Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Latin Lesson

It seems that I should say a few words about the ad hoc advisory committee that was appointed by the former Council and tasked with reviewing the budget and making recommendations to council. But before I do, I want to acknowledge that we are fortunate, in Amberley, to have as many talented and interested residents as we do. As with the prior Ad Hoc Advisory Committee for Amberley Green, the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to the Budget was dedicated and hardworking. They are to be commended for the many hours of work they devoted to this task. I am looking forward to their report to Council and the opportunity to examine their recommendations.
First of all, what is an ad hoc committee? BusinessDictionary.com defines an ad hoc committee as:

a committee formed for a specific task or objective,
and dissolved after the completion of the task or achievement
of the objective.

The ad hoc budget advisory committee met for four months and thoroughly reviewed Amberley's budget going back to 2006. They have prepared a Report, which is now published on AmberleyVillage.org, and they, as well as I, have talked about their ongoing work publicly. I have been emailed a copy of the Report,  though I have not studied it thoroughly. Nor has it been formally presented to Council, which is the completion of the task the committee set out to do. Council does not meet as a full body other than at Council meetings, which are held on the second Monday of every month. Every meeting is published on the Village calendar and in other publications and the dates are established by Amberley's Charter. The next full meeting of Council will be on March 12th. At that time, I predict that the ad hoc advisory committee will present their findings to Council and Council will have the opportunity to publicly thank them for their hard work and refer the recommendations to one of Council's standing committees -- most likely the finance committee -- but other issues may be discussed in the Long Range Planning committee, or Compensation & Benefits. There is also a Land Development committee, which may be tasked with examining one or more of the ad hoc committee's recommendations.
It would be inappropriate, in my opinion, for me to comment on any particular one of the Committee's recommendations without first having the opportunity to listen to the ad hoc committee's presentation of their Report to Council. Having seen the Report, it appears on the surface that there are some items that I can get behind and some to which I have questions. It is unfair to the committee, which is comprised of members of our community, for Council to publicly either vet or criticize any component of the Report before it is formally presented to us. Righting Amberley's budget is not going to happen overnight. If the Police Levy passes, it is merely one piece of the puzzle and represents the beginning of a lot of hard work and changes to come. Many changes have already occurred and they have been discussed here as well as in public venues with Police Chief Wallace and Manager Scot Lahrmer. 
We value our resident committees -- whether standing committees or ad hoc committees such as this one or the Amberley Green committee -- and do not want to jeopardize the willingness of our residents to serve on committees by undermining their work before they have made it official. 
As always, I invite you to attend committee meetings and learn more about the inner workings of your Village. Every meeting is publicized on www.amberleyvillage.org. You can subscribe to meeting notices in any area that particularly interests you and your input at meetings is always valued. Residents who attend meetings are never required to sit silently and watch, but are invited to share their input and expertise. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Community Building - AV Women's Forum

The Amberley Village Women's Forum met again last evening at Jayme Klosterman's house and we were joined by Officer Mike Koenig and Chief Rich Wallace for an informative presentation about keeping ourselves safe at home and forming neighborhood block watch groups. We were given several tips for being safe at home, which really are so obvious, but I'm embarrassed to say that I am a huge offender of many of them.
Officer Koenig tells us to be observant.

Chief Wallace introduces the discussion of safety
First of all, if you have an alarm system don't forget to use it. It's so easy to get into the habit of not turning it on  because "we'll only be gone for a short while" or fear that we will set it off by accident and be embarrassed when the police show up at our door. The perpetrators of burglaries in and around Amberley Village are primarily looking for easy targets to feed a heroin habit. They don't want to be confronted by pesky burglar alarms. So, if you have an alarm, turn it on. We learned that many break ins occur by the burglar breaking a rear window to enter the house and then exiting through a door. So, even if you don't have a glass break sensor, the alarm will be triggered when the burglars exit your home. IF you set it!

