3-21-2014 Who’s Afraid of the Ohio Revised Code?

Legal issues are sometimes complex. This one isn’t.

There seems to be a demand for a comment from the Van Wert County Commissioners on the situation with the City of Van Wert and OSU Extension Economic Development (ED). I’ll start by saying that we don’t see what happens in Council chambers as our conflict. We left the contract with OSU Extension last year and are happily going about our business and making good progress. The freedom from that morass is, to say the least, exhilarating. The current debate is not ours – it’s the City’s.

The OSU Extension ED proponents point at us in an apparent attempt to draw us into this new fray. To argue OSU Extension ED’s proven merit is problematic at best and to date, has not been attempted. So to have a discussion at all, the issue of whether or not the City should, as we did, dump Extension ED must be recast as City versus County.

Everyone found out last Monday what we’ve known since early last year when we first started the discussion about going a different direction with economic development – that a majority of City Council agrees with us. OSU Extension ED’s regional model is locally ineffective. There is no City versus County. But back then, when it became obvious that the Extension ED supporters preferred to shout, pound the table, and storm out of a meeting instead of talking, we all had a decision to make – go ahead and make the change or try to work with the framework that existed to avoid a very loud disagreement.

We tried the working in that framework up to the point where OSU Extension ED purposely cost the county a $100,000 grant (half of which we subsequently were able to recover.) When verification came from the state as to what had happened, we left the contract immediately and for cause. OSU Extension did not dispute our departure and we weren’t required by the contract to provide financing to the program anyway. But – and this is the legal point at issue here – we were the necessary party to the OSU Extension contract for economic development. You might remember Extension acknowledging this when it immediately changed the name of its employee here to “Community Development Director.”

Ohio State is a land grant college organized by Ohio statute. Further state statutes create OSU Extension. These “enabling statutes” allow Extension to carry on educational activities throughout the state. Entities created by enabling statutes can only do those specific things that the statutes allow them to do – they cannot go beyond that authority. For example, a Sheriff’s Office is created by an enabling statute. Nowhere is a County Sheriff enabled to enter into a contract to engage in economic development efforts.

Imagine the chaos if the different government agencies created by Ohio’s enabling statutes started acting outside of their authorities. It doesn’t take an imagination if you live in Van Wert – it is exactly what is currently happening and the very reason why there seems to be some measure of chaos.

OSU Extension’s enabling statute for economic development is Ohio Revised Code (ORC) section 307.07(A)(2). This law allows the County Commissioners to “Enter into an agreement with OSU Extension, providing for the use of employees hired by the Ohio State University under section 3335.36 of the Revised Code to carry out all of the functions and duties of a director of economic development under division (B) of this section. Any agreement shall set forth the procedure by which OSU extension shall gain the approval of the Board of County Commissioners for any actions, functions, and duties under division (B) of this section.”

The authority is limited – extremely limited. So limited, in fact, there has to be a writing that outlines how OSU Extension can gain the approval of the County Commissioners to do anything in the realm of economic development – not just a writing to do anything, a writing on the procedure on how to even ask. We have made it clear in multiple writings to OSU Extension that we do not give it any authority to continue any economic development related activities in Van Wert County.

There is no similar enabling statute that allows OSU Extension to enter into a contract with a municipality for economic development. There is one that would allow the city along with a contiguous township to enter into what’s called a Joint Economic Development District for a specific project in conjunction with OSU Extension (ORC 715.70). Recently, the Van Wert County Township Trustees’ Executive Board passed an unsolicited and unanimous resolution in support of our efforts – I don’t think any of them are too anxious to jump into such a contract with the City and Extension.

The new contract that Mayor Farmer signed references Extension’s broad authority under ORC 3335. Please take the time to read that series of statutes. It covers, indeed, a broad range of educational activities that Extension may conduct in the state. Somewhere in the middle is ORC 3335.36, the only subsection that enables Extension to conduct economic development efforts – and it does so under the guidelines of ORC 307.07, under the County Commissioners’ authority referenced above.

That leaves the Mayor trying to enter the City into a contract with an entity that cannot legally contract with it alone. To do so, OSU Extension would be clearly acting outside of the authority of its enabling statutes. This is also known as illegal.

We’ll stay out of the City’s internal discussion until they ask us to participate if ever because it is their discussion. Despite what some have claimed, we don’t want ultimate control of economic development. By statute, we already have that. What we would like is to bring in partners interested in a new vision not dominated by a few local special interests. Crazy us, we’d prefer that those partners are here legally.

