Consider applying for a City board position if you want to make a difference in Hudson

Hudson has a quite a few seats coming open on City Boards and Commissions this spring.  It may be a great opportunity if you want to make an impact in your community, even if you don’t have a great deal of time or experience. The only requirement of most Boards is that you’ve lived in Hudson for two years and you are a registered voter.board

The level volunteerism in Hudson amazes me. At the top of the list are the contributions of our volunteer EMS and Fire staffs. We all benefit from the  high level of quality and hours provided by the mostly volunteer staff in Safety services. As an aside, if you want to learn more about EMS, or thank a member, stop by the EMS Open House this Saturday May 10 from 11AM – 3PM. Fire or EMS volunteer work is not for everyone; we have many “desk jobs” on or boards and commissions.  Most board seats are limited to three, 4-year terms in order to assure we always have new faces and voices advising and assisting City Council.

City Council appoints over 60 citizens to seats on ten City Boards or Commissions. Collectively they give back on average of 6000 hours of service each year to Hudson. Can you spare a few hours and want to make a difference?  It’s not that hard, and judging by the number who re-apply and those that serve 12 years and “termed out,” most find it rewarding!

I’ve pasted the details from the City of Hudson website below, which includes links for more info and an application. These Boards are an extension of City Council functions, and members are appointed by City Council after an interview session.

Here’s my quick take on the open board positions, ranked not by importance, but rather time commitment.

TREE COMMISSION. Time involved: Less than 6 hours a month. Meets monthly (last Thursday).  Good board to “get your feet wet” and find out if serving on city boards is for you. No particular knowledge of horticulture or biology required (there are plenty of training opportunities once you are a member.) The City has an arborist; the Board’s role is more of an advocate for trees, advisory role to Council, and an educational resource for the Community. The Tree Commission was instrumental in advocating for street trees in the new Main Street project, for example.

PARK BOARD. Time involved: 6+ hours a month. Currently meets 6x a year (third Monday), active monthly subcommittee meetings on specific areas. With 1128 acres spread across 20 City parks, the Board balances active and passive park interests. It advises City Council on uses of a $1.5 million park budget and recommends long term strategies. With many “moving parts,” subcommittees have included Finance, Playgrounds/Ball fields, Trails, and Environment so there are many way to contribute.

ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORIC BOARD OF REVIEW, also ARCH Board or AHBR. Time involved: 10+ hours of month. Meets 1-2x month depending on work load (second and fourth Wednesdays).  The Architectural and Historic Board of Review (AHBR) reviews and approves/disapproves applications for zoning certificates other than for industrial buildings in industrial zones. The AHBR also issues certificates of appropriateness to construct, alter, remove or demolish structures, buildings or landmarks within any historic district. The AHBR maintains the high character of the community and protects public health, safety, and welfare. It reviews projects against the Architectural Design Standards. Members don’t need a background in architecture, planning or design, but are expected to do a fair amount of “homework” by reviewing cases before the meeting.

Hints when you are applying:  Put down more than one board you may be interested in. We frequently will have more qualified candidates than slots for one board, but we may find that an applicant also would work on another board, and when a vacancy comes open, we appoint them to their second or third choice.  Do your homework about the board before the interview. Read the meeting minutes, look at the agendas, and if possible, view a view minutes of the minutes of their meetings online.

City Council will have three at large seats up for election this November if you would like to join us and serve that way. Go to the Summit County Board of Elections http://www.summitcountyboe.com/Default.aspx in Akron to get started with filing to run for office.

If you want more info, you may also call or write me.  Good luck!

(from city website:)

Council Accepting Applications for Boards and Commissions

Hudson relies on volunteer boards and commissions as part of its government process. City Council is accepting applications for openings on the following boards and commissions:

Please complete the online Boards and Commissions Application to apply to be considered for one of these openings. Alternatively, residents may print and fill out an application and return it to the Clerk of Council at City Hall, 115 Executive Parkway, Suite 400. The forms are available at the link below.

To qualify for a board or commission position, applicants must be a Hudson resident for at least two years prior to the appointment and remain a resident during the entire term. Only registered voters will be considered for the openings.