Dogs and other animals are a great deterrent, as are cars in the driveway and leaving the radio or TV turned on. Whatever you do, don't make it easy for the would-be burglar. Lock your car doors, lock your house doors, and close your garage door. The best deterrent, however, is keeping an eye out for anything unusual in your neighborhood. This is where the Watch Groups come in.
Crime map of Amberley Village
While the police can come by your house and do an inspection a few times a day while you are on vacation, nothing beats the watchful eyes of your own neighbors. I am planning on implementing a group in my own neighborhood, and what a great way to get to know each other. If my neighbors know that I'm going on vacation, then they can be alert to strange cars parked in my driveway -- or better yet -- if someone pulls up with a van and starts loading it up with my possessions, they will know to call the police rather than assume that it is AmVets or the Salvation Army.
I really should take that camera class... 

...so I know how to turn off the "auto" settings.

We will be continuing this discussion on home and personal safety and invite all Amberley women to join us once a month at the Amberley Women's Forum. There is always ample time to socialize and as an outgrowth of the meeting, a women's tennis league is now forming. If you are interested in joining our mailing list (or playing tennis), please email avwomensforum@gmail.com.  We look forward to meeting you at our next meeting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's Gone Down and What's Coming Up

It's never a dull moment for the Lone Wolf. Here's a quick recap of some of the things I've been doing and some things that are coming up. Fortunately, Scott gave me a new camera for Hanukkah so I can document the places I go, otherwise I would forget for sure. As my friend Leslie used to say: My brain is like a steel sieve...

Pleasant Ridge Library Dedication
State Senator Eric Kearney
On Monday, February 13th, I accompanied former Council Member, Peg Conway, to the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly accessible Pleasant Ridge Library.  The library, which is located just down the street on Montgomery Rd., is within walking distance of three local elementary schools -- Pleasant Ridge Montessori, Nativity Elementary, and TCP World Academy. Kindergartners from PRM and Nativity provided adorable entertainment for those gathered for the dedication. 
Nativity Kindergartners sing "Grand Ol' Flag"

Energy Aggregation Update:
Many residents have been asking when they will be able to take advantage of the lower rates that will be made available due to electric aggregation. At Monday's Council meeting, Resolution 2012-26 was passed which authorized the Village Manager to enter into a contract with DPL Energy Resources.During the year 2011, our residents saved $269,000 during the 10 months Amberley was in the opt-in program. The new supplier rate will lower bills based on prior aggregation rates by 6.6%. Residents will expect to save $175 annually from the current Duke Energy rate. Residents who are a current customer of Duke do not need to do anything to be included as this is an "opt-out" program. If you, like me, are currently signed up with another supplier and wish to participate in the Village's program, you will need to contact DP&L Energy Resources, and request to be enrolled. First though, residents should check to see what, if any, cancellation charges may apply for leaving your current supplier. 

Tennis Key Cards 
As a We THRIVE! community, Amberley was required to enter into shared-use agreements in order to promote physical activity. One way to achieve this goal, is to allow non-residents to utilize our assets. In this case, Amberley has tennis courts that are often empty. For a fee of $70 per year for one year, up to twenty-five non-residents are now permitted to purchase key cards to be used on the lower, tennis courts located on the south side of Village Hall. Resolution 2012-27.

Is it a Policy, System, or Environmental Change
On Tuesday, former Mayor Merrie Stillpass, accompanied me to the wrap-up event for the We THRIVE! grant. It was great to get together with representatives from the first nine grant recipient communities as well as the three new ones (including our neighbor Roselawn). It's incredible how much a community can do with a little bit of money. For example, in addition to the new community garden that will be installed at Amberley Green, residents can look forward to a new Amberley Trail near the Section/Ridge corner of French Park so that we can run or walk around our Village Hall walking track and then extend that walk across the street and safely enter French Park from a trail. The grant will pay for a foot bridge as well as signage. We hope to recruit scouts to do the volunteer construction. Also, after a conversation with Metro, Amberley will be included in a comprehensive transportation study that may result in a new bus stop being located in Amberley near the JCC. This will enable employees and senior users of the JCC to access the facility by bus. Additionally, seniors who come to the JCC from Cedar Village via the Cedar Village bus, will be able to get to a grocery store or do personal errands via the Metro bus. The We THRIVE! grant will be used to pay for a bus stop bench. 

