Just My Opinion – Coincidence or Obstructionism?
The Swanton Village Council makes many decisions every year on how and what to spend tax payer money on as entrusted wards of the Village’s financial well-being. Recently, two spending proposal issues have been discussed that makes me question if all those decisions are made in the best interest of the citizens of Swanton or if personal agendas cloud some of the thinking behind some of the choices.
A proposal was made to audit and update the Village’s Zoning Codes for an estimated price of $50,000. Zoning Codes are necessary in that they play a large role in how the Village is managed and they need to be audited periodically to insure they are current, especially with advances in technology such as solar panels and wind mills becoming available for residents’ use on their property. The Council voted unanimously to move ahead with this proposal.
The second proposal was to have was an organizational evaluation study by the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association (OFCA) of the Swanton Fire & Rescue Department (SFRD). Councilwoman Kathy Kreuz asked Mayor Toeppe to address the issue during a Council meeting. “In looking at the fire service, the quality of the fire service employees, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics is excellent,” commented the Mayor. “The issue is, how do we look at ourselves going forward? Do we have the right amount of equipment, the right amount of training, the right policies in place, do we have the proper configuration of equipment, all those sorts of things? So, we asked the Fire Chiefs Association to take a look at the fire department’s policy operation and put together a plan or understanding of where we are and where we need to be going forward.” Mayor Toeppe said the study was similar to the one conducted several years ago by the Ohio Police Chiefs Association on the Swanton Police Department to make sure it was structured properly to prepare for the future and the cost of the study would be $15,000.
This proposal has been tabled twice during meetings to this date and is meeting resistance mainly from two Council members, Mike Rochelle and Craig Rose. Councilman Rochelle questioned what the study would look at with the possibility of the formation of a fire district that would include the fire departments of other municipalities. He said he was hesitant to spend $50,000 on a study with too many unknowns about the future status of local fire protection. “I’m a little hesitant. I think it’s a great idea to know and understand where we are at today but I think there are a lot of things going on that I don’t know if that money is well spent,” said Mr. Rochelle. When it was explained to Mr. Rochelle that the cost of the study was $15,000 and not $50,000, he responded that his opinion did not change based on the dollars. “I don’t care if it’s $15 or $150 or $150,000,” he countered. “Do we know what our fire department is going to look like in five or ten years? If we do, then it’s money well spent.”
Mr. Rochelle did not explain how to predict the future five or ten years out nor did he explain why knowing the SFRD’s insufficiencies in any area and working to correct those would not be beneficial. What struck me as odd was that Mr. Rochelle said there were “too many unknowns” to justify spending money on a full top-to-bottom evaluation that would help identify many of those unknowns.
Councilman Rose questioned SFRD Chief Anthony Schaffer as to why he was not the one to recognize and implement all changes and he also minimized the significance of the study when he said, “Fifteen thousand dollars is a hard pill to swallow for a suggestion here or there.” Chief Schaffer said the study went beyond the scope of his position.
I believe, if there is not enough funding for the Zoning Code update and the SFRD Organizational Study, the Council should prioritize the one that impacts the health and safety of the community and deals with life and death situations before one that does not demand real urgency. If there is funding for both why keep resisting? To me the answer is obvious. The SFRD study was proposed by the Mayor and the Zoning Code update was not.
Is this just a coincidence? Not at all. The rejection of the study fits into a well-documented pattern of resistance and obstructionism Mayor Toeppe has faced with his proposals from the Swanton Village Council since he took office some 14 months ago with the loudest voices almost exclusively belonging to Mr. Rose and Mr. Rochelle. Virtually every Village-enhancing proposal put forth by the Mayor including economic development, easing the tax burden on residents, working on retaining qualified firefighters and police officers, creating more transparency in Village government and others has run into a wall of obstructionism built by Council members. What is the reason for this and how does this help our town? Does the Council have issues with the Mayor or the work he is trying to accomplish?
In the current standoff, ask yourself this question. If you had to choose only one, would you have the Village spend $50,000 to make sure all the fences in Swanton did not exceed the allowable height and no one has a shed too large? Or would you rather have them spend $15,000 to have the security of knowing the Swanton Fire and Rescue Department had the maximum capability to keep your house from burning to the ground or meeting your medical emergency needs. Better yet, ask your Village Council members what is going on between them and Mayor Toeppe. If you are not happy with the answer, ask again in November.