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1-29-14 Getting to Zero and Beyond

Let’s talk economic development and let’s be clear – economic development is, literally, everything. It’s the means to feed a family and the reason to stay where you are. It’s the possibility that your children might have a better life than you and might have it somewhere close. It’s the way a community looks and feels. Success in economic development is success in quality of life.

Last year in the Commissioners’ Office, we spent huge swaths of time trying to work with and around the failing system that had steamrolled its way through the past decade here. I’ve illustrated statistically the failure of that system but numbers aren’t really necessary for Van Wertians – we’ve lived it.

There were reasons I finally told the story of the undermining of our grant a couple of weeks ago. And yes, I’m well aware that once a story is told the teller loses control of it. But who could have anticipated the drama that played out – a reporter that doesn’t live in our county coming out strongly in defense of the right of another non-resident to torpedo a $100,000 grant applied for by the Van Wert County Commissioners’ office? (And using information so biased and poorly researched that the newspaper had to print three retractions.)

But because the story was told, things began to move – which was the original hope. We were able to meet with some members of Van Wert City Council in a calm setting (something impossible only months before) and publicly propose what we had long been suggesting in private – a combining of county and city economic development (ED) efforts in one office in a 50/50 partnership.

Oversight of the proposed new office would be the job of a controlling board made up of two county commissioners and two members from city government – we left it to the city to decide how their representatives are chosen. A fifth member would be unanimously selected from the business community by these four – you need an odd number to break ties. The budget for the office would be split equally between county and city.

The purpose of this controlling board is to manage the budget and the Director. The ED Director would only be hired or removed by a four-fifths vote. The reason for the super majority on hiring and firing is to provide stability in the office and protect it from the whims or changing of politicians.

We don’t want the day-to-day operations of the office to be interfered with or run by politicians – a fear some see in such a plan. (Which is worse, a politician or a lawyer, I’ve been asked.) We want it in a separate building with other ED agencies like Main Street Van Wert and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. We want the office working with and aiding the local business community – encouraging the people who know how to get things done to invest in our county with their own plans and schemes (and money).

Although we don’t want it run by politicians, we do want the office to be accountable. One big problem in the past set-up was the nonresponsive nature of the OSU Extension volunteer executive board. In the office we propose, if a citizen sees mismanagement or neglect, they can go to their elected official and complain. Complaints in the past met with apathy and avoidance, as we learned firsthand.  But a politician ignores the disgruntled at his or her own peril, so by political necessity, this new office will be responsive to the community.

Some efforts may generate from inside the existing business community but for every good idea originating there, there’s another from somewhere on the outside just as good. We want those ideas just as much. The ED office will be responsible for enabling people – for helping put groups together to work and become invested in developing any worthy projects. This will be part of the mission statement. One thing I’ve learned through my year in office is that there is no shortage of ideas from outside the ED status quo – some good, some bad, but all have been mostly ignored.

A further focus in this new office will be grant applications. State and federal grants are more available than ever but they need pursued – they don’t just fall from the sky. The administrative fees from any grant moneys received can save costs in the ED office and to taxpayers. Matching a good idea with a grant, as we did in our office last year, can pour money into our community, which is really just getting our tax dollars back before they’re wasted somewhere else. Mercer County has mastered this process – we need to catch up.

A note on the departure from Ohio State: Some people have raised the concern that we can’t afford to lose Ohio State because that would lose our connection with Columbus. Our ED connection with Columbus is through the Governor’s office and the leads from JobsOhio. Only a handful of counties use OSU for ED and those that don’t include Mercer, Auglaize, Putnam and Defiance Counties. Ohio State is an educational institution and the one thing it could provide, college courses, it has no interest in providing here – that would interfere with its Lima enrollment. (I’m patiently waiting for Aaron Craft or Urban Meyer to make an appearance as well.)

We’ve offered this initial framework. We believe this structure would get us to zero as opposed to the declining state of affairs of the last two decades. What can be built on top of that would be limited only by the ambition and imagination of the people of Van Wert County instead of the ambition and imagination of the power elite. Ain’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

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1-13-14 Responding to the Gebert Investigation, Although Not Asked To

Just when my wife says I need to get a new photo taken for my standard mug shot in the paper, there I am on the front page. It’s said, from the looks of me, I used to get beat up a lot in high school.

Well. It appears Mr. Gebert did an “investigation” into what really happened with a certain grant I opined about on my website toward the end of last week. Let me start by saying I put it on the website in response to consistent requests we were getting to explain why we left the agreement with OSU Extension. After a certain point, you can’t explain it to everyone face-to-face anymore. My goal in putting it on the website was to inform interested people but keep the whole controversy out of the paper because I knew it would be blown up by Mr. Gebert. It was anyway.

