12-19-14 Monarchy in the U.S.A.


            “God save the queen/ We mean it man/ And there is no future/ In England’s dreams” – The Sex Pistols.

A few months ago, I finished a biography of Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meacham. Meacham presented a complex caricature of the man we know as our third president and greatest champion of States Rights. It wasn’t a puff piece – Jefferson’s failure as Virginia’s governor and relationship with a slave named Sally Hemmings, which began when Hemmings was a teenager, were not skipped.

Whatever Jefferson’s failures, the man had conviction. He didn’t just write the Declaration of Independence, he did so at a time when that document was, undoubtedly, treason. Had the British won our first war, our Forefathers all faced summary execution. And until the last few years, we were continually on the verge of losing. Jefferson kept the faith.

Jefferson’s candidacy for president in 1800 was a response to the rise of a monarchist movement in colonial America. There was much to figure out in the first decade of the first Republic and the new Constitution took much of the blame for the chaos. It was hard to have freedom when the limits of freedom – and there had to be some – were unknown. The Revolutionary War was fought for independence from England but not necessarily for democracy. The possibility of reverting to a British-styled constitutional monarchy was real – there were even overtures made to members of the House of Hanover to come help establish some order.

Jefferson wanted to be president to buy the Constitution some time – to protect liberty, democracy, and local government until these concepts proved themselves, and they did. The Republican Party he founded was one of the great sea changes in American political history. Jefferson was, save Washington, the person most responsible for putting our country on the course toward becoming what it is.

After reading Meacham’s account of Jefferson, I thought it would be a nice contrast to read a book about someone who wants to be president to . .. well, I guess just to be president. Hillary Clinton has been in the national public eye for over twenty years now and anyone would have trouble saying just what it is that makes her qualified to head the country. With all her opportunity to lead, where has she ever led anyone? What outcome has she ever effected? (Not counting Benghazi.) More importantly, what outcome does she ever intend to effect?

So I read her book “Hard Choices” just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It wasn’t a horrible read, as conservative critics made it out to be. It was more of a vacuum – 450 pages of name-dropping and globe-trotting in her role as Secretary of State with another 100 pages or so tacked on at the end giving lip service to the liberal agenda. To hear her tell it, she is friends with virtually everyone in the world. She has no real ideas and less passion – it was obvious she didn’t write this book. At the end, she thanks her “team” that helped put the book together. Read: Ghostwriters.

Hillary’s utter lack of conviction comes across whenever she gives a speech. Calling her robotic would be an insult to the robotics industry. To paraphrase what Dennis Miller once said about Al Gore – Hillary Clinton couldn’t be any more phony if she were a professional Hillary Clinton impersonator. If this is the Democratic presumptive choice for 2016, Republicans should rejoice.

That is, they could have rejoiced until Jeb Bush threw his hat into the ring this week. His support of Common Core alone will likely lose him any chance at his party’s nomination. Because if thirteen plus five equals ten plus three plus ten minus five we can take the sums of those two different calculations and put them into an algorithm, then that might be an easier way to arrive at 18 than just learning numbers. We all learn different, you know.

But, sadly, we can’t discount the House of Bush. The scary thing about the modern Republican Party is that it always chooses an establishment candidate for president. Always. Even Reagan earned his spot through years of working in the party machine.

Upon wrapping up his second term as Florida’s governor in 2007, Jeb Bush became an advisor at Lehman Brothers shortly before it collapsed. A Mitt Romney business record he does not possess. But he did make millions “advising” other companies after Lehman. Now he’s back after sufficiently cashing in on his lineage in the private sector. If his name was anything other than Bush, would he be taken seriously after abandoning the conservative cause to make some comfort money? If his name was Jeb Huckabee, for example, would anyone return his calls?

The times of Jefferson were dire. If John Adams had won the 1800, the shape of our country would be much different today. Adams’ Federalism eventually had its day, but only after the years of small government leadership from Jefferson through Andrew Jackson in the first half of the 1800s provided this country its character.

Our times are just as dire. $17 trillion is a real number even though it seems too big to be so. Some call our national debt the greatest threat to our security – greater than terrorism. You’ll never hear Jeb Bush talk about our debt with any conviction because he is not a conservative. Like Hillary, he is a moderate and an opportunist – wanting to be president not to forward an agenda, but rather just to be president.

Jefferson fought against the impulse of monarchism. Sounds silly today? Well, would we be talking about either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush if it wasn’t for their husband or father and brother respectively? `If choosing a leader by relation isn’t monarchy, then what is?

The mere candidacy of either must have Thomas Jefferson turning over in his grave.

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12-12-14 Van Wert Christmas Shopping Pride

Less than two weeks until Christmas. If you’re like me, you’re having to start thinking about what you might buy for people at 2 P.M. on Christmas Eve. I used to have to worry a lot more, but now I sleep easy thanks to the miracle of gift certificates.

