Galion City Council hears resident concerns about Keller Hall, Sunshine Laws
By Rachel Mendell
Galion city council met in regular session Tuesday, Sept. 27. The council room was full of concerned residents with questions about the proposed sober house to be placed in the old Keller Hall. Before the public comment period, city manager Gene Toy explained Galion’s stance on the situation.
“It’s not going to happen, if at all,” Toy said. First, he explained, the proposal must come to the Galion Zoning Office, which it has not.
Toy explained that he first became aware of the proposed sober house Aug. 24 in a meeting with all three Crawford County commissioners who organized a meeting in the development office. The plan revealed to Toy at that time was to replace the Children’s Services Office with a half-way house for heroin addicts. Toy said the commissioners said the building would not “likely be empty soon.” At that time Toy relayed his concerns about zoning problems to the commissioners and advised them the plan would have to go through the zoning office and the zoning commission. To date the zoning office has not been notified of the plan, nor has a permit been requested.
Toy also stated he had not seen the lease agreement granted to the Together We Hurt support group by the commissioners. “The use that’s proposed is not consistent with zoning,” he said. The amendment process will take months.
Tom O’Leary said he suspected the Open Meeting Laws had been broken at the Aug. 24 meeting, with all three commissioners present without the benefit of notification to the public. They have an obligation to the public to hear their discussion, he said, and how they arrived at their decisions. During a series of questions and answers between O’Leary and Toy, more facts about the meeting were revealed. Also present at the meeting were the county prosecutor and the county auditor. The meeting was held in a second floor office and not in the commissioner’s hearing room. “They related their plans and decisions,” said O’Leary. “Discussions should have been in public.”
Council member Walt Keib said “The thing I resent is the way they handled it. That meeting was not publicized. They didn’t want public comments. No minutes were taken at their meeting. I want public opinion. Let me challenge the commissioners to think beyond 602.”*
Further public concerns were voiced.
Can they use that building any way they want? Toy said all plans must go through the zoning process first. The resident suggested the support group consider the recently emptied Fairview Manor in Bucyrus for the project.
Former commissioner Carl Watt said commissioners have to abide by the Sunshine Laws. He also said other questions must be raised such as how many extra calls will there be to the Galion Police Department, what about supervision, and how would they fit 58 beds in that building? Fairview Manor already has 85 beds. Watt also said he understood the pressure the commissioners were under with 300 people pushing for the sober house project. “There’s a better place for this, and it’s not Keller Hall.”
Another resident spoke as a grandfather and was concerned for his grandson’s safety.
One resident said more questions are still out there such as, will those in the transitional housing pay for rent, will there be weekly drug testing and 24-hour supervision? He also asked, what do 58 ex-cons talk about at night.
Nearing the end of the public comment period and a council meeting lasting over two hours, Keib gave the residents the phone number of the county commissioners’ office – (419) 562‑5876. He encouraged residents to call the commissioners with their questions and concerns.
In legislative matters, the ordinance proposing changes to the labor agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police garnered much discussion between council and residents. Concerns were discussed including this being a bad time to give anyone a raise (2.5 percent salary increase) and questions about the matter going to arbitration. Toy said this was the last of all the negotiated contracts to be done this year. He added that the lieutenants were still working under the old contract which had expired in January.
After tabling the matter was voted down 4 to 3, the ordinance went to a vote. It failed 4 to 3.
The council passed ordinances dealing with rolling over debt and issuing bonds for the improvements at the Primrose and Dawsett substations. The changes in zoning code dealing with churches and places of public assembly were passed on the second reading, as well as the changes in the sign ordinance.
In committee reports, the Park Committee is still looking into an ice skating rink at Heise Park, sign-up contracts for the shelter house at East Park, Tabernacle of Praise offering hot cider and donuts and a possible Thanksgiving Dinner offered at East Park.
Planning, Zoning and Utilities Committee is working on the rewording of the electric company letters that went out with the bills recently. The shut off notices need to be revised. The community will give the committee the guidance for the final draft of the letter.
The Laws and Ordinances Committee is working on rules for farmers markets within the city limits, the issue of recycling “a friend’s” copper wiring, and the increase in calls about vicious dogs.
The next regular meeting of the Galion City Council will be Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.
*State Route 602