After my website (toddwolfrum.com for those of you looking for quality reads) received about eight times the usual hits, I figured I would be getting a call from the Times about the content. I never got that call. Neither did my fellow commissioners nor did Sarah Smith.

More astonishing, though, was that Mr. Gebert didn’t successfully contact the other side. The OSU ED Director, imitating Lois Lerner of the IRS, took the Fifth. No one from Main Street or CVB was quoted – not that they’re even on any side, but it sure was presented that way. No one from the Executive Board was quoted. It was disappointing – I thought at least there would be an explanation.

The crux of Mr. Gebert’s “investigation” was a conversation with Martha Balyeat, a person not involved in any discussions with the Commissioners, Sarah Smith, or the Executive Board concerning the grant. I don’t think Mrs. Balyeat had any bad intentions in calling Columbus, but I do believe she was misled.

If Mr. Gebert had taken the time to read the grant in his “investigation”, he would have found out the following. (I’m going to bore you for a second here.) The grant proposed several phases. The first phase was $100,000 for the county to develop an office with an invitation to Main Street and CVB to join. Main Street and CVB are not government agencies but are tax supported – some of that support is from us. The first phase did not involve the city so they did not need to be a collaborative partner.

The second phase involved incorporating OSU Extension. Mr. Gebert inaccurately stated the purpose of the grant was to eliminate OSU Extension. Again, the “investigation” should have included a little bit of actual investigation. If OSU Extension were to be incorporated, obviously its budget would be as well, but only with the consent of Van Wert City Council.

On page 13 of the grant application, the last paragraph begins: “The LGIF grant monies as depicted in the proposed budget will be used to establish the base of operations for Economic Development to include building (either lease or purchase), renovations (if needed), utilities, new equipment, grant search engine, and possible position hire for admin reasons until the City ED office joins (phase 2014 with Van Wert City Council Approval.) (Bold and italics added.) One allegation is that Sarah was using city money without council approval – it was written in the grant that we would need council approval.

Even the headline of Mr. Gebert’s front page editorial misled: “Allegations fly over commissioners’ pulling of grant application.” My first reaction was: What is he talking about – we never pulled the grant? And that’s the first thing I contacted the Times about. The publisher replied that we had stated on December 5, apparently when we announced our break from OSU Extension, that we had withdrawn this grant.

To clarify, we got a call at 8:30 in the morning from Thea Walsh that our grant was not going to be awarded because of the several calls they had received from our county. We asked, would we have gotten the grant but for those calls. She responded that we would have. She then suggested that we withdraw the grant and resubmit it in the next round because it would look better if it was withdrawn rather than if it was turned down.

I don’t recall the fact that it was withdrawn being in the paper. Mrs. Balyeat claims that she called the state after we had already pulled the grant but I’m not sure how she would have known that when she placed the call, or why she would bother to call if she thought it was no longer an issue, or where she got the idea to call to begin with – Thea Walsh’s phone number isn’t in too many people’s rolodex – or why she never made the obvious call – to us or Sarah Smith. All good topics for Mr. Gebert’s “investigation”. It also would have been a good topic as to who else called and why.

A time line has been requested to help clarify things.  In June, Sarah learned of the grant at a meeting where the OSU ED Director was also in attendance. By September, the grant was submitted. Although all other interested parties were informed of Sarah’s pursuit of the grant, none offered to help. In October, requests were made for further information and the time for submitting information closed. Toward the end of November, well after any changes to the actual grant application could be made, the OSU ED Director drafted a letter claiming there were problems in our grant.

On December 2, the Executive Board held a meeting and decided it would be foolhardy to send the letter. Between the meeting on December 2 and the morning of December 5, calls were made from our county to the state to derail the grant. The grants were to be awarded on December 5, and at 8:30 that morning, we got the call from Thea Walsh relaying what I wrote above. Sometime later that afternoon, we announced to the media that we were leaving the relationship with OSU Extension effective immediately. That is likely when it was communicated that we had withdrawn the grant.

Hoping that OSU Extension would see the folly of what had been done, we told them what had happened with the grant without going public with it. We received a letter later in December where OSU Extension agreed to a parting of ways. On December 26, I drafted a letter to OSU Extension inquiring what authority they would be operating under in our county – an interesting question because its only statutory authority to operate seems to be through an agreement with the county commissioners. We have not received a reply to that letter yet. We don’t know under what authority OSU ED continues to operate here. (By the way, the Times was informed of this problem – I’m sure the results of that investigation are imminent.)