Most people are better shoppers than the likes of me, getting the bulk of Christmas bought in the days after Thanksgiving. But even for the responsible, gift certificates can help fill the gaps. The further you get away from immediate family, the further you are from having a clue what the person you’re buying for might want.  A gift card says, hey, I think you’re worth about $25 to me on Christmas but I only have a cursory knowledge of you and there’s not enough time to change any of that.

Might I take the opportunity to encourage people to finish out their shopping with gift certificates from Van Wert County stores. Shifting $50 from Kohl’s to Peebles or Maurice’s or from Menards to Ace or Sears makes a difference. If enough people do it, it makes a big difference. There might be slightly better deals in the big box stores, but through the miracle of gift cards, the receiving person knows you spent $50 on them instead of thinking you might have caught a blue light special or, to reference Seinfeld, are re-gifting.

There’s certainly no shortage of local stores and they almost all stock gift certificates. Last year, I got my wife a gift card to the then new MOD Boutique and, after shopping there, she had her favorite present. I received a gift card to Ace where I seem to buy something about every third day anyway – I appreciated that much more than whatever $20 guestimate of me someone would have thrown into a normal gift exchange.

It’s hard to miss with a restaurant gift card – everyone eats. I was going to recommend the new Black Angus, which is coming soon where the Bistro used to be, but it’s not likely to open before Christmas. There are plenty of other eateries to choose from. Wild Hare, Fricker’s, Orchard Tree, Balyeat’s, any of the Chinese or Mexican restaurants. Perhaps you would like to introduce someone to more of a novelty, like Cake Crazy or Collins Fine Foods, or to our local coffee at Perks or Brewed Expressions.

Men are especially easy to shop for with gift certificates. If your man can’t find something at Ace, Sears, or Century Trading, then he needs to re-evaluate his manness. Even the chain stores like Rural King and Tractor Supply provide local jobs and pay local taxes so your money is well-utilized there if your giftee has expressed a preference for these stores.

Your kids or grandkids might like something from Mengerink’s or Welch’s with the school logo on it. Your Bible Study group might like something from the Bridge and your boss might like a product offered by Wilkinson’s or Burcham printing shops. There’s ways to give gift certificates for all of that.

If you live around one of our small towns, consider the restaurants or small shops there. From experience, I can tell you that a $25 gift certificate purchased from a small town pizza place is much appreciated because it can bring someone in to try the food that may not have thought to try it otherwise. One new customer can lead to a dozen by word of mouth. Delphos people, you have no shortage of options.

And there’s another Christmas miracle to consider: Installment payments. In my never-ending quest to please my significant other, I happened into Francis Furniture a few years back. You, sirs, may be in a similar quandary – recognize the need for some new furniture but don’t want to get hit with the bill. We got some nice pieces at Francis and they found financing to make it all less painful. (I don’t mind sounding like a commercial.) $1,200 is a lot harder to stomach than $100 a month for the next year. Van Wert Bedrooms can help you too, I’m sure.

The miracle of installments can aid greatly the purchase of jewelry. I’m sure Slusher’s or Laudick’s can set you up with financing to deaden the blow while you still get that same glimmer in your wife’s eye that says forever – for a few days anyway. (Personally, I still reference the movie “Blood Diamond” when my wife starts clamoring for anything glittery but that’s losing its power. Get busy on that sequel, DiCaprio.)

And ladies, think how practical your husband will think you are if you get him a certificate for an oil change at Quick Change. It will blow his mind.

Of course, I’m leaving businesses out but I’ve already exceeded my word limit. You know the stores you might like to share with someone else. DeShia, Once I Was, Rehab Fab, From the Garden, Barnhart’s, the antique stores, the Embroidery Coup – whatever store you like, introduce it to someone else with a gift card. If you have to resort to Wal-Mart and McDonald’s to buy for someone out of town, buy that gift certificate locally – that does help a little.

Nobody’s striking it rich in this economy, so if we want our stores to stick around until times get better, we’ve got to support them when there’s an opportunity. The tail end of Christmas shopping, when you are just filling in or frantic, is perhaps the easiest time to express some pride through investment in our county. And just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

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12-5-14 Civil Rights and Indictments

Watching the media coverage, do you get the feeling that the so-called riots in Ferguson and New York are more parties than protests? As Al Sharpton and the other race hucksters attempt to pass the carnage off as the most significant event since Selma, one harkens back to all that black and white footage of the Selma marchers pausing to knock off liquor stores. (I jest, the Selma marchers were too worried about getting torn apart by German Shepherds to stop for a drink, if I remember the pictures correctly.) The last thing any of these “protesters” want, especially Sharpton, is any actual change. As evidenced by the Ferguson case, the grievance list is already running short – when the list runs out, there’s no more free Jack Daniels.

In Ferguson, we’re left arguing about whether a painfully innocent police officer should have been indicted to satisfy the demands of the mob. It was shocking to listen to the dialogue regarding this over the last week and a half. On one side was the argument that the officer should have been put on trial whether a crime was actually committed or not just so all the facts could be made public. On the other side of the argument was decency, common sense, and the rule of law.

