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Summary of May 9 Regular Council Meeting

Chestnut Lane advances; Thin Blue Line painting discussed

By Andy Chappell-Dick

All Village of Bluffton meetings are open to the public; still, it's customary to see mostly empty chairs in the gallery. For the Monday, May 9 Regular Meeting of the Bluffton Village Council, at least a dozen observers had assembled by 7:00 p.m. Some were present for the embedded Public Hearing on Bob Fett's Chestnut Lane development, but most were present for an item noted “Thin Blue Line” in the Village Administrator's report. This item was addressed at the end of the meeting.

In routine business, Mayor Johnson asked for and received Council approval of the last meeting's minutes and the paying of the Village's bills. The mayor invited Shane Coleman of Lima Allen County Regional Planning Commission to the podium. Coleman described the multi-faceted ways that his group works with our Village, and in particular wanted to call our attention to a new long-range plan for attracting state and federal grant money to support transportation infrastructure.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

Ben Stahl, speaking for the Bike and Pedestrian Pathway Board, said the group was still reorganizing after some membership changes, but otherwise had no pressing business.  He asked for and received a mayoral appointment for Travis Music, and indicated that more board members were needed.

PUBLIC HEARING

At 7:15 sharp (Mayor Johnson waited ten seconds for the clock to turn) proceedings were interrupted for a Public Hearing, in which Council was asked to affirm the Planning Commission's approval of Chestnut Lane construction drawings. This is the latest of many procedural steps in considering Bob Fett's project. A brief discussion acknowledged that final details of stormwater design were still unresolved, but Fett's engineer is working with the Village and the County to ensure compliance in all regards.  

The handful of residents on hand for this Hearing had no comment, and with no further discussion from Council, the Public Hearing was closed; a motion was made and passed unanimously to advance the project.  It will come before Council at least once more, but it's possible that construction may begin before that.

ADMINISTRATION REPORT

With no legislation to vote on, Council turned to Administrator Jesse Blackburn and his assistant Bryan Lloyd for their report. 

Bids for water line and sewer line work will be opened on May 12. Depsite estimates being up 8-20% over last year, Blackburn expects these projects to remain within budget. 

Lloyd highlighted the Village's mowing regulations, saying that the Village will be sending out letters to property owners who don't comply with the law. It Is stated in section 96.38 that "grass, weeds or brush shall be cut" in residential areas with growth "not to exceed seven inches."

Blackburn also released the annual EPA-mandated Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report. Although Bluffton buys its water from the Village of Ottawa, Bluffton is still responsible for monitoring its quality, and frequent testing is done at both ends of the pipe. The report goes into considerable detail on some two dozen criteria, and village water is compliant on all of them.

Blackburn also raised the subject of the former Perry's Pantry property on the southeast corner of the 103/75 interchange. The owner has fled and the property is entering tax foreclosure. The Village is particularly well positioned to get remediation grants if it should acquire the property, an advantage that private buyers do not have. Council did not show enthusiasm for owning a potential cleanup site, but asked Blackburn to get more information on strategies to get this property cleaned up.

EMS REPORT

Fire chief Jon Kinn presented two items. (No EMS or Police Dept. reports were made.) First, a truck is scheduled for replacement in the next couple of years, but supply chain issues have lengthened waiting lists. The department may have to extend the service life of its older vehicles, which can also be increasingly expensive.  

Second, Motorola communication radios used by all of Bluffton's safety services will become obsolete and unusable in 2025. Cost of replacement is, today, $5,900. Each. The Village has 58 such radios. Stay tuned for updates.

THIN BLUE LINE PROPOSAL

With all other agenda items taken care of, Blackburn turned to a proposal presented to Council in April by a local citizen, a suggestion for commemorating the line-of-duty death of Office Dominic Francis. The suggestion is to paint a thin blue line on Main Street, between the existing double yellow lines, from Town Hall to the Bluffton Public Library.  This has been done in other towns across the country.

Blackburn has investigated the immediate concern of legality, and reported that ODOT--which regulates road markings--has stated it is non-standard, but would not actively object. 

One resident came to the prior council meeting to voice his concerns. Over the next forty-five minutes, many in attendance spoke up, including three Council members, several administrators, and at least six residents. The tone was intense but not heated, confrontational but not disrespectful. All present acknowledged that commemoration is very important, as Officer Francis was killed while serving the public.

Proponents of the line painting stated that it's a recognized and very visible symbol of support for our officers, and that the community is clamoring to do something tangible to express this support. Detractors stated that the symbol has political associations and has negative connotations for some residents. Police Chief Ryan Burkholder was at a meeting in Columbus and was not present to speak for the department.

Some commented that Officer Francis should be memorialized in a way more specific to him, such as on Town Hall's second floor alongside the two other fallen Bluffton officers, or with a plaque or sign that is more permanent and gives the public more of the story.

Two long-time residents of Bluffton who are black were present, who stated that their experience in town was probably different from most white residents and that overt racism is on the increase.

Comments showed interest in both memorializing a fallen officer and having a public conversation about the local impact of racism.

Mayor Johnson closed the meeting saying that it would be beneficial to consider a number of options to honor the memory of Officer Francis and that discussion would continue at a future council meeting.

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