Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chardon: The Morning of Feb. 27, 2012

It was one year ago that I was on my way to UH Geauga Medical Center to gather some information for an upcoming general news story. While riding down Auburn Road at about 8 a.m. my cell phone rang. It was my daughter telling me she had just heard that a shooting had taken place at Chardon High School and students had been killed.

For a moment, I froze. In disbelief I told her she had to be wrong. But she was insistent. This is what had been reported. I immediately called my executive editor who instructed me to turn around, head to the scene and start reporting.

I arrived before the masses of local and national media hit the area. Walking amidst the parents and relatives who began to gather around Chardon Middle School I deduced that full facts had not yet been released. 

Among rumblings heard were…
One shooter had been caught, another was on the loose…
Students were still in harm’s way…
One student had died, several were injured…

Later, the accurate fact that there was one shooter who killed three students and wounded two others would be revealed.
Meanwhile, it was my job to talk to the gathering crowds. The body language of some told me not to approach them. They remained silent, worried, and needed to be alone. Others wanted to talk, their anxiety spilling forth through their words.

Quickly, the smattering of concerned people surrounding the school increased to hundreds. Some huddled in groups with arms around each other, others waited alone. Many cried. Some were angry. All were anxious to hear that their child was alive and out of harm’s way.

Little by little local and national media descended. Camera crews and reporters were everywhere. Safety forces continued to arrive in droves … rescue vehicles, fire trucks, police cars, helicopters, a black armored tank ….
Attempting to call the newsroom from my cellphone was futile. Signals were shut down from the flood of communications taking place.

Eventually a system was set up at the middle school where children were released to their loved ones. A single guarded door opened intermittently, allowing only a few out at a time. Each that left the building did so with the protective arm of an adult around them, holding them close. None had smiles. Most were serious, some confused, many crying.

As the morning wore on and it was determined that it was safe for the high school students to be released I headed in the direction where media was given access. Walking up the hill, past the stadium I was numb from cold as well as the horror of what was happening. This couldn't be Chardon, this couldn't be the place where multiple young people had just been shot dead. Who could have committed this heinous act? And why?

I would soon be told several versions from the students released from the building. 
As at the middle school, some refused to talk while others were very willing.
One young man who had been in the cafeteria and witnessed the tragedy identified the shooter as T.J. Lane and said that he was wearing a shirt with the word “KILLER” printed on it. Later, it was found out that the student was right.
Some preliminary explanations  provided by other students as to why the incident had taken place were that the shooter was a constant victim of bullying and was carrying out a payback; drugs - including a drug deal gone bad - were involved; and that  a girlfriend was at the center of the controversy.

My thoughts vacillated from those of disbelief to keeping at my task of gathering information to report.

Finally, after almost four hours, I slowly walked back to my car. Freezing from standing out in the cold for so long and dazed from what I had just experienced, emotions finally set in and I found myself shaking. Driving away I wept for what was the saddest tragedy I had ever witnessed.
The sight of a McDonald’s beckoned me to stop for a comforting, hot cup of coffee as well as to get a better grip of myself.
A long day of writing in the newsroom awaited….

--Jean Bonchak

Friday, February 22, 2013

Playing catch-up on Mentor City Council

Going to the first city council meeting is very similar to reading a new novel without the first few chapters. The same questions pop into my head in both circumstances. Who are these people? What are they talking about? Why should I care?  What exactly is the conflict? Is there even a conflict?

This week was my first Mentor City Council meeting, and it was a game of catch-up. It turns even more awkward when you’re assigned to cover the meeting for a news outlet. Thankfully, Betsy Scott covered the big story atthe meeting. I idled in my chair scanning through name tags and faces, and matching them up with the officer’s list on my agenda. It took only a few minutes to deduce who on the booth was Mentor’s City Manager.

I’ve covered other city council meetings before: once in Orchard Park, N.Y., and a half dozen in Kent, Ohio. Each city council has different conflicts, different rules and different backstories.