Here are the facts and they were made public without a trial, not that the mob actually wanted that either. Michael Brown, a very imposing black man, had just burglarized a convenience store. Upon being questioned by Officer Wilson while walking down the middle of a street minutes after that crime, Brown tried to wrestle Wilson’s gun away from him. (If I tried to do that, I would assume that anything that happened subsequently was by implied request, but call me old fashioned.) After failing to secure Wilson’s gun and beginning to flee on foot, Brown stopped and charged back at the officer, receiving fatal shots.

Enter the grand jury. The purpose of a grand jury is to safeguard all citizens from being falsely charged with a serious crime. In Ohio, as in most states, felonies can only be charged through the grand jury by an indictment while misdemeanors are charged by simple complaint. The indictment process is not meant to be a rubber stamp. It is true, as the saying goes, that a willing prosecutor could probably indict a ham sandwich. But the question is why would you indict a ham sandwich since you know you could never convict one? Not even of food poisoning – it has no mental capacity to commit a serious crime. Officer Wilson, in fact, appears to be about as guilty as a ham sandwich.

Here’s how a grand jury protects you: Let’s say a particular cop doesn’t like you, so he charges you with possession of heroin. Without the grand jury process, you would have to appear in court and answer to that charge. Even though the charge is baseless, where does your good name in the community go from there?

However: The cop who doesn’t like you could still obtain an indictment through a grand jury with the cooperation of a prosecutor. If the cop is put on the stand and testifies that he saw you holding heroin, and that was all the testimony the grand jury heard, they would likely return an indictment even without any physical evidence. This is how it is easy to indict – very limited evidence can establish probable cause. Of course, the officer has now committed perjury and the prosecutor has acted unethically and these are pretty good deterrents for such behavior.

But this unethical conduct is what the far left apparently demanded of the Ferguson prosecutor, who, by the way, is a Democrat. A prosecutor is certainly under no compulsion to prosecute a crime where no conviction can be obtained at trial. Those who argue that this prosecutor should have indicted anyway purposefully ignore the whole point of the grand jury process, which is to prevent this very thing – the running of an innocent person through a public trial on a serious charge where he will be bankrupted by legal fees and his reputation ruined regardless of outcome.

In the Ferguson case, not only were there more credible witnesses who backed Officer Wilson’s story but the forensic evidence also backed up every detail. It was clear to the prosecutor that no crime had been committed. Fortunately for the prosecutor, the grand jury process was available to present the evidence and then release it to the public. Turns out, it’s true that there was a racial element to all of this – if Michael Brown had been a white guy, Officer Wilson would have been decorated for his conduct. Instead, he has lost his job and is likely in hiding.

How could Wilson have avoided any of this? Do we want our officers to flee confrontation if someone is acting crazily and criminally? How unsafe would that make entire communities? The best argument against the theory that police-on-black crime is a national problem is that this is the case being used to exemplify the problem. The cases in New York and Cleveland are more credible, but does anyone want the mob to have the right to indictment? For Al Sharpton to have it?

The hijackers of the Civil Rights movement, whose demands have now proven bottomless, are apparently requesting a termination of the grand jury process and the automatic trials of officers whenever a person of color is killed while assaulting a cop or resisting arrest. There is one guarantee in all of this – if they were to be granted this absurd request, it would not be enough to erase centuries of injustice, the frustration of which now manifests itself not in civil disobedience, but rather in one giant and destructive jamboree.

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11-28-14 Thankful for President Obama

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – have there ever been two presidents more unlike one another? One was so articulate that you knew he was lying, the other so inarticulate that you knew he wasn’t. One was elected as a big government liberal and then balanced the budget, the other was elected as a small government conservative, expanded social programs, and eventually began the bailout bonanza that ushered in the Obama administration.

The eight-year terms of the 42nd and 43rd presidents confused a generally disinterested electorate, and, more than anything else, it was that confusion that led to the current eight-year term of the 44th. But President Obama is now providing the nation some much needed, albeit painful, clarity. For that, in this season, we should be thankful.

Clinton, impeached for lying under oath about an indiscretion with an intern (Oh for the days when that was the problem!), promised his base the world and never delivered. His cooperation with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress led to the country’s first budget surplus in decades. Say what you will about Bill, but if you think it immoral to pass off debt to future generations, he deserves some credit.

George W. took that surplus and found ways to spend it – and then some. He lacked the Reagan intuition that government is usually the problem and not the solution. His catchphrase “compassionate conservative” left one asking – “Compassionate with whose money and at the point of what gun?” That language confused his own base, maybe even confused Bush himself. Much debt ensued.

The fiscally responsible liberal and big government conservative blurred what it meant to be a Republican or a Democrat. Spin replaced the tracing of cause and effect. What the country needed most at the end of those 16 Clinton and Bush years was for a president to own an agenda – to be either a conservative or liberal so the issues might regain some definition. With President Obama, we are getting definition in spades.