Mr. Gebert concludes that the grant money wasn’t really lost – we still have a chance in the next round. How cavalier! We have been informed that the next round is likely only for $50,000. And I’m sure Mr. Gebert will be right there giving support and encouragement to Sarah as she has to rewrite the entire thing and scramble all over the county getting everyone signed up again.

But please, don’t take my word for it. If you want to read the grant, call the Commissioners’ office and make an appointment – it’s open to anyone who is interested. If you come, you just might be the first person outside of our office and Columbus to have actually read it.

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1-10-14 The Story of How OSU Economic Development Office Cost the County $100,000

If you are one who follows county events by way of the Times Bulletin, you might think that we Commissioners randomly decided one day last December to exit the economic development contract with Ohio State Extension. Indeed, our problems with the past arrangement ranked as the Times’ top story in 2013.

We had hoped to move forward with as little discord as possible, but not relaying what happened toward the end of 2013 has caused some confusion. It wasn’t a sudden decision, but an icing-on-the-cake event that occurred evidently needs told.

Last July, we tried an open discussion with Van Wert City Council about some concerns we saw in the set-up of Van Wert’s economic development efforts. The result of that open-forum meeting – a group of respected but not well-informed representatives of the business community appeared, shouted for a few minutes, pounded the table, and stormed out. So much for having thoughtful deliberation – most members of council didn’t even get a real chance to speak.

Not yet resigned to go through the disharmony we’re going through now, we tried to find a way to integrate efforts. Then, we wanted to supplement economic development efforts with a new focus on the villages and areas outside of the city along with outreach outside of the county – Ohio State Extension Economic Development (OSU ED) wanted to continue focus on business retention and expansion, Vision Park, and the Megasite.

The Commissioners had hired Sarah Smith as our business outreach person for three reasons – her ability to think outside the box, her energy, and her commitment to Van Wert County. All of these came into play into what came next. She discovered something called the Local Government Innovation Fund, a grant awarded by the state that could help bankroll bringing the entire county back into economic development.

It was a long-shot. Sarah had never written a grant before and there wasn’t a lot of help any of us could give her.  She informed the Van Wert Economic Development Advisory Group on what she was working on and even asked for assistance.  She also discussed with the OSU ED Director and the directors of Main Street Van Wert (MSVW) and the Convention Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) what she had in mind – combining all offices in one location.  The grant would be for $100,000 to purchase or rent and begin operation in a downtown building.  Though no help was offered, no one objected – in fact, they all said it seemed like a great idea.

Over several weeks, Sarah travelled the county to get the approval of governing entities.  By the end she had all the townships and seven villages as collaborative partners on the grant – approval of all the townships means approval of local representatives of the entire county.  Through those extreme efforts, her application became a hard one for a grant committee to ignore.

The application deadline for the grant came in early September.  In late October, a cure period occurred, at which time the review committee asked for additional information, which is always a good sign.  It got out that we had a decent chance at getting this money.  Then, a series of events occurred that led to an end of our association with OSU ED.

Although all the directors (including her) had been informed and indicated support, the OSU ED Director drafted a letter toward the end of November explaining to the grant committee in Columbus why Van Wert County should not be given the grant. (Read the last sentence again – it’s not a misprint.) Her main complaints were that we were proposing to move MSVW and CVB without their boards’ prior consent. She also contested Sarah’s hypothetical budget for the new offices – the budget could only be hypothetical as she was devising something entirely new.

The Executive Board, the body supposedly in charge of the OSU ED Director’s activities in the county, held a special meeting on December 2 to decide whether or not to send her letter. At the meeting, those in favor of sending the letter were requesting that the Commissioners withdraw the grant to resubmit it later with their approval.

The proposal to withdraw the grant was blatantly self-serving – and stupid. Suppose we were to win the grant. If the MSVW and CVB’s boards didn’t want to participate or the budget needed adjusted, the grant could be modified accordingly, but we would already have the tough part accomplished – winning the county $100,000 for economic development. If we weren’t to win the grant, we could resubmit as requested anyway. There was no reason to withdraw it. Luckily, there were some in attendance that explained this to the rest of the Executive Board members and, after lengthy discussion, it was voted unanimously not to send the letter and let us try to win $100,000 for the county. (Read that last sentence again – it took lengthy discussion to decide to allow us, the Commissioners, with the support of all of our townships and most of our villages, to obtain money for the county.)

On December 5, the grants were awarded. We received a call at 8:30 that morning from Thea Walsh, a deputy chief of the department in Columbus that awarded this grant. She informed us that we would have been awarded the money but there were several calls made in the days immediately prior discouraging her board from giving it to us – the calls generating from within our county. After the letter was vetoed, calls were made sending the same information to Columbus. You can guess at who instigated those calls.

