Sunday, June 27, 2010

Editorial: Act now to stop VOA expansion in Mansfield

The city of Mansfield should do everything in its power to halt the planned expansion of a downtown halfway house.

Volunteers of America said earlier this month the state is providing $700,000 to add 30 more beds to the 71-bed facility, which houses sex offenders from across the state.

Money for the project is coming from funds available because of the the closure of Crossroads, another local half-way house that recently shut its doors.

The additional space would be primarily for serious drug and alcohol offenders, and not for sex offenders, according to the Ohio Department of Corrections.

No matter. We do not want this downtown, and we must act now to prevent this kind of project from going forward.

Proponents will sell this as service the community should support.

But this is exactly the opposite of what Mansfield needs.

The whole purpose of this facility is to take convicted offenders who have served their time and ease them back into society while working to minimize the likelihood of a return to crimes.

This program brings in offenders from around the state with no guarantee that those “eased back into society” will not settle in Mansfield.

Already, Richland County tracks nearly 400 registered sex offenders, and according to the sheriff department website, the population of offenders is growing. It is estimated that 80 percent of all addresses have at least one offender within a mile.

In fact, Richland County already tops the list of Ohio counties in number of felony sex offenders.

This includes Tier II and Tier III sex offenders, who were convicted of crimes including soliciting prostitution, sexual battery, sexual contact with a minor, kidnap-ping, forcible rape and murder with sexual motivations.

Increased capacity in Mansfield only increases the possibilities that we’ll see more offenders in our area.

Former Mansfield police chief and interim Service-Safety Director Phil Messer is among the facility’s harshest critics.

“It’s like having a nuclear power plant at your back door,” he said. “You know the government is doing everything possible, but there’s always the risk that something horrific could occur.”

Local State Rep. Jay Goyal has voiced his concern about the facility.

It’s time for all of us to demand our local elected leaders halt this project.

Mansfield has allowed itself to be branded a prison town with two major prisons. But we can no longer allow our tolerance for our prisons to be taken advantage of with the expansion of this halfway house.

We’ve said it before. Enough is enough. The Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction need to find somewhere else to build their center.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Editorial: City dress code more than a fashion faux pas

Mr. T could never work for the City of Mansfield. Neither could celeb Victoria Beckham or “American Idol” hopeful Crystal Bowersox. Host Ryan Seacrist could, though, but not judge Randy Jackson.

The city’s new dress code for munici-pal workers prohibits extreme styles such as too much jewelry, wild hair and sloppy clothing.

The new dress code is virtually unenforceable, a waste of time and a waste of money.

We’ve already spent too much energy just preparing the legislation that would require dress and grooming conformity city wide.

The code prohibits:

z Obscene tattoos.

z Wearing hats indoors.

z Flip-flops.

z More than two earrings per lobe.

z Excessive jewelry. Jewelry is limited to one ring on each hand for males or two rings on each hand for females, one watch on either wrist and medical alert or medical treatment bracelet.

According to the new rules, hair simply must be controlled.

For example:
z Employees are permitted to change the color of their hair only within the “natural hair color spectrum.”

z Employees hair will present a neat, groomed appearance “not exceeding 11/4 inches in bulk, regardless of length.”

z Hair will not fall within 1 inch of the eyebrows.

z Women may wear conservative hair clasps or barrettes. Women wearing city-issued head gear may not allow their hair to be visible on the forehead.

z Men’s hair may not cover the outside surface of the ear. Sideburns must be neatly trimmed with the flare not more than 1 inch wide. Mustaches must be neatly trimmed, not extending more than half an inch beyond the side of the mouth, or below the bottom of the upper lip. Goatees and beards must be trimmed to not longer than 1 inch.

We are not making this up.

But our argument is not with the dress code, per se. Rather, we are appalled at the timing of such a move.

After reading about the code, one of our online commenters expressed a clear opinion that many share.

“Are you serious? Is this all our city government has to worry about? We are in a crisis; this city is in danger of turning into a lawless stink hole with more empty store fronts than full ones. Before long there won’t be anything to worry about other than tripping over a tumble weed blowing down Park Ave.

“Let’s spend our time a little more constructively. There are plenty of other problems going on in this town to worry about what somebody is wearing or what they look like. They said they have been looking into this for about a year. I hope they were not getting paid for it. Just think of all of the money they could have saved.”

Or this one from Mansfield Finance Director Kelly Blankenship, who said she has more important issues to worry about.

“I am not about to start dictating and micromanaging my employees’ grooming habits. My employees haven’t had one cent of a raise since I took office,” she said. “We have lost eight staff members. Morale is low. Our chief concern is finding ways to increase revenues and cut costs.”

Already we have union reps looking at legal action over contracts the new rules may violate. If an employee passed muster when they were hired, they ought to pass inspection now.

Our opinion is instead of measuring the length of hair on a man’s face, the city should take a ruler out and measure the length of grass and noxious weeds on any number of lots in Mansfield? Talk about code violations.

A handful of people may see a scruffy beard and wonder what kind of standards we have, but when thousands of people drive by the run-down, overgrown vacant or deserted properties in our city, they get a clear message.

Let’s stop worrying about tattoos and mullets and begin working on standards that really make a difference.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Our Opinion: We’ve seen progress in community development

The Richland Community Development Group deserves praise for its ability to quickly mobilize a small army of energized people in a positive direction.

While there is lots of heavy lifting that needs to take place in the coming months, it appears those associated with this newly formed grassroots association have the energy to carry the goals that will help Mansfield and Richland County pick itself up economically.

The spirit felt Thursday night during the first sector report is evidence that Mansfield has the talent and ability required to solve the seemingly daunting problems highlighted by the demise of the local GM plant.

This make-up call came too late.

We applaud the entrepreneurial efforts of local leaders, but this effort should have begun years ago. Instead of trying to revive our lagging local economy, we should have positioned ourselves to leverage the assets that we now recognize are our best hope for the future.

Now as we move forward it is our hope that business leaders see the value of working together to lift ourselves out of the rut we have made.

Thursday’s report from the community to the community was an eye-opener for many who may not have been aware of the real talent we have locally.

From agriculture to social services, there are experts in our community that are making real change.

The manufacturing sectors are retraining and refitting themselves to seek new opportunities.

The beautification sector also wasted no time in getting things rolling this spring with 40 new planters downtown.

The transportation sector is busy trying to determine which thoroughfares should be made more bicycle-friendly and how neighborhoods can be better connected.

We encourage those involved in the various sectors of the new development group to continue to work to accomplish the visions they have laid out.

With a busy summer season in front of us, now is the time to follow through with the instant actions that can be achieved while the sun is shining.