Obama, despite the disastrous midterm elections and his party fleeing from his policies in attempts to save themselves (Did anyone catch Chuck Schumer renouncing Obamacare this week?), continues to go all in on each and any progressive policy available. The nation will suffer in the short term, but we will be better off for the eventuality this induces.

It would take another column to list the lawlessness that started with the implementation of Obamacare, went through the gun-running, Benghazi and IRS scandals, and topped itself last week with amnesty. But unconstitutional action is just part of this ongoing glimpse into the soul of liberalism. Just in the last few weeks, Obama conquered climate change by promising China to cripple our economy and sent his attorney general to fight for a black burglar’s right to punch a police officer in the face.

Unfortunately, the best argument against progressive government is a period of progressive governing.  Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964 on a platform of small government, sound fiscal policy, and strong national defense. An electorate confused by the fading glow of Camelot didn’t understand that message and went with Lyndon Johnson. Resoundingly. After Johnson’s Great Society had time to take effect and with the further clarity provided by Jimmy Carter’s term in office, Reagan said basically the same things Goldwater had said and won. Just as resoundingly. This is where we’re headed.

A true politician would have equivocated after the recent midterm election, sacrificing on some issues to try and save parts of a larger agenda as Clinton did after he lost the House for his party in a midterm. There was politically advantageous ground for Obama to give on immigration and the Keystone pipeline. Instead, he has decided to go all in. There will be much to fix in two years, but this president, in everything he does, is guaranteeing the backlash of fiscal conservatism and constitutional renewal that started earlier this month. Keep up the good work, Mr. President.

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We always did feel the same, we just started from a different point of view” – Bob Dylan.

Changing things ain’t easy. The status quo doesn’t come to be without gathering inertia along the way. We, the Van Wert County Commissioners, set about charting a different course in economic development about a year ago. That met with nearly universal enthusiasm except with the people then in charge who first politely invited us to keep quiet and then not so politely invited us to keep quiet. Then people started storming out of meetings. We didn’t quit because we believed we were elected to change what needed changed, and this did. Despite the initial conflict, there has been an extraordinary transformation in the mood of and faith in our county – something fundamental has shifted. Let me explain.

I came into office believing that there existed a shortage of ideas. I thought I had some. What I found was no lack of good ideas, but rather an institutional disinterest in them. Economic development (ED), as it was, largely involved meetings and filling out surveys – and then more meetings. A volunteer ED Advisory Executive Board ran things and they casually gathered once a month or so. That eight or nine member board contained not a single entrepreneur or even a person that wrote paychecks. Odd that.

ED is a long game – some of the programs initiated at the county level will take years to pay off.  Rarely are there quick results. But there has been here, where the countywide epidemic of having meetings for the sake of putting in the record that there was held a meeting has been replaced with action and engaged dialogue.

The Van Wert County Port Authority – At the start of the year, the president of that board suggested that it was not necessary to have quarterly meetings or to even be active at all. We restructured that board and brought some new members on. Now the Port Authority has found a way to make money by storing rail cars on the track that currently leads to nowhere between U.S. 30 and the transfer station. That money can be reinvested in ED projects or used to make our county look better. The Port Authority is also working with the Parks District on a Rails-to-Trails project through Ohio City.

Delphos – It straddles Van Wert and Allen counties and has been long neglected by both. That town initiated its own ED efforts this summer with input from community leaders and citizens. We are working with Delphos to create and fund a position for a Delphos ED director. That person will split time between there and our county office. (Can someone tell me why Delphos Jefferson is considered an Allen County school? We would love to have Jefferson, whose High School and Middle Schools are in Van Wert County, be a part of what we are building here.)

The county villages – At the first ED Advisory Group meeting I attended, there was no representation from the villages. I asked different village reps why and they said that the group never had anything to offer them. The county is developing grant-writing coordination that brings our towns together as a team to strengthen grant applications. We hope to rebuild infrastructure and get these towns back to being themselves. They’re back in the game, so to speak.

The Regional Planning Committee – The first of these meetings I attended, one of the members quit in frustration because nothing of substance was ever discussed. Those gatherings now take on issues that affect the county like windmills and the tearing down of worn-out buildings. It’s also now an opportunity for township government to get involved in ED.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) – this group was the force behind both Vision Park and Industrial Park in the past, but had not taken action in a few years before some of their members came to object to our discussing a change in ED. To strenuously object, I might add. That group’s frustration with us apparently rattled them back to life. They now have an initiative to raise two million dollars for what they call an Enterprise Fund to aid local ED efforts.

Even the aforementioned OSU Advisory Executive Board, which now kind of directs Van Wert City’s ED efforts, took some of our criticism to heart and appointed to itself some active members of the business community.