Don't Forget the Police Levy
Last, but by no means least, please don't forget about the Police Levy that is on the March 6th ballot. Nearly 50% of the Village budget is consumed by our police services. If this levy doesn't pass, expect to see a significant negative impact on our police service as well as all other services in the Village.  You can expect the police to operate on a response basis only instead of in crime-prevention mode as they do now. If you have not attended any of Chief Wallace's presentations at Village Hall or the previous Town Hall meeting at the JCC, you have another opportunity on Tuesday, February 21st at 6:30 PM. It is important that all of us have an understanding of how our operations function and the current associated costs. 

I recently heard a resident say that he doesn't care if his house burns down. Seriously -- a resident actually said that. Well, maybe his house is merely bricks and mortar, but my house includes memories of a lifetime that are irreplaceable by any insurance company. Family photos can never be replaced, not to mention objects to which we've attached special significance. Chief Wallace gave me a tour of the police station yesterday and I was able to get a look at the dispatch service as well as one of the many neighborhood mapping tools used by the police. I was able to easily see my own house and noted three stickers affixed to it. Those stickers indicated that there was one 911 call from from our residence in the last year, as well as two misdemeanor arrests (on the property -- not my immediate family). There are lots of stickers on that map! 

Example of how the Police Dept. is being restructured.
At the most recent Council meeting, residents spoke in favor of the levy, and I addressed what I see as the "intangible" elements that bring people to Amberley Village. I identified eight reasons people choose to buy a home in Amberley and listed them randomly: nostalgia, large lots, access to synagogues, access to Cincinnati Public Schools, convenience, proximity to parks and green space, architectural uniqueness, and services. You can read the entire address by clicking HERE

I'll leave you with an example of one of those beautiful "Amberley" homes I refer to in my Address to Council. This home sits on a beautiful, large wooded lot and is replete with the charm and craftsmanship that we associate with Amberley. You can request a blue sign for your own yard by visiting http://ProtectAmberleyVillage.com

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Amberley Green

Amberley Green is 133 acres of gorgeous rolling hills, old cart paths, and mature, beautiful trees. The day it opened to residents I was able to add another 2.5 miles to my neighborhood runs. They are hilly miles, I'll give you that, but there is nothing better than being able to stay close to home and get my workout in.

This post will explain why I support allowing non-residents of Amberley Village to purchase parking stickers in order to park in the Amberley Green parking lot:

1. Safety

As a woman, when I go to Amberley Green and I see cars in the parking lot with AV identification decals, I know that 1) I may encounter another person there and 2) that person is an easily identifiable Amberley resident. If there are no other cars in the parking lot and I encounter someone, I have no idea who that person is, where they came from, or if they are there for a walk or for mischief. Certainly, a person who lives close by Amberley Green can walk there and I wouldn't know they were there prior to my encounter, but most people don't live within walking distance of the Green. Or if they do, they are Amberley residents.
Great Blue Heron at Amberley Green
Our current ordinance allows only residents to use the AG parking lot. In practice, non-residents park freely on nearby Fairhaven, Burning Tree, or at Adath Israel synagogue and walk across Ridge Road to the Green. This is a ridiculous situation -- the residents don't like it and I don't like being surprised by a stranger on what are usually deserted pathways.

2. Law Abiding Citizens Do Not Pose a Risk

Think about it... Who do I have to fear at Amberley Green? The person who goes to Village Hall and provides their identifying information and license plate and vehicle information to our police in order to buy a parking sticker or the person who enters Amberley Green from Lakeshore Drive apartments in Reading? The person who buys the sticker is not the person who is going to cause mischief on Amberley Green. By limiting parking to residents only, we are creating the parking problem on residential streets and doing nothing to deter crime and mischief on the Green. Criminals will enter Amberley Green either way -- neither more nor less. And, to get back to number 1: Safety -- I would much rather know who is using the Green than not.