They also have different hot-button issues that lure residents to share passionate soap-box speeches on the podium. In Orchard Park, it was stonewalling commercial development for pedestrian safety. In Kent, it was isolating long-term residents away from student housing and its line of destruction. At this week’s Mentor City Council meeting, I learned that someMentor residents care deeply about the deer population. Some would say too deeply.

Two residents rose to the podium at last Tuesday’s meeting to demonstrate their anger over how many deer were killed in Mentor Lagoon this past year.

“The signs at Mentor Lagoons read ‘Mentor Lagoon – Nature Preserve,’” said one resident, Barbara Welker of Mentor. “I think they need new signs. Maybe ‘Wildlife Kill Zone.’ There isn’t one deer left—let alone a herd--in the Mentor Lagoon.”

I don’t have the background or insight to know which side in this deer fight is wrong or misinformed. But like any great thriller novel, the characters have compelled me to read, listen and follow along to how this conflict unfolds and whether any new surprises arise. Passionate advocates are almost always the elements of a gripping story, and I am very interested to learn more about this fight.

-Simon Husted

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mentor makes gains in home sales

Mentor home sales are up a bit from a year ago, a drug-buy suspect crashes into a cop, and the PD gets a high-tech computer to help enhance surveillance videos, etc. Those items and more in the latest, weekly city manager report to City Council:

Manager Comments 
• Fourth quarter 2012 single-family residential sales data for Lake County and the City of Mentor compared to fourth quarter 2011 revealed that the number of homes sold in Mentor increased 21 percent vs. an 11 percent increase in Lake County.

The average sale price increased 17 percent at the county level to $147,995 vs. a 9 percent increase at the city level ($143,322).  The number of days a home was on the market declined 47 percent at the city level vs. a 13 percent decline at the county level. Data was supplied by Todd Crockett of Howard Hanna-Mentor.

Police Department
• On Feb. 7, the narcotics unit set up a buy/bust involving the purchase of heroin and a handgun. After the purchase was complete the arrest team moved in to secure the suspect. The suspect drove his vehicle toward an officer who was driving an unmarked vehicle with red and blue take-down lights, striking the officer’s vehicle. The suspect stopped and was taken into custody. The suspect was charged with trafficking in heroin and cocaine, weapons under disability and assault on a police officer.

• The police department was awarded a federal grant of more than $11,000 for the purchase of a new video forensic computer. This computer is utilized to enhance surveillance video to identify suspects, vehicles, license plates or other objects that assist in the prosecution of criminal cases.

Fire Department
•  On Feb. 8, Mentor, along with several other departments, provided assistance to Willoughby at a major house fire on Code Avenue. The fire extensively damaged the basement, first floor and attic. One occupant of the home was transported to the hospital with smoke inhalation.

• On Feb. 10, the Fire Department responded to two MABAS requests. The first was to Willoughby for a medical building fire at 6025 Commerce Circle that was reported at 7:37 a.m. There were no injuries; damages are estimated at $750,000.  The second was at Golden Living Center in Kirtland. Golden Living is a large assisted nursing home at 9685 Chillicothe Road. The fire was reported at about 4:25 p.m. and was controlled by the fire sprinkler system.

The MABAS request was made due to the high life hazard at the facility. About 30 occupants were evacuated from the floor above the laundry room to other areas of the facility until the fire could be completely extinguished, smoke removed, and the sprinkler and fire alarm system restored. The fire started in a large commercial dryer and extended to the exhaust system. It appears accidental in nature. 

• On Feb. 13 at approximately 12:53 p.m., paramedics were called for an unresponsive male/reported heroin overdose.  Narcan was given and the male was transported to the hospital in stable condition.

• Ohio Department of Transportation has recently authorized the city of Mentor to begin “incidental” right-of-way activity for the Newell Creek Bikeway.  “Incidental” work includes all acquisition activity up to, but not including, owner contact.  Essentially, it includes title and appraisal work. Once the Environmental Document approval is received, property acquisition activity may begin.