People still ask when the county and city are going to get back together. First, let me point out that there are many cities that have their own ED offices. Every county in the state of Ohio has an ED office because the state sets it up that way. Cities are free to organize their own efforts within that framework as Delphos is now doing.

There is a root philosophical difference between our efforts and what the city of Van Wert wants to do. The city believes that the connection with Columbus through Ohio State is worth giving away local control of ED efforts. We believe that the regional approach Columbus endorses has not benefited our county in the past and will not in the future. Allowing local input has proved fruitful. Personally, I’ve come to the belief that, with two separate offices wanting to do entirely different things, perhaps we can work both angles. That system recently worked quite well.

When Advanced Biological Medical announced its $14 million Van Wert expansion last month, you may have caught this quote: “I have to give credit to local government,” CEO Dan Custiss said. “I’ve never seen anything happen this fast.” He was thanking both the city ED for its initial involvement and the county ED for finding some additional funding at the end and for helping in the tax abatement process.

It may have taken some unpleasantness, but, even in hindsight, there was no way to avoid that and still create what is now taking place. With the shaking and rattling in the rearview mirror, it’s time to roll, and there is more thought and energy currently involved in that than we had thought possible when we started down this path.

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11-14-14 Bringing It All Back Home

You’re out there. You left Van Wert County to pursue an education, maybe get a taste of the big city. You experienced frat life and the clubs and being young and reckless. You got a job and eventually met someone, got married and had a couple of kids. And you’ve figured out that, once the party is over, every place is pretty much the same except that some places have traffic – and you’re reminded of that every day.

Now you pay outrageous fees for daycare and have to hire a babysitter to do anything in the evening. You’re not too sure about the school your kids are going to. Your house is nice but costs twice as much as it would have where you grew up. You shop at chain stores, ones that have similar outlets within thirty minutes of your old hometown. You don’t know your neighbors. You know why you left but wonder what it would take to get back.

            Your parents would like nothing more than for you to move those grandkids back. The Van Wert County Economic Development Office would like nothing more than that as well.

Here’s the demographics: In Ohio, 29.3% of the general population is between the ages of 25 and 44. In Van Wert County, the same age group accounts for 23.6%. The small difference in those numbers leads to large consequences – this is the age group that raises children. It’s what makes Van Wert High School Division III in basketball instead of the solid Division II it had always been. It also means there will be fewer kids that call this county “home” twenty years from now.

This problem, perhaps more than any other, needs attention and we’re giving it plenty.

First, we’re making it easy for employers and employees to find each other. Not just the potential workforce that is already here, but the ones that are sitting in their cars on the congested streets of Columbus or Cleveland thinking about the wide open spaces of Van Wert County. www.vanwertworks.com is a website we created where local companies post available positions and how to apply.

It’s a relatively new thing and not all of our companies are hooked in yet but they will be. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital, which went through 400 hires to find 150 employees when it first opened, has told us that, for their current expansion, the website has already provided them a surprising number of qualified candidates both from here and from a few surrounding counties. Part of Mercer County’s success over the past decade has been a website similar to this. (Ok, we ripped the idea off from them, but they don’t mind and we ain’t too proud to copy what has worked somewhere else.)

Last year, one of our local companies needed five to eight engineers. We’re talking jobs that pay over $60k to start. They couldn’t find them. I would bet there are five to eight Van Wert County natives abroad who would like to come home to a job like that. We hope their parents will lead them to vanwertworks.com.

In the future, the indigenous population will already know about this website because of a program called “Rural by Choice”. Our ED office, with the help of some prominent local businesspeople, will be going into schools over the next few months to start planting the idea in the minds of junior high students that whatever you want to do in life, you can do it in Van Wert County. They’ll be reminded through their high school years.

As part of that program, we’re looking to keep track of the top ten percent or so of every graduating class in the county. I first heard this idea talking with Chris Roberts after taping a radio show. It may be nothing more than keeping a way to contact them on file and updating where they are and what they’re doing every year. It could be as simple as Facebook. But when an anesthesiologist is needed at the hospital, we’ll then know where to find someone that might be interested in more than just the job.

A consistent problem with CEOs and doctors brought here from out of town is that their families don’t want to live here – they want to live in Fort Wayne where there’s more to do. People who are originally from here have a different vantage point. They know that literally everything is just a few hours away on the weekends and in the meantime your kids go to good schools, it’s safe, and it’s quiet. You don’t need to sell them on Van Wert County and they have a natural inclination to invest themselves, and their resources, in it.

The hometown always has the advantage and it’s time we use that. When you’re young, maybe you can’t escape the lure of the bright lights. But once you start thinking about a family, you think of home, where you know people. When LeBron James went to Miami, he wasn’t married. Is it any wonder he came back to Akron with a wife and three kids? I know, he never really left – he always had a home there. But so do your kids, right?

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Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Ohio State Extension and Northwest State Community College partnering to establish a hybrid of an agricultural research center and a college campus at the Starr Commonwealth facility east of town.