Later that day, the Commissioners voted to leave the contract with OSU Extension. By statute, the contract with OSU Extension could only be for a one to three year period and was last amended nine years before, so although the media raised questions about whether we could leave immediately, there were no real concerns there.

To our knowledge, the OSU ED Director has not been reprimanded for her conduct and we have not received an apology.  For no good reason, a person from outside our county cost us $100,000. That is why the Commissioners left the contract.

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12-13-13 Why Population Matters

Last week I wrote a column about the changing economic development scene in our county. In it, I used the decline of our population as an ultimate indicator of past failure. Since then, I’ve been questioned as to why population is so important – why not unemployment rate or median income or even foreclosure rate? (Not that any of these would have been any more a positive indicator than the one I chose.)

At the outset, let me correct a stat from last week. In it, I incorrectly stated that our population decline for the last twenty years had been 2.6%. A population decrease of 2.6% would be merely devastating, but maybe not critical.  I misread the table – our population decrease over that time is actually 5.6%. This number is, undeniably, critical. 1,720 people disappeared from our 1990 population of 30,464.

Population is a better indicator of economic success than unemployment in its inability to be misunderstood. The unemployment rate is based on work force participation – this doesn’t include people on welfare, disability or those living in their parents’ basement. Also not included is Jimmy Heroin Addict, who steals for a living. Further, full employment does not necessarily mean good times – many parts of Africa have full employment and that employment is scrounging for food all day.

Population trend tells a story complete in its simplicity. If a community is desirable, people stay or move there. If a community is undesirable, for whatever reason, people move away. If a community has good paying jobs, it keeps its people. If not, it generally loses people unless it has some fairly strong other attractions.

And people lost is only part of the story – population decline is exponential in its negativity. According to the US Census Bureau, the average household size in Van Wert County is 2.5 people. If our county loses 1,720 people, it isn’t like those people took their residence with them (trailer parks aside). The loss of 1,720 people means that 688 residences formerly being occupied are now empty, and likely falling apart.

With 688 empty residences, rents drastically decrease. The older generation may not think population decline is their concern, but if rents drop by half, guess who can now afford to live next door to you – our old friend Jimmy Heroin Addict and his girlfriend Meth Sally (I don’t need to give their five kids nicknames, but you likely will as they wander unsupervised onto and into your property.)

Part of the problem in our county has been a backward approach to economic development. All counties are giving tax breaks and land and golden opportunities to interested companies. That isn’t what’s going to bring business here. A job-ready 1,600 acres is not as appealing as a community of well-kept houses and healthy, happy, vibrant people. We’ve all looked at moving somewhere before –what was attractive? Business is no different – it is looking for community health because it can only be as successful as any community allows it to be.

Since population loss is the loss of people ambitious enough to seek a better life elsewhere, the fundamental questions are: Would an ambitious person see staying here or leaving here as a goal? If the latter, what can be changed? This is the question that our old system never asked, or at least never answered.

This is why it is not only remarkable that someone would claim economic development success with a population decline of 5.6%, it’s also disingenuous. Anyone who would not only has a hidden agenda, but also thinks you’re stupid.

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12-6-13 A New Direction

Thursday, the Van Wert County Commissioners voted unanimously to withdraw from the economic development contract with Ohio State Extension effective immediately. We feel that this is an extremely positive step for our county, and here’s why.

There is no better indicator of a county’s vitality than its population trend – a county is its people. In the 1990s, the population of Van Wert County declined by 900 people. In the first decade of this century, the population decreased by another 900. All of our small towns have deteriorated in varying degrees during this period.

Neighboring counties have not seen a similar population decline nor the same small town deterioration. In the 16 counties that make up Northwest Ohio geographically, only four had population declines from 1990 to 2010 according to census figures: Van Wert (-2.6%), Lucas (-1.6%), Allen (-1.2%), and Paulding (-1.0%).

Over the past eleven months, we have heard repeatedly how any public disagreements among the different agencies working on economic development are bad for the county. It’s said that a company looking to locate here will regard any disharmony as an indication of trouble and turn away. But business people aren’t dumb. They’re going to look at population trends and drive around the county. Smatterings of disharmony would be the least of our image problems.

We are not placing blame for what has happened here squarely on the OSU Extension system. What we can say is that the system didn’t prevent it and doesn’t appear to be preventing its continuation. According to OSU Extension’s website, when Van Wert adopted the model in the 1990s, there were eleven other counties using that model. Ten of those have discontinued doing so.  One other county began using OSU Extension in 2006. We are one of only three counties in the state using this model.