Parks and Recreation Department
• The Wildwood Basketry Guild will host Winter Weave 2013 next Friday through Sunday at the Wildwood Manor House. This event brings basket weavers from all over the country together to design, weave, learn and share the art of basket weaving and is free for observers.

• The 2013 Summer Camp Guide was distributed to homes with school-age children in the 44060 zip code. The guide lists over 150 camps offered throughout the summer.

• Black Brook Golf Course is taking advantage of the below average temperatures to get the clubhouse spruced up for the coming golf season.

• The Senior Center is experiencing problems with the main boiler. To date, we have had two companies look at the system and supply us with quotes on repair and/or replacement. It appears that it will be more prudent to replace the units with newer, higher efficiency units than to repair them.

• The Mentor Senior Center mailed out annual membership renewal reminders this past week. At the end of January, we had 2,332 members renewed. This represents about half of our normal membership.

Economic and Community Development
• Tom Thielman and Terry Botirus participated in a webinar hosted by the National Association of Development Companies regarding the upcoming switch in central servicing agencies from Colson Services to Wells Fargo. For the past 25 years, Colson Services has managed the collection of payments and disbursement of fees to the Community Development Corporations involved in SBA lending.

• Tom Thielman attended the Painesville City-State of the City address. Doug Lewis, acting city manager, and Cathy Beiterman, economic development coordinator gave presentations on the city’s current financial condition and economic development projects.

Employee News
• Mentor Senior Center Recreation Coordinator Nick Standering and wife Karyn welcomed their new baby boy, Cooper Stephen Standering Feb. 8.  Cooper weighed in at 7 lbs., 10 oz. and 20.5 in. long.

Public Works Department
• Pothole patching
• Completed construction of storage unit at Garfield Ballroom
• Senior Center painting
• Civic Center ball fields restroom painting
• Replacing drop ceiling at Fire Station #5
• Constructing new tables for Black Brook Golf Course pavilion
• Completed design and cost estimate for 15 drainage assistance projects
• Testing conflict monitors – 50% complete
• Ordered and received 3,000 tons of salt

• The City’s current General Fund Annual Budget for 2013 that corresponds with the appropriation ordinance that Council adopted on December 4 is posted on the City’s Wiki site. The actual amounts for 2012 have been added to this final version.  We are making copies for users that prefer a published printed version. The current Capital Improvement Program should be completed next week.

-- Betsy Scott, BScott@News-Herald.com, @ReporterBetsy

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mentor PD schools some safety force members

Mentor Police schooled some safety force members in evidence collection, the city’s final deer-culling tally is in, and discussions are under way about Senior Center funding. Those items and more in the latest weekly city manager memo to City Council:

Manager Comments
• The police department conducted a one-week basic evidence technician training class for new department evidence technicians. Instructors included Mentor Detectives Jim Collier and Ed Zigman in partnership with the Lake County Crime Lab and BCI.

The 40-hour class included training in fingerprinting, photography, shoe/tool impressions, DNA collection and more. The police department had five officers attend and the fire department had two of their arson investigators attending. There were also officers from 13 local departments participating in the training for a total of 24 students.

• Income tax collections for the month of January were up $568,000 compared to January of last year, a favorable change of almost 22 percent.

• A male was arrested for passing counterfeit $100 bills at Walmart. The male was purchasing items with the counterfeit money and then returning the items for real money at a different Walmart. The male, from Wilmington, Del., is being charged with theft and criminal simulation. The Secret Service is also investigating the case.

Parks and Recreation Department
• Deer culling wrapped up last week with a total of 212 deer harvested under this portion of the program.• The Senior Center’s paging system is completed. Paging can be heard in all rooms.

• Renee Ochaya will be meeting with the Senior Levy Committee today to discuss the senior funding for the Senior Center.

• The “2ba Healthy Kid Festival” scheduled for March 16 currently has 16 vendors signed up for this event.

Fire Department
• On Feb. 2nd at 8:01 p.m., paramedics responded to an assault where the patient had been hit over the head multiple times. He was treated at the scene and transported to TriPoint Medical Center.