            Last week, I quickly covered the synchronicity that could make this happen and promised some elaboration this week. To do this, I’m going to draw from some of my prior columns, so if you feel like you’ve seen some of this before, thank you for reading.

Van Wert County taxpayers finance OSU Extension more than surrounding counties. Much more. We provide $200,000 annually through a levy that is due to expire at the end of next year. That is on top of what the city pays Extension for an economic development program. If it is not renewed or replaced by the electorate in the spring or the fall, the levy financing just ends. By statute, a county’s board of commissioners has to approve an Ohio State Extension levy request before it is even presented to voters.

Our initial discussions with Extension involved trimming the levy with an understanding that 4-H, nonetheless, would receive heightened financing. There are things that could be eliminated to make this happen. There is a position at our local Extension that has been vacant for almost a year, for example, and no one has really noticed. You pay for that.

Of course, Extension would prefer not to have the levy reduced. Well, in that case, perhaps instead of a smaller purpose, how about a larger one? One more befitting of such Van Wert County taxpayer largesse.

OSU likely would not be interested in the Starr on its own. It’s just too big of an investment. For the same reason, Northwest State would not be interested. Together, and with the levy and some other funding options, it’s an affordable risk.

Here’s what OSU has to gain: It’s an opportunity to place an agricultural research center in the midst of some of the state’s best land and livestock. And with the algae problem throughout the region, manifested most alarmingly in Toledo last summer and Grand Lake St. Marys for several years, this area is a prime target for state research. This was Ohio State Dean McPheron’s observation, not ours.

There is land around the Starr that could be made available for crop research. As stated last week, the Starr sold its 130 acres to the Marsh Foundation, which owns even more farmland nearby. During the Farm Focus years, the land at the main Marsh site was used for exactly the type of research Extension conducts. We learned recently that, near the end of the Farm Focus years, OSU had proposed a research center similar to what is being discussed now at the Marsh but talks never fully developed.

It should be made clear that The Marsh board has made no definite commitment to this project, but it will certainly be included in the talks. Even if the Marsh land proves unavailable, the county owns 300 acres two miles east of the Starr Campus. Other entities with the general welfare of the county in mind and with huge tracts of land could be encouraged to participate. I’m looking at you, Van Wert County Foundation.

On the educational side of things, the traditional university branch campus model has peaked and is in decline. In Van Wert County, we have no traditional college presence, but residents can go to established branches like Wright State in Celina, IPFW, or the specialized UNOH on our side of Lima. The internet options slice away at all of these. Many that go to these nearby branches or study on the web would have gone to OSU’s campus on the far side of Lima twenty years ago. OSU-Lima has shown a steady decline in enrollment over the past few decades.

For OSU, a presence in Van Wert County draws students from Paulding County, west Putnam County, and Delphos and turns its declining Lima campus into a second stop. A student can get a four-year degree in Lima in any of the following: biology, business, education, English, health sciences, history, psychology, social work, and theater. (Yep, theater.) If students tie into these programs in Van Wert to get the general education out of the way, more students funnel into the Lima campus or to the 175 majors that can be pursued in Columbus.

Which brings us to Northwest State Community College, the other major player in all of this. Recently designated as Van Wert County’s community college provider, Northwest State is now looking to invest in Van Wert. It has resources of its own but is also looking at multiple government funding options. In a partnership with OSU, that kind of funding becomes attractive to the kind of people that dispense it. Bureaucrats love other bureaucrats.

Northwest State already teaches general education courses which transfer to any state college in Ohio. The idea of taking community college gen ed courses to save a ton of money seems to have a slow gestation, however. It hasn’t caught on yet, but it will, because there is a slow train coming – the grand default on college loans. That is the next financial epidemic and it’s entirely unavoidable. When it happens, the concept of the value of college will change quickly.

A student can spend $23,000 for a freshman year at Bowling Green or that student can spend under $5,000 to get the same college credits at Northwest State. Here’s a question – What do you do with a $100,000 philosophy degree when bankruptcy is not an option? My guess is that Plato ain’t got an answer for that. What happens is that your life gets awful practical awful fast. If OSU gives its stamp of approval on Northwest State’s general education courses, the idea of affordable college close to home becomes a credible goal for our kids.

That is the expanded nutshell. There’ll be more soon.

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The first thing a stranger might see exiting US 30 east of Van Wert and turning toward the city is what appears to be our county’s college campus. To an outsider, the Starr Commonwealth presents as the Ivy League in miniature. And that’s just the part you can see from Lincoln Highway, excluding the five cottages hidden back in the woods. But not only is it not a college campus, it is also entirely empty.

The Starr quit servicing troubled youth four or five years ago, a victim of the economic collapse.  When I campaigned for commissioner, I spoke of bringing a college presence to the county. People naturally thought of the Starr – and began talking about the Starr. They talked so much that, even though I hadn’t mentioned the possibility, a member of the Starr board called me to request that I quit proposing the campus because it wasn’t for sale.