Our efforts at thinking outside the box for solutions to the county’s problems have met with almost constant resistance. The resistance never claimed that our ideas were necessarily bad, only that we needed committee approval first. And because we didn’t want to create a disturbance, we worked within the system as best we could. But if the reason to continue a system is not because it is successful but rather because you don’t want public disagreement, then any system would become permanent the moment it’s implemented.

There are good and respected people on the board currently controlling the Van Wert economic development office and we hope some of these will want to come with us in what we see as an exciting opportunity. But it literally draws laughs from some on the board that it or its processes should be accountable in any way to the people of Van Wert County through its representatives. For the last decade, the value of any economic development efforts have been determined exclusively by the handful of people in charge of the efforts. Procedure trumps results if results are ever even an issue.

We have a mega-site north of town, and there’s nothing quite like it in Ohio. That’s the good news. The bad news is the thousands of other sites in the country located in states with better business environments. It’s not impossible that someone takes our site, but it’s not certain either. The county has other resources to develop and it would help our mega-site efforts to do so.

We as commissioners do not consider ourselves experts in economic development. What we want to make available is a system where ideas are valued more than process.      There is no better resource than an individual with a good idea. We need to find, enable, and invest in those people. We need the people who have had success in business involved and invested. We need to get involvement from the top business activity in the county – agriculture. We need investment from and in the rural communities. We need involvement from our small towns.

We want the people who are passionate about a topic. For me, it’s been getting college courses here. I’ve had that interest for years, but I can pursue it now because I’m a County Commissioner – that shouldn’t be a requirement. If a person has an interest like that, we want to allow them the freedom and the assistance to create their own teams to pursue it, not have to get some higher approval just to discuss it. We want economic development efforts that aid the individual, not glorify a committee.

We will be reaching out to the officials of the City of Van Wert in the coming weeks to see if they would like to join our new venture or go their own way. We have a general plan to roll out either way. If the City does choose to go its own way, that’s a situation that exists in several surrounding communities and we’ll support them in it.

This move does not affect other OSU Extension efforts in the community such as 4H or their agricultural outreach programs.

Most of all, we are excited about the opportunities. This change needed to happen. If there be a storm, let’s have it and get it over with, but the decision is made. We could go into the details that led to this move, but that doesn’t lead anywhere productive. What is important is how we operate going forward, and we believe the possibilities are limitless.

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11-29-13 The University of Van Wert, Part 2

If you’ve never been to college, you may not know all that is required for a bachelor’s degree. You might think you’re going to be an accountant, for example, but you’re still going to find yourself in classes for a bunch of other stuff, like biology and psychology – things an accountant never wanted to know about. These are general education courses and you can’t get around them if you want your four-year degree.

Due to the ever-escalating cost of college, the Ohio Board of Regents has been trying to make general education classes easier to obtain and obtainable closer to home. Recently, so coursework credit could better transfer, all state universities that worked on quarters switched to semesters. The Board has also created the Ohio Transfer Module.

The Ohio Transfer Module is a set of general education requirements common to Ohio’s colleges. It is comprised of courses in the following fields: English composition and oral communication; mathematics, statistics and formal/symbolic logic; arts and humanities; social and behavioral sciences; and natural sciences.

Through the Ohio Transfer Module, you can get these general education credits close to home to begin your college degree and take the credits with you almost anywhere in the state – probably out of state too, but that has to be checked in advance.

I wrote last week about Northwest State and its available coursework. The other player beginning in January is Wright State, which will be offering two college general education classes at Vantage: Western Civilization to 1500 (history) and Theater in Western Culture (arts).

These are both three-hour classes meeting two evenings a week that will satisfy four-year degree requirements at Wright State and most other colleges in the state of Ohio. The cost is $780 per class, which is less than $200 per month, or less than $400 per month if you want to take both classes and get the first six credits of a bachelor’s degree.

These classes aren’t restricted. If you’ve graduated high school and are planning on going to college someday, it’s a good way to start. If your kids have grown and you’ve always wanted to get a college degree, it’s a good way to start. If you’re kids are home but you can sneak away for a few hours a week, it’s a good way to start.

And it is a start. Wright State will be offering a couple more classes in the summer and a couple more in the fall. Future offerings will likely depend on the interest in these first ones, but the sky, or rather the demand, is the limit. Local general education is the wave of the future – getting it here opens other possibilities.