To learn about each board or commission, visit the Boards and Commissions page. For questions regarding the application, please call Hudson Clerk of Council Elizabeth Slagle at 330-342-1795

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Problem in your Neighborhood? Tell us about it!

Road conditions, stormwater conditions and questions about sidewalks and paths are the most frequent concerns residents share with City Council members.  While City staff monitors these conditions, it is a good idea if Council members can see first-hand critical issues and potential long-term (and big ticket) items for future discussion.  This is the rationale behind the Annual City Council Road Tour.   While we travel a predetermined route, set by the City Engineer, we can and do make “side trips” to look at local conditions that may be pointed out by members or residents.

I’m sharing this year’s Road Tour route to prompt any suggestions on certain conditions we should consider. Please send them to me akelemen@hudson.oh.us before Saturday at 9AM and we’ll try to have a look as a group. If you can’t get it to me before then, no problem, please send them anyway.  It will still get attention, we just won’t see it as a group.

We will discuss all the findings of the Road Tour back at Townhall later that morning, and that meeting will be televised. I will provide a link later on at this site.

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4/25 City Council Meeting Updates

We had an interesting couple of recent City Council meetings. I have some opinions that diverge from some on Council on issues like accepting the Hudson Elementary land “donation,” the focus of Phase 2, and the contributions City Council can and should have in long-term City plans. More on those as they develop after future meetings.

In the meantime, if you like following spirited Town Hall discussions, follow the link below to the video of our April 25 Workshop. The main topic was an analysis of our Public Works Division, which employs a majority of our employees and is about 50% of our budget.   It is a 2.5 hour meeting, but you can go to the 1:55 mark to pick up the conversation and debate – whether trying to understand the functions of a department that touches so many residents and has such a large percentage of the budget somehow shows a lack of “trust” in what they do.  As someone who has only worked in the private sector for over 35 years and has supervised staff I find this assertion truly bizarre. I can only conclude that there are some on staff and City Council who must think we are elected to only pass resolutions and wait for items to be brought to our attention. Not what I signed on for! Watch for yourself  

Thoughts on Flags, both the City-kind and the Red ones

two flagsThere was a routine piece of legislation 17-46 at the last City Council meeting (3/21/17). It was an ordinance repealing the Code section designating an official City Flag.  The same evening we passed another piece of legislation 17-38 – a two- year economic development electric rate extension agreement with Allstate Insurance. I asked for clarification on the flag legislation, and the short discussion that followed ended up as a front page story in the Hudson Hub-Times, with nothing reported on the rate extension.

The rate extension extends the two year period for a special electric rate we originally offered Allstate for business retention.  They are one of our largest employers, so it is not unheard of to offer a special rate as incentive to retain jobs and taxes.  If you look at the kilowatt rate stated in the legislation, it is less than the cost the City pays for the power wholesale.  The difference is a loss in the hundreds of thousands per year. This is important, more important than retaining or eliminating a city flag. But one you read about, the other not.

I am not arguing against a discounted rate; Allstate generates critical income taxes and property taxes and stability to the community.  What I am saying is when you read about Council actions they often seems trivial because it is easier to report that type of news.  The bigger, complex  issues often don’t make the paper, or are lost in the meeting if you are watching. I don’t blame the paper or reporters; I find it difficult to share this type of info without going into pages of detail.

City Council has initiated extended departmental reviews in an effort to understand dynamics of our City budget in issues like electric rates for Allstate and how broadband may help our tax base.  Hudson City Council operates at a disadvantage compared to our neighboring Councils like Twinsburg , Stow and Boston Heights.  Those Councils assign areas of responsibility and oversight into committees. That affords them the opportunity to go into more detail on departmental operations.  We have chosen to go at it with a “Committee of the Whole” format (we call them”Workshops”) which limits the amount of time to the two to two-half hour segments along with all the routine business we discuss.  The reviews are a step in a direction to gaining more information for better Council decisions.