The Starr wasn’t on my radar then because it was just too big for a starter campus. There’s a certain economy to things. I had something smaller in mind – a couple rooms and a few classes at Vantage or one of the high schools and building from there. Wright State in Celina started in one room and as a branch of Ohio Northern.

With some outside-the-box thinking by one of my comrades, however, it may be time to dream big.

Bred in conversations we were having with Ohio State Extension and, to put it bluntly, from some ongoing problems we’ve had with that institution, Commissioner Lichtensteiger had an idea. Why not an agricultural research center at the Starr Campus? Ohio State Extension has five or six of these throughout the state but none near here.

At its other agricultural research centers, Extension experiments with hybrids, pesticides, soils, rotation – all things farm. Such a center can provide certifications for fertilizer and pesticide applicators. It can be a regional center for things like 4H and provide endless opportunities in an agricultural community such as ours.

Not to say the stars (no pun intended) seem to be aligning for this, but there are several factors that elevate Thad’s idea from one great in theory to one great in practice and they are all occurring here at once. I will briefly list these factors then spend the rest of this article and next week’s trying to explain what it all means.

First and foremost, the Starr is suddenly for sale or lease. Its board sold its surrounding 130 acres of farmland at auction to the Marsh Foundation earlier this year and is ready to do something with the campus. Although the price is being held close to the vest, it has been appraised and its board is ok with me telling you that it is available, so I shouldn’t get any calls about that.

Second, the levy for OSU Extension, which has supplied it around $200,000 of county tax dollars annually for the last several years, is up for ballot renewal next year. Third, we are one of the state’s leading agricultural counties inside a region with a unique problem ripe for intensive research– algae. Fourth, there is a new Dean of Agriculture at Ohio State who is seemingly inclined toward endeavors such as this.

Fifth, the county has experience in this type of agricultural research through its Farm Focus years. Sixth, there is plenty of farmland nearby the Starr that could be made available to OSU Extension for experimentation.

Seventh, the OSU Lima campus has had a steady decline in enrollment for years (more on this next week). Eighth, and most importantly for the college component in all of this, Northwest State was designated earlier this year as the county’s community college provider.

With these factors to discuss, Stan, Thad and I went to Farm Science Review last month to meet with OSU’s new Dean of Agriculture, Bruce McPheron. Tom Stuckey, the President of Northwest State, given a prior heads up on what we were going to propose, drove from Chicago to make that meeting.

OSU saw merit in our presentation and has continued to express interest ever since. Representatives have been to visit the Starr and others are coming in a few weeks. Nothing has been discussed as far as price and long term financing, only the possibilities. Everyone involved so far sees incredible sense in all this.

The boost to the county’s number one industry is blatant. We would go from one of the leading agricultural counties in the state to, with Mercer and Putnam as regional partners, the center. The college implications are less obvious but as significant. With the presence of Ohio State, Northwest State can become something more than a normal county community college.

This is by no means a certain thing. There are a lot of moving pieces, as there are with anything of this magnitude. We are coming out with this now in hopes of generating community support and enthusiasm and maybe finding some other missing pieces that could help make this happen.

I’ve tried to sketch what is being considered here and will elaborate more next week. For those who would like to hear a general discussion about this, tune into 1220 AM Sunday morning at 8:20. If you miss that original broadcast, you can hear it after Sunday afternoon at go1220.com – click on the “Commissioner’s Corner” tab.

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10-17-14 Vote Kasich Early and Often

John Kasich is going to win re-election as Ohio’s Governor in a few weeks. If he doesn’t, it will be the biggest popular vote surprise since Barabbas. Down 22 points in some polls, his opponent all but gave up months ago and has been sending his financial support to other candidates. Nevertheless, it is imperative for conservatives to show at the polls and cast their votes for Kasich.

A narrow victory for an incumbent candidate is a warning. A landside victory is a mandate. After a narrow victory over Ted Strickland to win his first term, John Kasich started out as if he had a mandate only to quickly learn that the 49 percent that didn’t vote for him were willing to fight.

Emboldened by the fledgling Tea Party movement in 2010, Kasich took office eager to transform Ohio into an incubator for small government policy. Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he set about the necessary but unpleasant task of challenging the right of public unions to collective bargain. Unlike Walker, Kasich included policeman and firefighters in his challenge.

Walker has won in Wisconsin so far, if you call constant death threats and the invasion of Madison by foul-smelling beatniks winning. Kasich’s initiative, however, proved a bridge too far. Ohio voters repealed it by referendum a year into his first term. The loss slowed Kasich but didn’t stop him as he proceeded to balance the budget anyway.

Opponents may argue that he balanced said budget by cuts in funding to local government. As a member of local government, I’ll say that we’ll find a way to get by. I think the saying goes “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” So it goes with cutting government handouts. If local voters want to fund local government more, they always have that option – and isn’t that where the option should be anyway?