Some Indiana schools have also shown interest in us. We’ve met with I.P.F.W. in Fort Wayne and a few of Indiana’s private colleges have responded. Indiana has recently exempted Van Wert County residents from paying out-of-state tuition at some of its schools. I.P.F.W. indicated it would like our help in getting students interested in attending school in Fort Wayne, but our goal is to see which school is most interested in coming here. Our stock is rising, so the race is on, Indiana.

For information on attending Northwest State, contact the Van Wert office at 419-238-0779 or the Admissions Director, Chrystal Steffel at 419-267-1470. For information on attending the Wright State classes, contact Lake Campus Student Services Office at 419-586-0300.

Van Wert has been losing its talented young people for too long. This begins the end of that.

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11-22-13 The University of Van Wert, Part 1

In the world of higher education, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different opportunities out there. Slowly, Van Wert is beginning to get its share.

Yesterday, there was a ribbon cutting at the Northwest State branch on Westwood Drive. Northwest has been there for several months, but a good old-fashioned ribbon cutting always helps get the word out. And word needs to get out because the things going on behind the scenes right now involving Northwest State could loom large in the future of our county.

We had thought Northwest State out of the game locally as late as this past summer. Their relationship with Vantage seemed to be on hold and they had closed their location by Rural King. Upon learning of their opening on Westwood Drive in August, I drove to Northwest’s main campus in Archbold to try to meet with the higher-ups and figure out what gives. I missed meeting the president, Tom Stuckey, but a few weeks later, he came to Vantage to discuss some possibilities with us.

In any joint venture, to get anything accomplished, you need to meet someone like-minded on the other side. That person is Dr. Stuckey. I didn’t need to explain our county’s need for his school nor our county’s possible market – he already understood it. He invited me to speak with Northwest State’s board in early October. That went well.

Since then, Northwest State has applied with the Ohio Board of Regents to be our county’s community college provider – our county had been unclaimed. That application has the support of the Commissioners, of course, and also our state representatives. It should be a matter of time until approval (although strange things happen when state agencies are involved).

In the past, community colleges have been primarily the provider of two-year degrees and technical training. Northwest State still provides these services, of course. Having a community college will help with workforce development and will be a big draw for any company looking to locate here – having a source for technical training is at the top of any large employer’s list.

Northwest looks to re-partner with Vantage next fall to offer courses in Industrial Automation Maintenance, CNC Operations, Pipe Welding, and Wind Turbine Maintenance. These are 16-week certification programs. It will also look to develop other programs that will meet the needs of our local business.

Big benefits will also accrue to our high school students. Having a local community college to provide dual enrollment and advanced placement classes will increase exponentially convenience and opportunity for our young people. Students will be able to get a good part of their college completed while in high school.

Further, Northwest State is a player for adults seeking four-year degrees through the Ohio Transfer Module. Approved courses will transfer to any four-year public college. Northwest State already offers qualifying classes in algebra, statistics, biology, composition, anatomy, and physiology in Van Wert. These will satisfy general education requirements at any public four-year school – probably private ones too, although you would have to check to be sure. More is on the way.

This is part one. Part two is what is happening locally with four-year schools.

(On a side note, I think I can speak for most everyone in thanking Federal Mogul’s management and labor for figuring it out.)

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11-15-13 Instant Chaos in Health Care

“Instant karma’s gonna get you/ Gonna knock you right in the head.” – John Lennon.

Karma is the idea that every cause has an effect, that things you do and think are the causes of the outcomes in your life. It’s a liberal concept, bro. But over the last week, karma knocked President Obama and liberalism itself right in the head.

The week in review: It all started with Obamacare already in a mess with the ongoing epic failure of the government website. But then came the first results of the actual implementation of the law – millions of people losing their health insurance because their plans had been ruled “inferior” by the experts.

Of course, Fox began playing its clips – the President of Speeches Past guaranteeing everyone they would never lose their plans. Period. A few days later, even the networks began showing the clips. The week ended with Leonard Pitts, the first to call anyone who opposes Obama a racist in his columns, calling the President a liar. (You Mr. Pitts, are a racist, sir.)

The President’s response? Initially, he claimed he had never said such a thing, despite the indisputable video evidence. This had droves of liberals, even Bill Clinton, coming out of the woodwork with counsel. Clinton’s advice: You have to keep your commitments to the American people. Really? Clinton advising on keeping commitments? Isn’t that a bit like an Evel Knievel lecture on motorcycle safety?

By midweek, numbers had started rolling in. Because of a law, the purpose of which was to provide more people health coverage, five million had lost their insurance and only100,000 were able to enroll. To put that in perspective, the crowd at an Ohio State football game gained insurance, everyone in the state of Colorado (which includes the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs and South Park), lost their insurance.