We are concerned about “flags” on Hudson Council –operational “red flags,” or maybe “yellow flags” if you are a race fan.  We’ve seen a few of both in the past five years. They represent critical decision points, opportunities where we as your appointed representatives have to stake out a direction.  I tell residents that if we (Council and staff) are doing our jobs correctly, Council is really not governing in 2017, but rather 2022 or 2027. The present day issues are mostly operational, and staff does a good job handling those.  We are paying attention to potential cautionary “flags,” on the road ahead.  The warning for the public is that is doesn’t make for a very compelling headline or riveting television.  Just know we are concerned with more than “city flags,” even if you don’t hear about it much!

Medical Marijuana facilities in Hudson put off again…probably for good this time.

City Council passed 5-1 (Weinstein-no, Wooldredge-amed-mjbsent) an ordinance continuing a six month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in Hudson until September, 2017.  This likely means Hudson will not be the home to a medical marijuana grow facility.

The question of permitting a grow facility was a topic at my recent Ward 3 Forum.  We had a good public discussion, with several interesting points of view. One was from a local author, Susan Terkel, who authored several books on the topic, including  “Should Drugs be Legalized?” The majority opinion that night was similar to this email I received the next day:

“Good Morning….Thank you for your service….Thank you for taking the time to listen to your constituents….Thank you for discussing a controversial topic in a fair and balanced way…… I strongly oppose the operation Of any type of government sanctioned marijuana centers …”

Some of the discussion at the Ward 3 Forum was the same type of comment I hear today, discussing the merits of medical marijuana. That is not the issue. The Ohio Legislature already decided last year that medical marijuana was to be legal in Ohio. The only decision left to municipalities was whether or not to allow its manufacturing and retail locations (dispensaries) in their communities. Not having a grow facility or dispensary in Hudson will not limit the accessibility for anyone in Hudson who needs it and is allowed to use it.

Immediately after the state law took effect, Hudson followed the lead of many cities and unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on any decision as to allow or restrict, pending the release of more details from the state regulatory authorities. That original moratorium expires March 6, 2017.  We voted last night to “punt” on the decision for another six months. As far as growing facilities are concerned, due to the timing of permits and lead time to build, a 6-month moratorium is tantamount to saying we don’t want that facility.

This  article does a good job explaining how the grow industry works and why that marijuana ship has now sailed for Hudson.  It’s about a proposed site in Eastlake, a city that is open to a grow facility, and has received a full proposal and details about the operations.

Hudson was under consideration for a grow site this winter, but then the proposal was withdrawn.  While those details are not public, the Eastlake article goes into detail on what we may have missed.

A 25,000 sq. ft capacity grow facility is currently the largest allowable site, one of 14 to be permitted statewide.  The Eastlake group is proposing that size,  with 30-50 employees projected and a payroll of $1.5 million. The payroll tax, if it were located in Hudson, would be $30,000 a year, plus property taxes to the schools, and income from fees.  This means the average job pays $30k, hardly high end tech. The building itself would be about 60,00o sq. ft. The Eastlake developer says they need a site selected in time for a June application deadline, with plans and construction to begin in September, 2017 –right about the time our moratorium ends. By the time Hudson City Council acts again on whether or how to allow grow facilities, the growers and sites will have been determined. No great loss as far as I’m concerned.

Some say that Council’s opposition to facilities in town is putting morals or personal attitudes about marijuana above public health or economic development. The economic development upside is not that great.  Council is able to choose whether we want this type of business because Ohio grants cities that privilege with this new legal industry.  I‘m not enthused about the downsides of association with the “growing” marijuana industry. How do we promote a program  on “Nobody Starts with Heroin” one night and cash the check from the marijuana industry the next day?  If Ohio gave City Councils the right to prohibit a tobacco grow facility, a distillery, or gun range, I would feel the same about all those legal enterprises—adults can feel free to indulge, and other cities can profit, but they are businesses I would rather not have in Hudson.

Apparently I’m not alone on the issue. You can’t gauge public opinion by letters to the editor, Facebook “likes” or tweets. The best indicators are voters at the polls. There was a state ballot issue in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana both medically and recreationally.  The number of proposed grow facilities was considerably less than permitted under the current law, but one of them would have been in Hudson. Hudson stood to gain significantly more in taxes under that 2015 proposal than it would now. Hudson voters rejected the issue by a 3 to 1 margin.