• On Feb. 2 at 11 p.m., paramedics responded to a possible overdose; the patient was unresponsive. Narcan was administered and the patient became alert during transport to TriPoint Medical Center.

• On Feb. 4 at 4:49 p.m., Paramedics responded to a patient whose heart stopped. Advanced Life Support Resuscitation efforts were successful and the patient was transported to Lake West Hospital in stable condition.

• Public Education Specialist Nathan Peters visited 609 fifth-grade students in Mentor Schools for an annual Fire Safety Talk this week. Firefighter Peters also taught the students Hands-Only CPR.

Police Department
• The K-9 unit, Bo and Titan, responded to Eastlake North High School to conduct a drug sniff at the request of the school and Eastlake Police Department. No drugs were found in the school.

• Heisley Road Bridge Deck saw cutting is now complete in the southbound direction. Deck slab removal was expected to be complete by Feb. 8. “Do Not Enter” signage has been added to the north side of the bridge to help reinforce the one-way northbound traffic condition.

• Shown below is a summary of Building Division activity comparing December 2012 with January 2013:
Prior Month Month of
Dec 2012 Jan 2013
Total Permits Issued 160 179
Value of Permits Issued $3,059,333 $3,987,976

Building Permit Inspections 651 567
New Plan Review Cases 32 50
Engr. & Bldg. Permit Plan Reviews 162 262
New Contractor Registrations 10 478

Economic and Community Development
• Tom Thielman and Ron Traub met with the officer of a local manufacturer regarding expansion or new construction.

• Tom Thielman and Terry Botirus participated in a SBA 504 loan closing for Cleveland Geriatrics, Inc., a Lake County business that used MEACO as their SBA funding source for a building purchase in Willoughby. Loans outside of Mentor earn MEACO revenue as its originator and servicing agency. The total project cost was $355,000.

Public Works Department
• Snow and ice control
• Mailbox repair
• Pothole patching
• Storm sewer repair - Dawson and Edgewood
• Chipping Christmas Trees
• Assistance with deer culling program
• Building picnic tables for BBGC
• Facility upgrades - Garfield ballroom, Old Council Hall, Senior Center

-- Betsy Scott, BScott@News-Herald.com, @ReporterBetsy

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

You can help vendors affected by West Side Market fire

Cleveland native and celebrity chef Michael Symon has put together the website Market Vendor Relief to aid vendors that were affected by the Jan. 30 fire at the 100-year-old West Side Market on West 25th Street in Cleveland.

The website states:
As a result of the fire, the Market vendors are faced with a myriad of issues. All food and packaging products on the main floor have been lost, and the inventory in the basement coolers is yet to be determined, as no one is permitted to enter this area. While the produce vendors are permitted to open, much of their equipment and products are still in the basement coolers, and without all of the stands up and running, attendance at the Market is at an all-time low.
In addition, vendors lost all of their peaked annual Super Bowl Sunday sales, which is key for many to pay their rent and sustain their business until the Easter season. While each of the vendors has liability insurance, many do not have coverage for their lost inventory, business interruption, or their employees' lost wages.
By donating to this fund, you can be assured that the monies raised will aid in the Market vendors' recovery, and in the efforts to save the beloved West Side Market.

You can make a donation to The Michael D. Symon Foundation Inc. through marketvendorrelief.org or at any First Merit Bank branch.

View a photo gallery of the damage from the West Side Market fire.

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crime prevention class at The News-Herald

Sgt. Michael Knack of the Euclid Police Department will conduct a crime prevention class at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at The News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby.

Knack will address ways to prevent crime, and discuss what he calls the “four risks” and how individuals can avoid falling victim to them.

He encourages members of all aspects of the community to attend, including area residents, church officials, business owners and those involved in education.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP by calling 440-497-0580, or on the Facebook event page.

Knack has 20 years of law enforcement experience, and is a certified crime prevention specialist. He has a bachelors degree from Cleveland State University in Public Safety Management, along with more than 2,200 hours of law enforcement related training.

