drag queen story time - bearded

During the Drag Queen Story Time at the Athens Public Library Saturday, June 29, drag queen Miranda Michaels (given name, Michael Erickson) reads a kids story to a full meeting room of kids, their parents and community members. Only one protester showed up outside the library. 

When the vast majority of Ohio University students, as well as many faculty members, leave Athens at the start of May, all news, all activity, everything comes to a complete halt in this town. It goes into suspended animation till Move-In Week in late August.

And we’ve got a deluxe penthouse apartment at the top of Bromley Hall to sell you.

In other words, sorry, we’re pulling your leg. All sort of interesting stuff happens in this town year round, whether the full student enrollment is here or not. Following is our annual summer-in-review article. After reading this, you might just decide to stick around next summer, just so you don’t miss anything.

In curating the summer’s stories, we’ve concentrated on news that we think OU students and faculty might be particularly interested in.

We’re organizing this chronologically, issue by issue of The Athens NEWS, since graduation weekend. We transitioned from twice-weekly to weekly with our June 6 edition (more on that later).

Thursday, May 2, Edition

Fraternity expelled

45 Mill Street -- student died

This is the rooming house at 45 Mill St. in Athens where an OU freshman was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead early Monday morning, Nov. 12.

Ohio University announced in late April that the local chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity had been permanently "expelled" from campus, for multiple violations of OU policies regarding hazing and alcohol use.

This news comes after the university launched a Student Code of Conduct investigation into the Epsilon chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity early last November after news broke of an OU student dying at an off-campus residence. That Mill Street rooming house, the university has alleged, was an unofficial annex of the fraternity.

The student, Collin Wiant, 18, who allegedly was a pledge of the fraternity chapter at the time, was found unresponsive at 45 Mill St. on Nov. 12, 2018, The NEWS previously reported. OU initiated a cease-and-desist order for all organizational activities for the fraternity chapter a day later.

According to documents of the Student Code of Conduct violation hearings provided April 30, 2019, by the university, the fraternity was found, through a preponderance of evidence standard, to have violated 10 different statutes in the Student Code of Conduct. Those include several types of hazing, damage to property, alcohol and drug violations, and harmful behavior.

The Code of Conduct hearing board cited several witnesses who made reference to pledges being hit, including by belts. Multiple witnesses alleged that pledges were forced to eat foods such as hot sauce and onions, and others alleged that they were forced to do work for the fraternity members (such as laundry and other chores). The hearing board in general found that the fraternity had a "toxic culture of drug and alcohol use."

An autopsy report completed in February found that Wiant died of asphyxiation due to nitrous-oxide ingestion, with him testing positive for that substance.

The family’s lawsuit alleges that Wiant was the victim of hazing by the fraternity, and was provided with, or forced to take, “illegal drugs containing nitrous oxide” by fraternity members, with small canisters of nitrous oxide found near his body (commonly referred to as “whippets”). The national and local chapters of the fraternity have denied any culpability in Wiant's death, and argued that Wiant was no longer a pledge of the fraternity at the time of his death because, the fraternity alleges, it had learned that police were investigating him for allegedly sexually assaulting another student, and suspended him from the pledge process.

Wiant was never indicted on any such charges, but The NEWS previously confirmed the existence of a police investigation into that allegation.

Sean Alto, an associate with Columbus law firm Cooper & Elliott that’s representing the Wiant family, said in a response in March that it’s a “flat-out lie” that Wiant was ever suspended from the fraternity.

Interim LGBT director

Micah McCarey, who previously had served as assistant director for East Green and Diversity Initiatives, was named interim director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University, according to an OU news release. 

McCarey, a longtime employee in the Division of Student Affairs, also has prior experience at the institution in Housing and Residence Life and the Office of the Ombuds, the release said.

“After 15 years of supporting equity and social justice efforts in Athens and at Ohio University,” McCarey said in the release, “I feel incredibly optimistic about reconnecting students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and other supporters to our growing LGBT Center. I am also excited to support Dr. Secuban's goals of illuminating existing networks of support for LGBTQ+ persons across our campuses and highlighting opportunities to contribute to our university's pathway to inclusive excellence.”

The university received substantial criticism after terminating former LGBT Director delfin bautista early this year.

The university’s decision to not renew center Director bautista’s contract, communicated to bautista on Jan. 10, prompted a firestorm of criticism in the campus community, including among LGBT members and allies, much of it directed at the OU official who made the decision, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Gigi Secuban.

McCarey began his new role on May 13, and will serve as interim director while the university engages in a new national search for a permanent center director, according to the release. This announcement comes after a national search for a new center director “was not able to successfully yield the next leader of this important position in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion,” the release said.

Monday, May 6, Edition

Pot not OK on campus

Joint smoking

So far, pot smokers in Athens haven’t seen any change in police enforcement due to the new TACO law. 

The NEWS reported that Ohio University is not allowing students with medical marijuana cards to possess or use cannabis on school property, Jim Sabin, OU communications specialist, confirmed in an email in early May. 

“Marijuana of all forms remains illegal on the federal level, and Ohio University is obligated to comply with the federal Drug Free Schools and Communities Act,” he said. 