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For more on City Council actions at the February 7th meeting, including the results of the NEORSD stormwater vote, see “Notes from the most Recent Meeting

A reminder – I’m available to address your neighbor group or homeowners association. I’d love to come out and chat with you for a few minutes. I have two slated so far this winter, send me an email or call me with your invite!

Hudson doesn’t need NEORSD’s Stormwater Plan Web

Like the spider in the poem, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) entices Hudson to sign a contract and get $110,000 anspider-to-the-flyd “assistance” in handling stormwater projects.  Like the poor fly, once we sign on, we’re stuck, and who knows what consequences it will have for First & Main Phase 2 or development of the YDC property.

City Council will reconsider a tabled resolution authorizing us to enter a “Regional Stormwater Management Program Agreement” which allows us to receive assistance in stormwater-related planning, inspection, emergency response and construction activities in downtown and the northeast section of Hudson – the Brandywine Creek watershed.

The program is funded by stormwater “fees” charged to all property owners in the district. NEORSD is able to run this program because the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that they had the authority. The lawsuit was brought by several communities, including Hudson, as well as developers and landowners.

Having lost in court, Hudson and other communities are forced into a “shotgun wedding” – to sign an agreement with NEORSD that gives us 25% of the fees back to use in Hudson on Brandywine projects.  This is the $110,000 a year, and I am willing to pass up this “offer” because it comes with too many potential “strings.”   If we vote “no,” to the agreement, the residents still pay the fee, but NEORSD keeps its hands off Hudson. Approve it, and there’s a potential that Hudson may have to wait for NEORSD’s approval of developments like the Barlow Community Center pond improvements, the look of Phase 2 downtown, or determining how, if at all, we develop an office park at the YDC site. All of these are in the NEORSD management area.

What we give up if we sign is the right of NEORSD to review our plans, and we have to comply with “Title V” of their Code.  These are the “webs” that will be our legacy.  Right now they are just reviews and consultation, but there is a strong possibility that will change, with only the Courts between us and a new set of planners and regulators. History has shown us that NEORSD plays by its own rules. What starts as theoretical discussions today, small steps to agree to oversight,  form legally binding associations tomorrow, especially when dollars start flowing.  Welcome to the web, Mr. Fly.

NEORSD started stormwater discussions over 10 years ago as an advisory group. Our Mayor participated in those discussions in the spirit of regionalism, and it ended up working against us when we tried to argue in court that we were not part of the proposed stormwater district when it finally came together.  The State Legislature created Wastewater Districts in 1971; it took until 2015 for the Courts to rule “stormwater” was the same as “wastewater” and gave NEORSD a new political authority that it created for itself.

Who knows what new authority to regulate development  “Title V” will give NEORSD in the future. There is an active school of thought in Cleveland planning circles that all their problems would be solved if only development (“sprawl”) could be curtailed and more activity channeled into the central city areas.  The NEORSD stormwater fund may be managing water on the surface, but what is really flowing downstream to Cleveland  is our wealth and our power.

2017 Promises Changes and Opportunities for Hudson

happy-new-year2017 will be an important year in Hudson.  Certain years stand out in the progress of a City, and next year will be one of those years. Decisions we make next year will shape the way our City will look for many years. As the issues present themselves, we will have many topics to discuss, there will opportunities for public meetings, campaigns will be run, and some of us may choose to take a more active role in City Government. We will see some projects starting to take shape, and endure more construction and some changes in our routines and holiday traditions.

A year from now, the City and School facilities at the corner of Owen Brown and Prospect will hopefully be vacated to new locations on Hudson Drive, setting the stage for demolition and later construction of First & Main Phase 2.  We will be discussing what that development may look like in the course of meetings during 2017.

2017 will also see the completion of the Main Street construction project, with the finishing touches going in to the southern portion constructed this year, and work moving  to the section from Clinton St. north to Owen Brown in the spring.  What you see there now is just the portion wrapped up for the season. Expect the finished project by the summer. At the same time, work will begin on improvements to the Prospect St. intersection.  Stay tuned for potential impacts to the Memorial Day Parade.

We already know that the Taste of Hudson is returning in 2017 in a slightly different form. Hopefully all the enjoyable elements remain, while minimizing the impacts on residents and businesses.

The City will consider part of the former Youth Development Center property for a service facility next year, and perhaps proposals for the remaining developable portion will come forward.  Business development elsewhere in Hudson looks promising; with announcements expected soon.

The question of emergency dispatch services may be resolved in 2017.  The State of Ohio has put increased demands on personnel and equipment that will require some hard decisions at the local level.  Ohio is pushing municipalities to consolidate dispatch services, and their

The election calendar will be busy in 2017, with several ballot issues and many local offices up for vote.

The Hudson City Schools have already announced a 1.5 mill PIF levy for the May ballot.  There is also the possibility that the Schools Master Facilities Plan may require a levy later in the year.  The Master Facilities Plan discussion includes determining the future for the current Middle School, which should be another discussion topic for 2017.  While the City is ready to assist in the discussion and planning for future uses, it bears repeating that the City of Hudson has no interest in using the building for current City operations.

The City Council put off a vote on tax increase of its own for the May ballot. It still has a chance of reappearing for the May or November ballots if Council votes in favor. The issue would remove a portion of the income tax credit that Hudson residents receive if they work outside of Hudson.  Currently, if a resident pays at least a 2% local tax through their employer to their work city, no tax is owed Hudson.  The proposal, which a Council vote would put on the ballot for voter approval, would reduce that credit, increasing the local taxes paid and providing the difference to Hudson.

If City Council approves that issue for a vote, Hudson voters could be facing both a School tax issue and a City tax issue on the same ballot in 2017.

The majority of both City Council and School Board are up for election in 2017. Voters will be asked to elect 3 out of 5 School Board members;  4 out of 7 City Council seats also up in November.  What will City Council and School Board look like in 2018? That depends on who steps up to run, and what the voters decide.

Happy New Year! Should be an interesting one in Hudson!

A tax abatement fails, then later passes, a Council vote on October 18. Here’s why I voted “No.”

Resolution 16-160 entering into a CRA agreement with Hudson 21 LLC. The exemption is for 50% of the assessed value of the project for 15 years.

I voted “no” on this abatement, as I feel this deal hurts our school system in terms of lost revenue, lost opportunity and unnecessarily complicates the working relationship between the City of Hudson and the Hudson City School District.

The Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) Program is a direct incentive tax exemption program benefiting property owners constructing new buildings.  This program permits municipalities or counties to designate areas where investment has been discouraged as a CRA to encourage the development of new structures.

City Councils are entrusted to make a judgment call on CRAs of this size and scope without an affirmative vote from the affected school boards. School systems receive most of the money from property taxes, so in essence we are voting as to whether or not to give away a portion of their future revenue.  It is not a call we should make lightly, and not be given out to every developer as an opening bargaining position.

The size of this development, the type of development and the jobs created do not warrant this type of sacrifice from the schools.  The projected payroll in the first year is less than $400,000, with 30 jobs.  This is less than $14k a job.  The square footage is 21,000 square feet of office and mixed use recreational and educational. Read about the development here.

I feel a CRA should be a tool reserved for signature projects.  We should be weighing the benefits to our tax base, and to the community. We should consider the risk and reward if we turn down the abatement as to whether the project would still go forward.   I don’t feel the City did any of these things, which is I voted no.

The initial vote for emergency legislation failed 4-2 for lack of a supermajority. (Councilman Hanink joined me in voting “no,” Councilman Weinstein was absent).  It was only through some extra rounds of voting, with the “emergency” clause removed, that the vote passed by simple majority of 4-2. This means 30 days must pass before the legislation takes effect, rather than immediately.

I am in favor of competition, but only when the terms are fair.  The principal tenant of this development is Goldfish Swim School. At an earlier Council meeting, Council heard from the owners of Life Center Plus, informing us of their new relationship with the Hudson Schools HCER swim program, and fact that this new swim school would be a direct competitor. They did not feel it was appropriate as a taxpaying business that a competitor be given a tax break.  The developer has previously publicly stated he passes the tax breaks on to his tenants.

Not only will the Schools will be losing potential revenue that does not need to be abated, it will be helping underwrite a competitor to its own educational programming.