the benefit of having property in a historic boundary created under the CLG program. The one benefit I want to highlight today is the economic advantage of owning property inside a historic district. It only takes a quick Google search to see that having property in a historic district makes that property more valuable. Even Loveland’s HPDRC acknowledges that they want to create the protected historic boundaries “To stabilize and improve property values” (from the agenda packet of the September 26th HPDRC meeting). Again what we know is that Vice Mayor Wesigerber attended the meeting where the boundaries for the historic district were decided, the Vice Mayor spoke at the meeting, the Vice Mayor’s home is included within the boundaries, and being a part of a historic district is economically beneficial to property owners. Anytime an elected official benefits from a program that does not serve the entire community, every taxpaying voter should be asking questions.

So, how did the HPDRC answer my question on how they decided what should be the Loveland Historic District?

I will say the committee was generous with their time and attempted to answer my questions, specifically what Vice Mayor Weisgerber said at the meeting and why his home was in the historic district. The answer I was given was that the Vice Mayor did not advocate for the inclusion of his property, he just gave perspective on what areas of the proposed historic district could be marked for future development. The committee said they decided on the boundaries by using the Little Miami River and the O’Bannon Creek as natural boundaries. The Vice Mayor’s home just happened to be within those confines.

After considering the answers given by the HPDRC, my curiosity is growing.

The first new question I have is why would a committee that was created to preserve historic buildings, things built by people, use a natural formation to make their boundaries? The majority of older buildings are on both sides of the Little Miami River. The architecture is very similar on East and West Loveland Avenue. Even the Little Miami River Chamber Alliance, who uses property on the proposed non historic side of the river, refers to their area as the “West Loveland Historic District”. Even the Loveland Historic Society sits on the wrong side of the historic boundary. Using natural borders for a district made up of non-natural structures makes zero sense. Why was the other side of the river not included?

As for Vice Mayor Weisgerber’s home being included in the historic boundaries. By not having a record of what the Vice Mayor said at the meeting where the HPDRC drew the historic boundaries, friends and foes will make their own assumptions to why the Vice Mayor gets the economic privilege of having his personal property included in this government created protected area. No amount of scorn and disdain will silence the curious taxpayer.

The last, and in my opinion most important question that needs to be answered and will shine a light on the purpose of the HPDRC. Is the purpose of these boundaries to preserve or is the purpose of the boundaries to allow the city government to be the primary entity in determining how the private property in the historic district will be developed?

Preserve or develop, that is the question. What we know right now, with the information available to the public, is that the government of Loveland will decide on the city’s new historic look.

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland and the editor at The Loveland Tattler. As of right now, the city council has not scheduled a vote on the historic boundaries. Stay tuned to this space for all of the updates you crave.

Hit RD up on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him lovelandtattler@gmail.com. 

The Fog of Transparency

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Every election sees candidate(s) promising the electorate that if selected the candidate will be transparent. The conceit behind using the word transparent is that the current government is not being straight with the public, the government is hiding important things. When the allure of transparency, and the disdain for secret dealings, catapults the candidates into elected office the public sees what transparency really means. The promise of being transparent is just another campaign promise that almost always gets left behind, only to be revived when the next election rolls around.

The 2017 Loveland City Council election saw a group of candidates run on a unified slate rallying around the idea of being the transparent choice for Loveland residents. Longtime council member Rob Weisgerber, one term incumbent Ted Phelps, and newcomers Neal Oury and Tim Butler claimed that the current council had been acting in a secretive fashion and their coalition, if elected, would bring openness and community collaboration to the city government. The unified slate would be transparent with all the city's business. That was their central campaign promise. 

So how has the new majority done with their promise of transparency?

Immediately after the 2017 election, the new majority tried to pass a water rate hike on Loveland residents and business without a public hearing. It needs to be noted that Neal Oury and Tim Butler had not been sworn in as members of the Loveland City Council. Once it was clear that the new majority would lack the votes to pass the rate hike, a public hearing was called by Councilman Weisgerber.

Early in 2018, Vice Mayor Weisgerber curiously complained about a person's public records request.

Once the council was ready to fix perceived transgressions by the previous majority against the Loveland Farmer's market , Vice Mayor Weisgerber called for a suspension of rules to rapidly push through changes on three city ordinances. Councilmen Butler, Oury, Phelps, and Weisgerber voted with Councilman Kent Blair and Mayor Kathy Bailey to suspend the rules and fast-track the changes to the ordinance. No input from the public again.

Just recently during a discussion for a community award, Councilwoman Angie Settell nominated a well known community leader so there could be a discussion on her nominee and the person put forward by the majority of council. There was no second from any other member of council and there was no discussion afforded to a person deserving of recognition.

