WEST ALEXANDRIA — Village Council passed readings of ordinances concerning drugs, rules regarding social media usage, and a planned levy to increase funding for the police department during its regular monthly meeting Monday, March 15.
Fiscal officer Shaylie Werner briefly discussed Fire Chief John Glander’s written response to a complaint letter from the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC) Division of Safety and Hygiene near the top of Monday’s meeting.
The letter, dated Jan. 26, states that “one or more employees” of the West Alexandria Fire Department have alleged hazardous working conditions, including employees operating an aerial lift mechanism without adequate training or fall protection and using grinders and cut saws without being provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.
The village must submit injury reports for the last five years before the BWC can process Chief Glander’s response, according to Werner. Glander admitted during council’s Feb. 22 meeting that appropriate safety procedures had not always been followed.
“That’s true, and we’ll do a better job of providing PPE in the future,” Glander said.
Council approved the second reading of a use nuisance ordinance which would penalize landlords and other property owners in the village whose properties are repeatedly involved in drug-related offenses.
Council voted not to move forward with a previous version of the ordinance during its Monday, Oct. 19 meeting. If adopted, owners of properties found to be in violation would face a series of warnings and fines, and could even lose the ability to continue renting or residing at a property for a period of time.
Council voted to pass the second reading of the revised ordinance during Monday’s meeting, with council president Ashley Myers casting the lone “No” vote. A second vote to declare an emergency and waive the required third reading of the ordinance failed, however, with Myers and council member Holly Robbins voting against.
Social media controversy
Council also voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance establishing the Village of West Alexandria’s website and Facebook page as the only online public forums officially representing the village.
The ordinance, according to solicitor Aaron Glasgow, would protect the village against potential civil rights litigation by requiring council members with personal social media accounts to post a disclaimer stating that their views do not represent those of the municipality if they plan to regularly discuss village business.
Without the ordinance, Glasgow said, such discussions could legally constitute a public forum, meaning that the village could face lawsuits if residents’ comments are deleted or their views otherwise suppressed.
Mayor Hickey expressed concerns about certain council members’ statements on social media in January, saying he felt the statements were “a little misleading” and that they cast the village in a “disturbing” light.
Council members Dan Utsinger and Zach Shafer came out strongly in opposition to the ordinance.
“We’re going to ask every employee of this town to put a disclaimer on their Facebook page?” Utsinger asked. “Because that’s what this says, and to me that’s a dumb idea.”
Shafer, meanwhile, raised First Amendment concerns.
“I don’t see why we’re limiting our employees and elected officials in their free speech,” Shafer said. “Who’s got time to police what’s being commented on someone’s personal Facebook page? Who’s going to be the Facebook police?”
Glasgow insisted that the ordinance would only affect those who post about village-related business “on a regular basis,” however, and wouldn’t prevent them from posting whatever they wish as long as they include the disclaimer.
“The more you do, the closer you are to a public forum, especially when people are accessing it and debating,” Glasgow said.
Shafer said he felt the ordinance was being used as a form of censorship against certain council members, however. Utsinger expressed even stronger sentiments.
“I’m not putting a disclaimer on mine, no matter what happens,” he said.
The first reading of the measure passed by a margin of four to two, with Shafer and Utsinger voting against.
Police Department levy
Council previously debated placing a levy on the ballot to increase funding for the police department during a pair of special meetings held on Tuesday, Jan. 26 and Thursday, Jan. 28. The measure was defeated at that time.
Police Chief Tony Gasper addressed council about his department’s proposed 2021 budget during a pair of special meetings in Nov. 2020, stating that the planned reduction from $272,000 to $220,000 would compromise his ability to provide 24/7 police coverage.
The first reading of a resolution authorizing the village to place the levy on the ballot passed by a margin of four to two on Monday, however, with council members Myers and Robbins voting against. The levy is expected to go on the ballot in November pending the passage of subsequent readings.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings are held the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Fire & EMS Bldg located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish