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News Stories and Events for 2013

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Officials agree area has heroin epidemic
By DAVE LANGE Chagrin Valley Times

Statistics confirm growing, alarming trend

The numbers are alarming, and no matter how those numbers are presented by law-enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, emergency responders, drug-treatment and intervention specialists, coroners, journalists and the public, they keep adding up to “epidemic.”

That’s what Steven Detelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, called it during at a heroin summit Nov. 21 in Cleveland. He’s not alone in that assessment.

“Make no mistake, this is an epidemic,” Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Astrab said Oct. 24 at a Heroin in the Suburbs forum in Solon.

“It’s here, people. We are experiencing an epidemic,” Chardon Municipal Judge Terri Stupica said in August, when she praised Geauga County Commissioners for committing $300,000 in additional funding this year to battle what officials said is a growing heroin problem in the county.

The numbers are more than alarming. They are deadly.

Death numbers

In adding the force of his office to the battle, Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine said Nov. 18 the state is averaging 11 deaths per week attributed to heroin overdoses. Fatal numbers exceeded that in 2012, when Ohio recorded 606 heroin deaths, which was double the figure for 2010.

According to reports from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, heroin was responsible for 97 corpses that it examined during the first half of this year, all but four of them residents of the county. At that rate, the year’s total easily will surpass the 161 heroin-related deaths reported in 2012, which was up from 91 in 2010 and 40 in 2007.

The 2012 total included 71 lost human lives from Cleveland and 90 from the suburbs. One of them occurred in Gates Mills. It was the only one reported in the 11 Cuyahoga County communities of the Chagrin Valley. Among the suburbs, Parma had the most heroin deaths with 13 last year.

On the weekend of Nov. 15-17, six more people died from overdoses in Cuyahoga County, including one from the far southeast suburb of Walton Hills and one from the far northwest suburb of Bay Village.

In his Aug. 2 report to Geauga County commissioners, judges and the sheriff, Dennis Michelson, program coordinator for Geauga Jail Treatment and Mentor Drug Court, wrote, “Three years ago, I began keeping a ‘body count’ on my office door in the jail. This week, I added Nos. 72 and 73 to the count. This represents a conservative estimate of persons who have died in Lake and Geauga counties from heroin-opiate overdoses over the past three years.”

Mr. Michelson pointed out that, while the latest two victims were Geauga residents, one of them was found dead in Lakewood in Cuyahoga and the other in Wickliffe in Lake County.

In response to a public-records request made Sept. 12, Geauga County Coroner Robert S. Coleman Jr. produced Oct. 5 the reports of his office’s examinations of heroin-related deaths over the previous 30 months. Following a review by the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office, the reports were released in early November.

The reports show three such deaths in the county during the first eight months of 2013, three in all of 2012 and four in the last 10 months of 2011 – a total of 10 during the 30 months. This year’s heroin deaths occurred in Thompson, Newbury and Middlefield.

In 2012, there were two in Munson. The coroner’s office included a resident of West Farmington in Trumbull County. In 2011, there were two in Middlefield, one in Bainbridge and one in Chardon. All of them were men. Ages were provided for five of them and ranged from 27 to 45.

Dr. Coleman pointed out that his “office only maintains records of deaths that have occurred in Geauga.” While just 10 reports were produced in response to the public-records request, he said, “In many cases, Geauga County residents die of heroin overdoses outside of Geauga County. In some instances, they may overdose in Geauga County and be transported to a medical facility outside the county, where they ultimately die.”

Some overdoses and deaths of Geauga residents may have occurred in Lake, which would be included in the total of 73 reported by Mr. Michelson for the two counties. Some may have occurred in Cuyahoga, including the body found in Lakewood the week prior to Aug. 2. Cuyahoga records, however, showed only four heroin-related deaths of people from outside the county during the first half of this year.

Other consequences

Death may be the most alarming consequence of the heroin epidemic, but there are others.

In urging more funding for the battle against heroin and other opiates, Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri noted that the drug problem influences other crimes. He said burglaries are up 67 percent, thefts from vehicles are up 158 percent, shoplifting is up 855 percent, and robberies are up 855 percent.

Nationally, though, the FBI’s 2012 crime statistics, released on Sept. 16, showed no change in the violent-crime rate and a 1.6 percent decline in the property-crime rate over the previous year.

Geauga County officials reported that felony indictments attributable to the drug increased by 32 percent during the first eight months of 2013. Chardon Municipal Court reported 68 heroin arrests between May 28 and Sept. 4 of this year. Geauga County Juvenile Court and Geauga County Job and Family Services reported the removal of 38 children over the past year because of parental heroin or other opiate abuse.

Addressing education, treatment, intervention and other approaches, in addition to law enforcement, at the summit in Cleveland, Mr. Detelbach said, “We need to develop an action plan that is really an all-the-above action plan to combat the epidemic of heroin.”

Mr. Michelson concluded in his report, “From my perspective – sometimes at the epicenter of the heroin problem – I have seen a number of proposals for dealing with the issue. My concern is that if we continue to fire buckshot at a problem requiring bullets, then we will aim at everything with the likelihood of hitting nothing.”

Published November 20, 2013

Attendees of the November 19 Commissioners' meeting, with newly-appointed Blake Rear on board, were surprised to see the entire front row of seats occupied by Chardon officials. Most vocal were Michelle Johnson, the hired expert from Environmental Design; Mayor Phil King, and City Manager Randy Sharpe. Ms. Johnson's presentation emphasized the need to proceed immediately with the Maple Highlands Trail. Phase 1 of the project has received 80% of its funding from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency(NOACA), an entity in place for approximately 30 years. One of its founders was Geauga farmer/Commissioner Neil Hofstetter, most remembered for a feud with then Sheriff Red Simmons that nearly tore Geauga County from limb to limb until Simmons passed away and was succeeded by his protegee, Dan McClelland.

NOACA has become the focus of interest in the last year or two as it holds monthly meetings in downtown Cleveland and has representatives from multiple counties in northeast Ohio. Notable among its Board of Directors is the concentration of power and authority in the City of Cleveland. NOACA has a policy of steering population. It sponsors yearly zoning workshops that are attended by zoning commission members from all over northeast Ohio. The more rural the county, the less decision-making the county is afforded within the entity.

Most of the funding for NOACA comes from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and federal agencies. The Maple Highlands project funding comes largely from federal funds that have been channeled to NOACA members. Should they choose not to utilize grants, these grants are awarded to other members until the funding is exhausted.

Phase 1 of the Maple Highlands Trail is described as a 4.74 mile trail which will connect two currently existing trailheads to serve all of Geauga County by cutting through some streets that are accessible from main traffic thoroughfares. The 10-foot wide trail is enlarged with a 2-foot wide berm on either side, for a total width of 14 feet. The projected cost of Phase 1 is $621,000. $542,000, 80% of that amount, has been funded by grant money supplied by taxpayers.

Although NOACA in past sessions has referred to Maple Highlands as a “bike trail,” attendees at yesterday's meeting learned that no projection about bicycle traffic has been undertaken or completed. Further, as an actual “multi-use” trail funded by federal moneys, the entity is required to be open to all non-motorized means of transport, including horses. When asked about the availability to horse and rider and/or four-wheel horse-drawn vehicles, Mayor Phil King denied that information until reminded by Ms. Johnson that yes, the trail will be open to equine traffic. His additional comment regarded the necessity of equine feces to be picked up by the individual horse-owners. So much for user-friendly applications for the extensive Amish community in Geauga County and for groups like the Ohio Horsemen's Council, which regularly utilize established trails in the Geauga Park District. GPD has long had an established, excellent relationship with equine owners in Geauga County. We are sorry for the shabby and condescending attitude expressed by Mayor King.

The Chardon entourage appeared to treat the Geauga Commissioners with equal haughtiness and lack of user-friendliness. Commissioner Spidalieri asked whether the Chardon group would consider the incorporation of 26 home-owners into the Chardon sanitary sewer project as a goodwill gesture in return for the Commissioners' granting of an easement allowing Chardon's free use of county property within the Maple Highlands project. Mayor King was adamant that there would be “no tit for tat,” He compared such reciprocal action to blackmail and emphasized the need to act on federal grant requirements within the next two weeks. Blackmail?

Commissioner Spidalieri suggested that if the Chardon group wants and needs the county land so badly, they should be open to purchase it. With such a purchase, Spidalieri emphasized, Chardon could act in any way it feels is appropriate without putting Geauga County taxpayers in a possible bind.

New Commissioner Rear emphasized that the projected Center Street crossing signal on the Center Street easement, to be activated by pedestrian and bicycle activity, could create nightmares for motorized traffic on Center Street. Mr. Rear expressed his concern that juvenile pedestrians, through lack of knowledge or fun-seeking, could activate the signals in a way that could create havoc for everyone.

During the vote, when pushed further by Mayor King, Commissioner Rear asked, “Would you rather we vote no on the project” rather than table the issue until the December 3 Commissioner meeting.Walter “Skip” Claypool, a candidate for Commissioner in the next election (2014), agreed with the concerns voiced by Commissioners Spidalieri and Rear. Commissioner Samide, enthusiastic about undertaking joint expenses with Chardon for a feasibility study, appeared less certain about outright rejection.

The Commissioners voted unanimously to table the issue until December 3, shortly before action by the City of Chardon on its federally-funded NOACA grant is required (or loss of the grant award results).

Court ruling allows for wind turbine installation
Thu Oct 17, 2013

AUBURN – Those driving on Munn Road in the township will see a new addition to the landscape. It’s a 120-foot-tall wind turbine on the Wind in the Woods property off Lindsay Lane.

The turbine is expected to generate electricity for the Wind in the Woods horse arena, its air conditioning, heating, equipment and an electric-powered vehicle, all owned by Lindsay Lane residents Tom and Diane Jones.

Stefanie Spear, owner of Expedite Renewable Energy of Moreland Hills, sold the 10-kilowatt Bergy wind turbine to the Joneses. SUREnergy installed it last week after several years in the courts.

Despite many obstacles along the way, it’s in place, Ms. Spear said. It will generate 100 percent of the power for the property, which is about 20 acres. The purpose is to generate power for the site, especially in the winter.

Mrs. Jones said Tuesday they are “ecstatic and pleased” with the turbine’s installation. It took much hard work and diligence.

The Joneses made application to the township in 2010 and received an agricultural exemption; however, that exemption was rescinded by the zoning department in July that year as not being strictly agriculture as a wind farm because excess electricity would be sold back to the grid.

The Joneses went to the township board of zoning appeals, which upheld the township zoning department.

The couple appealed the issue to Geauga County Common Pleas Court, which upheld the township board of zoning appeals. They took the issue to the 11th District Court of Appeals in 2011, which ruled in their favor, reversing the decision of the common pleas court.

The appeals court remanded the issue back to the common pleas court, which found it agriculturally exempt, reversing the BZA in May. That decision gave the Joneses the right to go forward with the project.

The Joneses will receive a federal tax credit and a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help cover project costs. They are financing it with the $19,000 department of agriculture grant for rural development, but lost out on a $30,000 grant from the state because it exceeded the time limit on the grant application. They will pay $84,000 for the turbine.

The turbine is expected to generate the most power in fall and winter when winds are strongest, Mrs. Jones noted of seasonal output. Their house on a nearby property is powered 100 percent by solar energy. The solar panels also were a project of Expedite Renewable Energy.

Wind in the Woods works with children with autism and learning disabilities, according to Mrs. Jones, who is a retired teacher. She said that, despite the setbacks, they would go through the process again “in a heartbeat.”

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she said of the turbine, which has the initials WIW painted on it.

Published October 4, 2013

Auburn Township local vineyard. Auburn Twin Oaks Winery, advanced to the next round of litigation in its legal filing dated October 24, 2012, and identified as 12M001060.

Auburn Twin Oaks, having won its case at the Eleventh District Court of Appeals in May 2011, endured an unsuccessful bid by the Auburn Township Board of Trustees to have the case heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, all at the expense of Geauga County taxpayers and the Geauga County Prosecutor's Office, under former Prosecutor, and now U.S. Representative, David Joyce. When the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the case, the Eleventh District Court of Appeal's judgment became the law. That ruling reaffirmed that farms, including those farms engaging in the growing and harvesting of grapes/wines, are totally outside of township zoning codes per ORC 519.21.

Auburn Twin Oaks in its mandamus against Auburn Township is seeking financial damages for illegal actions undertaken by Auburn Township Trustees and their agents, the Auburn Township Board of Zoning Appeals. Geauga Common Pleas Court case 12M001060 advanced to the next level on September 30, 2013. During that case Trustee Patrick J. Cavanagh, accompanied by Insurance administrator John Stefanek, Geauga County Assistant Prosecutor Mary Brigid Matheney, and Insurance Attorney Abe Cantor, met in a lengthy pre-trial session.

Auburn Township Trustees in their answer to the original litigation a year ago responded with a counterclaim asking that an injunction be placed on the operations of Auburn Twin Oaks Winery, clearly a contradiction to the 2011 judgment of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals. There are reports that at least one of the incumbent Trustees running for re-election this season sought to alter Eleventh District judges' unanimous opinion.

In the action on September 30 Assistant Prosecutor Matheney and Attorney Cantor, per the docket at the Geauga County Clerk of Courts, announced voluntary dismissal of this counterclaim, on the grounds that Auburn Township demands not appear “unreasonable.”

Unless Auburn Township Trustees decide to settle for financial damages out of court, the case heads on to a bench trial in the presence of Judge David Fuhry. Judge Fuhry heard the previousCommon Pleas case involving the winery, wherein his judgment was reversed by the Eleventh District Court of Appeals.

The trial, without the presence of a jury, will be heard in Fuhry's chambers on March 21, 2014.

Should the Auburn incumbent Trustees, Troyan and Eberly, not be re-elected in the General Election on November 5, 2013, the outcome of the case will be decided by a new board of Auburn Township Trustees.