Under Kasich’s leadership, Ohio’s budget was balanced while its income tax was slashed and its inheritance tax eliminated. There is no reason for wealth to flee to Florida anymore, although the wealthy cold still might. Further, the over-collection by the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation has been properly returned to employers.

All of this makes Ohio more attractive for business and investment. A criticism of Kasich is that all the jobs being created during his administration are in the big cities. Well, that may be so far. But the things he has accomplished and the things a landside election mandate will allow are critical to counties like ours that border Indiana, a right-to-work state with private insurance for worker’s compensation. Why is Honda in Indiana and not here? Math.

Kasich hasn’t been a conservative robot – he has sometimes let common sense trump bravado. His base questioned his Medicaid expansion. But some perspective: By passing enabling legislation as Ohio did, the expansion can be easily undone after the initial commitment. If the referendum process would have been used to expand Medicaid, as it was used to protect public unions, it would have been a much more difficult thing to undo as Obamacare falls apart over time.

Perhaps more questionable to diehard conservatives lately is the allowance of Common Core education into our state. This has led to a protest-vote campaign against Kasich this fall. I sympathize with those who wish to purge the party of collaborators and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) – the Democrats didn’t create a $17 trillion debt by themselves. But I would urge some measure of trust for Kasich, who, otherwise, has made the fights he was elected to make in his first term. I would further urge the opponents of Common Core to mimic the public unions and use the referendum process. (Stop by for my signature if you do.)

This election needs to be a mandate, not only for the sake of Ohio, but for the sake of Van Wert County. Ohio needs right-to-work legislation, privatization of worker’s compensation insurance, and elimination of the income tax. Seven states have no income tax – all seven are in the top ten of Forbes magazine’s “Most Business Friendly States.”

Kasich will win the election – that’s not the point. If the conservative base wants second term accomplishments, it needs to be a landslide.

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10-3-14 A Public Servant Retires

A few questions on how things are done at the county level: What is the procedure for annexation? How is a mutual agreement for ditch maintenance initiated? What steps are necessary to discipline a county employee? How are construction projects advertised for bidding? How is government property sold or auctioned? What is the first step of the tax abatement process?

In the Van Wert County Commissioners’ Office, all of these questions and several others funnel into one ultimate question – How do we handle that, Larry?

Larry Clouse, the Commissioners’ clerk for the last thirty-five years, will put in his last two days on Monday and Tuesday next week. He has forty-one years total in county government, working also as a clerk in the Engineer’s office.

For those of us who work predominantly in the private sector, hearing a government employee refer to his or herself as a public servant sometimes has the same effect as fingernails meeting chalkboard. The phrase implies that the person would do the job without the associated pay and benefits.

But anyone who has worked with him over the years would apply the tag “public servant” to Larry Clouse. He has, for three-and-a-half decades, by all eyewitness accounts, given bureaucracy a good name. If federal and state government employees would conduct themselves as Clouse has all these years, you might find yourself happy to pay your taxes.

When one possesses particular knowledge and is the only one in government who does, human nature tends to make one arrogant. I won’t go into a string of adjectives to describe Larry for those that don’t know him, but I will say that anything that is the polar opposite of arrogant would be apt.

You might say, “But Commissioner Wolfrum, you have been Larry’s boss the last year and a half. Of course he would seem accommodating to you.” Oh, dear reader, I was once not a commissioner or even anybody in particular.

About fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-something that thought it would be fun to publish an independent newspaper. I called it “The Whig” and put it out weekly and did most of the writing under different pseudonyms. A certain paper publisher got his start in the paper business writing for that weekly rag under his own pseudonym, but I won’t out Kirk here.

At that time, the Commissioners’ office was dealing with moving the probate court, waste water on Richey Road, and a few other issues that had me visiting their office regularly. I didn’t know Larry before that time.

But I remember being surprised when I learned where he actually worked because he had, in every one of my dealings with him, went so far out of his way to supply me with useful information for my stories– even after I disagreed with the Commissioners of that time in a few of my articles and even though I had few subscribers.

He never wanted quoted himself and still refuses to be involved in politics (which may be how he’s survived about a dozen different groups of commissioners – I told him it was ironic that this last board turned out to be the best – in classic Clouse fashion, he didn’t agree, but he didn’t disagree, so . . .) Even this week Stan and I had to drag him in to do the radio program that will air Sunday morning on WERT.  He is the rare government employee that actually cares more that government functions correctly than who is in charge or who takes credit for it.

And the last thing he wants is any acknowledgment, so we’re going to try to give him some. If you worked with Larry or just knew him over the last forty years, there will be a reception at our office from noon to two on Tuesday, October 7, his last day (and birthday).

You better stop and see him then, because you may not be able to find him again after that. He’ll be somewhere in America or Canada probably, but other than which direction he’s going to head initially, I don’t think there’s a plan. Isn’t that what we’re all working for? To understate, Larry Clouse has earned it.

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