3. Amberley Green is an Asset to our community

We have just completed Phase I of the We Thrive! grant process and prepared an invoice to Hamilton County Public Health for $7000. We are now ready to enter Phase II which includes the community garden at Amberley Green, a possible walking path connecting French park to Amberley's Village Hall walking path, and maybe even a Metro bus stop at the JCC, all projects paid for by the remainder of the We Thrive! grant up to $24,000. These are all areas that were identified by a working group of Amberley citizens who have put in countless hours since December in order to improve the quality of life here in Amberley Village by bringing residents together in a gathering place, increasing walkability, increasing access to fresh foods, and identifying ways to reduce smoking and chronic diseases. None of this could have been done without the grant. A condition of the grant is that we develop shared usages with other communities of our assets in ways that will promote physical activity. The most obvious solution identified by the committee is to open up parking at Amberley Green to non-residents. By opening up the parking, we allow others to enjoy walking, running, and other sports-related activities on Amberley Green -- all activities that were identified by our residents as providing enjoyment, exercise, and increased physical activity. We could allow frisbee golf to be played on the old fairways. Arborists could conduct walking tours of our trees. Children could enjoy gardening camp. When we allow land to remain vacant, it becomes attractive to people who want to conduct illegal activity. It becomes overgrown and blighted, thereby decreasing its value to the community. Amberley's long range plan includes development of Amberley Green, so it is in our best interest to keep it attractive and safe so as to obtain the highest value in the marketplace. By using the property we make it safer and also attract people to our community where they may very well choose to live.

What are your thoughts? You can either comment here or send me an email at WolfonCouncil@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Deer Today; Gone Tomorrow

I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying the view out my windows of the snow that fell early this morning. I think all the birds in Amberley have come to my feeders to enjoy the (expensive) selection of bird seed I put out for them. Which has me thinking about the abundance of wildlife we enjoy here in Amberley Village and whether it's recommended to be feeding them at all.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources"With the exception of feeding songbirds, putting out food for wildlife can hurt more than help."  So, go ahead and feed the songbirds, and by all means, take pictures of all those cardinals, bluejays, titmouses (or is it titmice?), and woodpeckers. But when it comes to feeding the deer, the ODNR has different advice:

Kimo and Amberley deer engage in a backyard standoff
Wildlife, such as deer and geese, are accustomed to our winters here in Ohio. They are migrating species and the deer who live here in the spring and summer, may not be the same deer that are here in the winter. Deer have particular wintering spots and by feeding them you discourage them from going to those spots, that may be miles away from your backyard. The available food resources here may not be what they want or need in the winter. Furthermore, bringing wild animals so close to your house and other species makes them more vulnerable to spreading disease, and attacks from large dogs, or in our own community, collisions with automobiles. Additionally, for all of you gardeners who bemoan the deer  who eat your gardens, "Come spring time, don't expect the deer you fed all winter to find greener pastures. By then, they will have become accustomed to the free meal and think it's perfectly acceptable munching on your garden of delicate spring flowers and tender vegetables."

Why am I bringing this up? I've written about Amberley's deer culling program in previous posts. Council decided to continue with the deer culling recommendations from last year, but resolved to revisit the issue before next winter in order to have ample time to establish a comprehensive, cost-effective plan for the Village. This may involve bow-hunting, or may not, but until then, we are proceeding with sharpshooters in French Park and Amberley Green. All deer meet is processed and donated to the Free Store here in Cincinnati. If you live near French Park and Amberley Green, you will probably want to think twice about feeding the deer and establishing any kind of domestic relationship with them, because you are essentially luring them to your backyard, where they will become a target of our culling program.
So cute, but vicious!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hello Sunshine!

Ohio law provides for very liberal access to government public records. What that means to the citizens of Amberley Village, during this election season, is that the email address you used to subscribe to the Village e-newsletter must be given to any person who requests it, whether or not that person gives a reason for the request. I have been very conscientious about compiling my own list of address for use with this blog, and I have not asked, nor been given access to the Village e-mail list.