Knack also owns Professional Safety Consulting & Training Systems, a security company based in Chardon.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mentor burglar bungles badly

A botched burglary, an update on a major bridge project and a website launched for the city’s new summer celebration — those items and more in the administration's latest weekly report to Mentor City Council:

Police Department
• A male was arrested on Wednesday and charged with burglary for breaking into a house on Victoria Lane. While the suspect was inside the house, the homeowner arrived and found the suspect holding a television. The homeowner tackled the suspect, but eventually let him go because he knew him. He called MPD and the suspect fled. The suspect was captured a short time later at his residence. The male is also a suspect in a theft of items from a vehicle in the lot of Drug Mart and another burglary. These two cases are currently being investigated.

• The police department increased patrols over the weekend due to the Super Bowl. There was a focus on traffic violations, especially drinking and driving. The increased patrols were part of the High Visibility Traffic Enforcement Grant.

Manager Comments 
• Mentor CITYfest has been added to the Mentor City website. Information will be updated as the festival draws closer.  Currently, the website is broken down into four headings: Get Involved, Entertainment, Parade and Vendors.  This will be an ideal way to convey CITYfest information; links are provided to view some of the planned entertainment. Vendors and parade participants will be able to download applications.

• Earlier this week, the city requested an additional 63 deer tags from ODNR Division of Wildlife to continue with the culling effort. This is the first and final request for additional tags, and after the tags are exhausted, the city’s culling program will come to a close for the year. As a reminder, the bow hunting season in the City concluded Feb. 2. At the conclusion of both programs, the administration will report to council on the overall program results and costs.

• High winds caused isolated power outages over the last couple of days. The largest and longest outage was on Garfield Road from a tree that knocked down wires on Wednesday morning at approximately 3 a.m. The street was completely blocked. CEI responded to the scene within an hour. CEI was able to replace the damaged poles and wires by 3 a.m. on Thursday and reopen the road.

• Due to a momentary power outage at Aqua Ohio’s Mentor-on-the-Lake water plant, numerous water breaks were reported throughout the City. Water line breaks were reported at Olde Farm Lane at Farmingdale Lane, Sycamore Road at Oak Street, Adkins Road at Kittery Lane and at 4803 Willowbrook Drive. Follow-up activities regarding restoration and/or pavement repair will be coordinated with Aqua Ohio.

• Legislation was introduced on Jan. 31 in the Ohio House of Representatives to standardize the way Ohio communities levy and administer their local income tax. The legislation, HB5 is a reintroduction of HB601 from the previous General Assembly, addressing the same areas of municipal tax practices, in the same manner that will result in tremendous hardships through significant reductions in revenues and loss of critical local control for Ohio cities and villages. It appears that the new bill does not make any changes from last session’s legislation that would make the tax reform bill less onerous to cities.

Fire Department
• On Jan. 26 at 11:38 a.m., Mentor Fire Department responded to a garage fire on Robinwood Drive. The detached garage was fully engulfed in flames. Two acetylene tanks stored in the garage had safety relief valves that were activated and caught the escaping gas on fire and blew out the side of the garage door. Contents of the garage included a motorcycle. The fire was brought under control and there were no injuries. Loss is estimated at $45,000 and was insured. The investigation indicates that the cause of the fire was the wood burner too close to combustibles.

• On Jan. 31 at 2:08 a.m., paramedics responded to a possible overdose in a hotel room. The patient was unconscious, administered Narcan, woke up and was transported to Lake West Hospital.

• On Jan. 31, a tree fell on Meister Road between two houses. One suffered damage to the soffit, fascia boards and gutter. Fire Station #2 covered the hole to keep out snow and rain until more permanent repairs are made. The homeowner was contacting his insurance company.

• Fire Lieutenant and Fire Battalion Chief promotional testing job posting was announced on Jan. 25. The written test is March 13. The Assessment Center portion of the process will be scheduled for mid to late April.