Now, everyone is trying to put together a plan to save Americans from the first stages of the Obamacare rollout. The President, Democrats, Republicans, Dennis Kucinich. Consider: This is not the part of Obamacare that everyone fears will do the most damage. That, the employer mandate, had already been delayed until 2015.

Usually, the results of liberal policies are so obscured by time that the karma, the cause and effect, cannot be sufficiently tracked for people who have no interest in history. The New Deal is now known to have prolonged the Great Depression. School bussing caused the affluent to flee the cities leading to the decline of urban areas. Welfare encouraged the breakdown of poor families, subsidizing single mothers and subsidizing them better for each illegitimate child they produced.

But here, we have the rare case of instant policy karma. Democrats find themselves lucky they have the website fiasco to distract people from the larger problem of the law itself. But the website is really an effect of the same cause – experts thinking they know what is best for everyone because they are, after all, so freaking smart.

Remember, no one read this law before it was passed save the people who wrote it. Much like the website, it was just supposed to work because it was the product of our betters, the result of so much expertise that it could not possibly go wrong. The arrogance of the legislation is exactly the same arrogance that led to the website.

Obama is not going to back down – Obamacare is the only thing he has accomplished in five years as president, unless you credit him for allowing the Seals to kill Bin Laden. Although tragic, take solace in watching Democrats flee from it in 2014 and seeing someone, somewhere in Washington, maybe John McCain, admitting that the Tea Party crazies that shut down Congress had a point.

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11-8-13 Buying American, Buying Local

Most Americans would buy American-made products when given a choice. According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, 78% of us would prefer to buy an American product over an imported product of the same quality and cost and most of those would  pay as much as 10% more. The same poll also inadvertently discovered that 22% of us hate themselves.

The trouble sometimes is in identifying American-made stuff. The big things get harder all the time with parts being made all over the globe. People here are as likely to know someone that works for Honda as that works for General Motors or Ford. That the profits go to an American company doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better for American workers or the American economy. There would be a big hole in our state without Honda’s manufacturing plant in Marysville and all the other factories scattered about supplying that Honda plant.

But the smaller stuff can be significant in the aggregate – it just takes some work to uncover what is American and what isn’t. There is information on the internet – the Tribune article pointed to howtobuyamerican.com and a few other sites that can be found with a simple google search. Here’s a start:

In coffee, Maxwell House and Starbucks are American, Hills Bros. is not. In fabric softener, Downy is American, Snuggle is not. In soap, Ivory and Coast are American, Dial and Shield are not. In cleaning, Pine-Sol and Pledge are American, Lysol and Resolve are not.

A good way to begin a buy-American regime might be to pick one or two items a week that you buy regular, do some research, and make the American product part of your usual shop. If you spend five dollars a week on fabric softener, just through switching to Downy, you’ve added $260 to the American economy. That’s not all profit to the company, of course, but you may have provided an American worker a day or two of work. Do that with everything you buy, and you provide several weeks of employment.

The United States, troubled as we are, is still far and away the best economy in the world. We are 20% of the worlds Gross Domestic Product with 5% of the population. Our economy is twice as large as China’s. Recapturing our own markets is the best job-creating mechanism available to us, unless interest rates can be made negative (and I’m sure they’re working on that.)

Van Wertians probably would also prefer to buy local. It’s hard to support our large manufacturers, unless you are in the market for a hydraulic hose, an industrial oil seal, or an ambulance. But there are smaller scale ways to support the local economy. You can get your campaign signs done at Wilkinson Printing (instead of Alabama), wedding and celebration cakes at CakeCrazy instead of out-of-town, and you can get your legal services at Wolfrum Law Office

People complain that we don’t have enough in the way of restaurants. The counter to that argument is that people don’t make enough of an effort to support what we do have. If our restaurants were overflowing with business, there would soon be other restaurants.

We do have good Mexican and Chinese options, good barbeque, a good sports bar, and some good family places. Support what we have instead of their out of town competition and the steakhouses and swank dining experiences will follow. Instead of going to Lima or Fort Wayne for a dinner and a movie, it would jolt our local economy if everyone just stayed home. Our cinema is less than half the cost for a family of four (with refreshments) than those other towns.

It starts with pride. Pride in a country and a community begins with a sense of ownership. A welfare state decreases the sense of ownership and that, unfortunately, is what we are dealing with nationally and starting to deal with locally.. An investment provides an intrinsic sense of ownership. You might not have money to invest, but your purchasing power is an investment. Make the investment nationally and locally – the pride, and reason for pride, will follow.

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