This means that OU will not be changing any of its conduct policies regardless of the state’s implementation of the “Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.” 

“All forms of marijuana, cannabis products, and paraphernalia are not permitted to be on campus at any time for any reason,” Sabin said.

However, this does not mean students with doctor’s recommendations will have to disclose that information to the school, he said.  

“Possession of a marijuana card alone would not constitute a violation of university policy,” Sabin added.

New state law allows for patients with one of a list of eligible ailments to qualify for a card with a certified physician’s recommendation. According to medicalmarijuana.ohio.gov, upon examination and recommendation, the patient will be added to a statewide registry if approved. More than 20 medical conditions qualify, and doctors can recommend up to a 90-day supply of marijuana with the option for three refills – meaning a one-year supply. 

OU’s budget woes continue

Individual academic colleges at Ohio University earlier this spring were given new budget targets to hit amid ongoing budget difficulties. In total, the Athens campus colleges will need to come up with roughly $19.3 million in budget reductions over the next four years.

The biggest cuts over that time period are set to come from the College of Arts and Sciences, about $8 million, according to mid-April meeting minutes from OU’s Budget Planning Council (BPC).

Interim OU Arts & Sciences Dean Joseph Shields also said in an email to faculty and staff earlier this spring (provided by a faculty member in that program) that it’s “unlikely” that A&S will be approving any new tenure-track faculty searches for the rest of 2019 or 2020.

“…And correspondingly there is no plan at this time to pursue a staffing process this year,” Shields said. “Going forward as we address the current budget challenge, any hiring of faculty or staff will be very restricted and limited only to urgent needs or critical investments.”

OU officials John Day, associate provost for academic budget and planning, and Katie Hensel, budget director, said during a conference call on April 24 that these budget reduction goals are “differential” for each academic college, meaning each college has varying levels of cuts to reach, and varying strategies for how to meet those goals. According to BPC materials, the OU administration is urging colleges to “re-imagine programs and reallocate funding to successful and essential programs.” The suggested plan for cuts is based on 40% revenue growth and 60% “cost efficiency” measures.

The NEWS reported last May that OU’s budget reduction goal at the time was $8.4 million over the next few years. Day confirmed during the April 24 call that that number has since more than doubled to the $19.3 million outlined above.

Going to weekly!

twice-weekly cover

Strike that August 1980 Athens NEWS Cover announcing twice-weekly publication. As of June 6, we've gone back to weekly publication, and we think we’ve been putting out a stronger paper since then.

 

In a May 6 column, Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith announced that the paper was eliminating its “Early Week” edition and as of May 30 would be a weekly newspaper, published every Thursday. (The effective date subsequently was delayed a week, to Thursday, June 6.)

“In making this move,” Smith wrote, “we fall in line with the vast majority of alternative newsweeklies across the U.S. and Canada… So suffice to say, rest assured that going to weekly doesn’t have to be a bad thing where the quality content and advertising services provided by The Athens NEWS are concerned. Quite the contrary, we view it as an opportunity to sharpen our focus on hard-hitting local news and investigative reporting, expand content of interest to OU students, improve and expand our entertainment news, and dispense with some of the content that’s not as interesting or urgent.

To make up for dropping that Monday addition, Smith wrote, the paper also is increasing its posting of articles at www.athensnews.com

Thursday, May 9, Edition

Customer service horror tales

Athens NEWS Associate Editor Conor Morris wrote a feature about the cringe-worthy experiences of local customer-service employees in Athens, many of them OU students working at bars or restaurants.

“As our own tribute,” he wrote, “we’ve collected some local service-industry workers’ horror stories – some funny, some awful, some a combination of both – to provide a window into what kinds of things these hardworking folks have had to deal with. 

Here’s one of them, related by Ben Ziff, manager at Donkey Coffee on West Washington Street:

“So I had a customer come downstairs and tell me that they thought someone was doing drugs in the upstairs bathroom. So I go upstairs and stand outside the bathroom door for a moment, and hear the unmistakable sound of a nitrous cartridge getting punctured…

 “So I knock on the door and ask them to please open it. ‘Just a minute, I'm busy!’ says the guy. I tell him ‘no, you need to come out here.’ So he opens the door, and says ‘what?!’ I tell him I can hear him doing whippets, and he can't do that in Donkey. He then starts telling me how his girlfriend cheated on him, and how his life just isn't going well. 

“I tell him ‘I understand man, I've been cheated on, it sucks. We all go through some sh** sometimes, but… but you can't do whippets in my bathroom, dude. I'm sorry.’

“And he says, ‘I know... I'm sorry... I'll go...’ and I walk with him downstairs, and put his tea in a to-go cup. Now, nobody in the shop knows what's going on at this point. I'm trying to be discreet; I'm not trying embarrass him. And we get into the main downstairs space, and he really loudly yells, ‘SORRY FOR DOING WHIPPETS IN THE BATHROOM!’ I still see him around town, and he comes in to Donkey (without whippets) pretty regularly these days. I don’t think he remembers me, or that incident at all.”

 Hocking College fights?