I am adding this quick post to give you a heads up that a public records request has been made and you may be getting an email as a result. If you do not wish to receive this email, then I suggest that you treat it as spam and mark it such, or just delete it with the rest of the junk mail you receive to your inbox every day. Please don't, however, request to have your name removed from Amberley's list. Our e-newsletter is packed with important news of the Village and you will have no other way of getting the information, in addition to meeting notices, if you remove yourself from the list.

Amberley Village has an obligation, under the law, to comply with records requests, and I know that I'm going to try my best to be patient and realize that it's all a part of living in a democracy. Once election season is behind us, so, hopefully, will be the email requests. As for myself, I will continue to collect email addresses the old-fashioned and time consuming way. I feel it is the most honest and direct way to get only information to people who want it and are interested in it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Learning the Ropes

How does a newly-elected council person learn how to be a council person? They attend newly-elected council person school, that's how! Well, it may not be called exactly that, but between the Center for Local Government, the Hamilton County Planning Commission, the First Suburbs Consortium, and Village Manager Scot Lahrmer, there are plenty of avenues for education. I've spent three Saturday mornings in workshops beginning in December with the Planning Commission's workshop for newly-elected officials. There we learned how the HCPC could assist us in getting projects off the ground through partnerships and grants. In fact, Amberley is using the services of the HCPC to revise the zoning code, beginning with the zoning of the North Site in order to make it more marketable for development. By being a member of the HCPC, Amberley can avail itself of low-cost specialized services and expertise offered by the planning commission.

Council Member Tom Muething practices parliamentary procedure
Last Saturday, four members of council availed themselves of a parliamentary procedure workshop. The workshop was presented by certified parliamentarians. Parliamentary procedure, when used correctly, can aid in expediting meetings. Who among us hasn't experienced attending a meeting where the discussion goes on forever and continues to get sidetracked, only to have us looking at our watch and promising to never attend another meeting? I know, I personally feel as if I've let down my committee if a meeting lasts longer than an hour and a half.

Fire Chiefs from DP/Silverton and Little Miami JFDs
Most recently, the topic of "Shared Services" has been written about quite extensively in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Yesterday, Council Member Bill Doering, former Mayor Merrie Stillpass, and I attended the Shared Services Summit, which was presented by the Center for Local Government and moderated by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. Shared services is of particular interest to all local governments given the state of the economy and the diminishing revenue of virtually every municipality in Ohio and elsewhere.  During the five hour summit, we had the opportunity to attend smaller break-out groups which explored various aspects of how municipalities could share services. I chose to attend the presentation given by the chiefs of three local joint fire districts. It can take years to form a joint fire district, and though it may or may not even be feasible for Amberley, there is still the option of exploring contracting fire service with other jurisdictions. I spent some time after the presentation talking to the chief of the Deer Park/ Silverton Joint Fire District. He is very familiar with Amberley's police/fire setup and willing to have a conversation with us regarding areas where we can share services.

Commissioner Portune
It is imperative that we begin to think of new ways of doing things in Amberley Village. If the Police Levy that will be on the March ballot passes, we will be able to have a dedicated source of revenue for our police department for the next five years. During that time, however, Council, Village administration, and our residents must be thinking of and finding innovative ways to provide a level of service to our residents that we can be happy with and also doesn't stretch our budget. The Enquirer has been doing an excellent job reporting on this issue. This week, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Dept. threatened to pull police patrols from ten area townships, leaving some without any police presence at all. Townships May Not Have Any Police Presence When They Lose Sheriff's Patrols.  Today, the Enquirer published an editorial stressing the need to discuss local services. Local Services Must Be Discussed. This is clearly the year when citizens will be pressed to decide what kind and how much service they expect from their local government. Amberley Village, Springfield Township, and Addyston will make that decision on March 6th. I predict that many others will do the same in November.

What is "Shared Services?"