• ODOT’s contractor continues to work on the replacement of the Heisley Road bridge deck. Currently, the contractor is sawing the southbound bridge deck in preparation for its removal. Saw-cutting operations can only occur when the deck temperature is above freezing. To date, the number of calls and or complaints regarding the southbound lane closure and resulting detour have been minimal.

Traffic-signal timing adjustments are being implemented at the intersection of Heisley Road and Jackson Street to account for increased traffic in the westbound direction in the morning rush hour. Further traffic observations and analyses will occur at this intersection and others throughout the project and adjustments will be made as necessary.

• Eleven bids were opened for the 2013 Road Repair Program on Jan. 30. Based upon the favorable bids received, it is anticipated a recommendation for award will be placed on the Feb. 19 council agenda.

• The Engineering Dept. staff has begun compiling parcel data for the 2013 Sidewalk program.  Zone 3B, which consists roughly of the area between Bellflower Road, Lake Shore Blvd., Melshore Drive, and Reynolds Road will be inspected.  This area also includes Reynolds Road to the north of Lake Shore Blvd. and Brambleside Lane.

• Shown below is a summary of permits issued by the Building Division in December 2012 and through January 30, 2013:
                           Prior Month              Month of
                             Dec 2012        Jan  2013
Total Permits Issued     160    167
     Value of Permits Issued    $3,059,333    $3,579,376

Commercial Permits Issued     41    58
     Value of Com’l Permits Issued    $1,350,290    $2,774,000

Overall, in 2012 there were 3,629 building permits issued, with a total valuation of $77,983,925. Of this total, approximately 636 were commercial permits with a valuation of $55,643,392.

• In a News Herald article published on Jan. 30, the “number of new residences” constructed in Mentor in 2012 was incorrectly reported as 425. The City issued 32 new single family dwelling permits in 2012. The newspaper cited their source as the Lake County Auditor’s Office. Most of other communities listed were in the 30 to 70 range. The News-Herald has been contacted and informed of this discrepancy.

• The Engineering Department staff met with Chagrin River Watershed Partners, Lake Co. Soil and Water, and the City’s Public Information Office to discuss how to best implement a public information program for residents within the Newell Creek watershed. The public education program is a secondary aspect of the storm water quality improvements for Great Lakes Mall and will be funded by a portion of the grant money that has been awarded for the project. The focus of the program will be on water quality education with best management practices such as rain barrels and rain gardens for residential properties.

Economic and Community Development
• The Economic Development Administration (EDA) recently released a study entitled, “The Geographic Concentration of Manufacturing Across the United States.” The report notes that manufacturing has contributed more than 25% of the overall growth in GPD between 2009 and 2011 and added over 500,000 jobs between 2010 and 2012. In Lake County, 28% of the earnings paid in the County were to workers engaged in manufacturing; 16% of the work force is engaged in manufacturing.

• Staff prepared Economic Development Grants for BurgerFi and Fredon Corporation and a Mentor Incentive Grant agreement with Safeguard Properties.

• Tom Thielman met with representatives from a local brew-on-premise company regarding the Mentor Small Business Loan program. The prospect is interested in a vacant property in Mentor.

Parks and Recreation Department
• The 8th annual Chili Open was held Jan. 26. Weather conditions were perfect — 4 inches of fresh powder! More than 200 golfers enjoyed the day, spending quality time looking for their orange golf balls in the snow. The Chili Open has become a great fundraiser, producing over $10,000 for the United Way.

• The Father-Daughter Skate is on Feb. 9 from noon to 3:30 p.m.

Public Works Department
•    Snow and ice control
•    Monitoring drainage concerns
•    Cold patching
•    Assisting with deer culling program
•    Painting at Senior Center
•    Constructing new tables for Black Brook Golf Course pavilion
•    Finalized ARRA submissions to U.S. Dept. of Energy
•    Began annual testing of conflict monitors

-- Betsy Scott, BScott@News-Herald.com, @ReporterBetsy