Don't Make the Same Mistake in Reverse

Lately, I feel like I’m watching a bad TV rerun in reverse, and this time my remote control has dead batteries.

I’m talking about the Seneca County Commissioners’ announcement that they will be deciding the location of the new Joint Justice Center by Feb. 10. You can bet that, if it’s left up to the politicos, that announcement won’t focus on the East Tower (former East Jr. High).

The new scenario is akin to the ill-fated vote that ultimately transformed the 1884 Seneca County courthouse into roadway rubble. Three commissioners (or likely two out of three) once again plan to make a decision for all county residents, basically without our input. Even though citizen interest in the East Tower location has been increasing, it’s likely that the commissioners plan on voting to erect a new building where the old courthouse stood.

If we, the taxpayers, allow the commissioners to maintain a “we’ll decide this issue because we know what’s best for you” mentality, it will boil down to a “hello 40-year construction; goodbye green space” proposition.

There are some things the people of Seneca County should know before we let that happen.

Commissioner Fred Zoeller said the initial study about the Joint Justice Center, released last year, covered all the location options (including the East Tower site), and in his opinion, “the cream quickly came to the top.” For him, that “cream” constitutes the new construction recommended in the study by the firm, Burgess & Niple.

With all due respect to Mr. Zoeller, I have read the results of the study, and the first thing that caught my eye — besides very little mention of the East Tower — was the fact that the East Tower owner was listed as “unknown.” Of course, I viewed that as a challenge and immediately set out to see who held the deed to the former East Jr. High building. It took 10 minutes and two phone calls on my part to determine that Tiffin native Andrew Kalnow was the owner. That’s just basic stuff. One has to wonder about the competency of a firm that can’t track down such elementary information. Or, it could be that county officials had no intention of studying that site from the onset.

Another red flag arose last week when I had a conversation with a local businessman who was chosen to take part in the Burgess & Niple study. He told me that — when attempting to determine the best location for the justice center — the people conducting the study never asked him about housing it in the East Tower. Never. Maybe I’m in the wrong profession because if I had been employed to study all the options, the East Tower certainly would have been included in my list of questions.

I guess it should come as no surprise that the Burgess & Niple study recommended new construction. That’s an easy call when you don’t cover all of the bases from the start.

Shortly after that study was released, SIEDC (Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation) commissioned a study to determine whether the East Tower would be a viable option for the justice center. According to Mr. Kalnow, that study is due to be released in a few weeks.

That information immediately left me with three questions: Hey commissioners, what’s the real reason you’re moving on this decision so quickly? Why can’t you wait to see what the new study has to offer? How much have you consulted with Tiffin City government about this decision? I’d hate to see the county commissioners again attempt to make the city a “poor cousin” in all of this, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something smells rancid in our county government.

A recent study by Dr. John Bing’s Heidelberg class determined that nearly three-quarters of the residents want to maintain the green space in the center of the city (a topic I will discuss in my next blog).

It’s time we, the citizens, taxpayers and the employers of our elected officials demand that any decision be put off until all information is collected. As it is now, Mr. Kalnow is offering to DONATE a building that the new study will likely report to be structurally sound. We deserve to have all the information at our fingertips. Of course, the East Tower study will be a moot point if we allow a couple of county officials to once again arbitrarily commandeer the power to make such an important decision for all of us.

Many people have asked what they can do to make their voices heard. The best place to start is by contacting the commissioners via email, phone or letter. More importantly, start attending the commissioners meetings. Email addresses and meeting times can be found on the county’s website at http://www.seneca-county.com/.


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