At the same meeting, Councilman Blair read a thoughtful, and emotional, statement about his desire for the City Council to recognize Gun Violence Awareness Day. Councilman Blair was echoing the sentiment of people who spoke about the issue at the last two council meeting. Once again there was silence from the other elected officials. The Loveland City Council was not interested in hearing about the concerns of the community if it did not fit within their own individual ideological beliefs. 

With a record like the first six months of the Mayor Bailey majority, transparency is not the first word that comes to mind. Any issue that may invite controversy has been either ignored by council, or pushed forward in a way that tries to shrink opportunities for the public to engage. When confronted with being non-transparent, the new council majority, along with their supporters, invoke the old council and how they conducted business. It was obvious during the 2017 elections that the unified slate of Butler, Oury, Phelps, and Weisgerber, along with support from Councilwoman Bailey, cultivated an image of being a community first, fully transparent group of people. This new majority would erase all the secrecy of the previous regime, that is what they said on the campaign trail. Their actions have yet to match up to their words.

Transparency is an easy target to talk about when a person is running for elective office for the very first time, or if they are in the minority of a governing body. Once the election is over, and people have to actually govern, keeping the vague promise of transparency becomes more difficult. The Mayor Bailey majority has fallen short of being transparent. The new council majority has catered only to their supporters, and positive economic growth in Loveland seems to be at a standstill. Will the false promise of transparency be a liability for the council majority when they go to the Loveland community asking for reelection? That will be a question left up to the soon to be engaged voters.

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland and the editor at The Loveland Tattler. We are now on something called Facebook. Check it out

Contact us on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email us at lovelandtattler@gmail.com.

The Burden of a Public Record

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At the February 13th Loveland City Council meeting Vice Mayor Rob Weisgerber had one last thing he wanted to talk about before the meeting was adjourned. It seems that the Vice Mayor needed clarification on how to proceed forward with a public record request relating to his official government, and personal, communications with a long list of people. The Vice Mayor stated he wants to comply, but is unsure what he can do because the record request did not provide a topic, and he said he would comply once given clear instructions by the City Solicitor.

Seems ok.

Why would Vice Mayor Weisgerber want to have this discussion in a public meeting? The City Solicitor stated that the city had been working on getting a clear idea of what the public record requester is looking for. Knowing that the city was working on his issue, why did Vice Mayor Weisgerber use his elected position to lodge a complaint about a public record request?

We will get back to that question, but first we need to understand what Vice Mayor Weisgerber, and any person who works for any level of government, are responsible for when a public record is requested. In the Ohio Sunshine Laws Resource Manual  the rules regarding public records request are laid out. Any person can request any public record at any time. The government entity has rights in how they release these records. There are certain items protected by confidentiality, national security, juvenile protection, etc. that can be withheld. The sunshine law does allow for the government entity to request for clarity, or narrowing of scope, in a records request. The law does not allow for a governmental entity to deny requests because of "too much expense, or too much time involved, or too much interference with normal duties can be used by the public office to evade the public’s right to inspect or obtain a copy of public records within a reasonable time." This is all easy to understand, so we ask again, why would Vice Mayor Weisgerber bring this up at city council?

The first theory is that the Vice Mayor is uncertain on how the sunshine laws work in Ohio. This is a terrible theory because one would think that in the more than two decades that Rob Weisgerber has been on Loveland City Council, he should have a pretty good understanding on how he should respond to a public records request. Also the City Solicitor stated that the city had been working on this issue. One would assume that Vice Mayor Weisgerber was aware of this work being done.

The next theory states that the Vice Mayor is trying to delay the release of certain records. Why would he want to do that? Is there something in the records that the Vice Mayor is a afraid of? If he is trying to delay the release of records, that goes against the spirit of open, transparent, government. it is also opening the city of Loveland up for a lawsuit(s).

The final theory is that Vice Mayor Weisgerber was trying to rally his base, members of a local PAC who endorsed him in the last election, and to intimidate his opposition. That type of action is disgraceful for any one in a public position. We hope that this is not the case.

People ask for public records because they want information. Some of these people are journalists, some are looking for illegal behavior in their government, and some just want information, and all of these people are entitled to non-protected public records. One can hope that Vice Mayor Weisgerber now realizes how his actions open up more scrutiny than before. One can hope that a person who has spent over two decades on city council is not trying to hide something. One can hope that Vice Mayor Weisgerber will let the city solicitor do their job, and that all members of the local government will comply with all public records request. By using a public meeting to say that he is burdened by a public records request has only put his political career sharper in the spotlight. Is that what the Vice Mayor wanted?

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland and the editor at The Loveland Tattler. Hit him up on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him lovelandtattler@gmail.com.