The Athens NEWS reported that the Hocking College Police Department was investigating what originally was reported as a large fight that apparently happened the previous Sunday night in the parking lot of one of the community college’s dormitories in Nelsonville.

According to a recording of a phone call provided by Athens County 911, the college’s Police Department requested assistance from the Nelsonville Police Department Sunday night (May 5) around 10:50 after reports of a “big altercation” in the parking lot of Hocking’s Downhour Hall.

Hocking College spokesperson Tim Brunicardi said May 7 that the incident was “still under investigation” so he said he didn’t have many details to share.

“The altercation did not occur in the dorm but in one of the parking lots,” Brunicardi said. “Thanks to the protocols we have in place and the fast action by our Police Department, we immediately issued no-trespassing orders to the perpetrators or anyone who might create risk or pose a threat in order to keep our campus and students safe.”

It’s not clear who was involved in the fight, or if anybody was arrested or seriously injured. This is at least the second instance of fights happening at Hocking College so far this school year that The NEWShas reported on. An unidentified number of Hocking College students were disciplined earlier spring semester through the college’s judicial process after participating in an apparent “fight club” on campus, with a video surfacing recently of multiple fights inside what appear to be Hocking College dormitories.

Subsequently, three young men were arrested on assault charges in connection with the altercation, including one who at the time was listed as a Hocking College football player.

Oldest business closes

Cornwell

Kris Cornwell, owner of Cornwell Jewelers, sits in front of her North Court Street store on Monday. The store is closing as soon the remaining merchandise has been sold. Photo by Conor Morris.

Cornwell Jewelers has been open for business in uptown Athens since 1832, making it possibly the second oldest jeweler in the country, and by far the oldest business in Athens city or county.

That’s according to business owner Kris Cornwell, who confirmed May 7 that the store – located at 77 N. Court St. in Athens, next to Courtside pizza and bar – was now set to close permanently (which it since has done).

As a “people pleaser,” Cornwell, 48, said it was a difficult decision to make. But, she’s been operating the business for 25 years, and said she finally wants to take some time for herself, especially with three of her and her husband’s five daughters set to leave Athens over the next few months.

Cornwell Jewelers moved to its current location in 2002 under Cornwell’s stewardship. Before that, the business was located at its historic location at 10 S. Court St. (where Big Mamma’s Burritos is located). Prior to that, a second location was opened in 1966 by Kris’ father, local businessperson Les Cornwell, at the corner of Union and Court streets. That store merged with the original location in 1987.

Monday, May 20, Edition

Confronting white supremacy

Bill Burke

Inset photo: Bill Burke of Athens County recovering in a hospital bed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, a day after he and others were injured by a car that rammed into counter-demonstrators protesting an alt-right, neo-Nazi event in that city’s downtown area. Background photo: Aaron Cohen took this photo on 4th Street right after the car hit the crowd.

In this edition, we reported that an Athens County man who was seriously injured in August 2017 when white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist/white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has filed a civil lawsuit against Fields as well as multiple groups involved with organizing that infamous rally.

The suit filed by local resident Bill Burke in the Southern District of Ohio of the U.S. District Court listed as defendants a veritable who’s who of American white supremacist, neo-Nazi and white nationalist leaders and organizations.

Defendants include former Ohio resident Fields (who was sentenced to life in prison late last year for the car attack on Aug. 12, 2017, which killed anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer and injured 35 others, including Burke); white supremacist group Vanguard America; prominent white nationalist Matthew Heimbach; far-right neo-fascist organization Proud Boys and its former leader Jason Kessler; white nationalist and “alt-right” leader Richard Spenser and his racist organization the National Policy Institute; white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; and neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer (known for its articles on Holocaust denial and calls for violence against Jewish people, LGBTQ people and others). The suit also names Gregory Anglin and his son, Andrew, who allegedly run the Daily Stormer through several Ohio-based businesses. 

The 64-page initial complaint alleges that all of these people and organizations “conspired to plan, promote, and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville,” which took place from Aug. 11-12, 2017.

“They are neo-Nazis, Neo-Fascist, Klansmen, white supremacists and white nationalists,” Athens-based attorney Mike Fradin wrote of the defendants in the lawsuit. “They embrace and espouse racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideologies. Defendants brought with them the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of fascism. They also brought with them the imagery of imminent violence, including semi-automatic weapons, rifles, pistols, rods, armor, shields, and torches. The chants they vocalized over the weekend included ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ‘blood and soil,’ and ‘this is our town now.’”

The suit alleges that Burke suffered serious physical injuries, which required and continue to require extensive and expensive medical treatment, and that he continues to suffer deep and debilitating psychological and emotional distress that prevents him from “resuming his former life and enjoying the basic sense of peace, safety and tranquility that most people in this country take for granted.”

The main aim of the lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and injunctive relief, is to ensure that “nothing like this will happen again at the hands of the defendants, whether it be in Virginia, Ohio, or anywhere else” in the U.S.

Wrongful death suit in hit-and-run

The family of an Albany (near Athens) man who was killed in a hit-and-run incident in summer 2018 filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against an Akron area man who was indicted in Athens County Common Pleas Court last year for aggravated vehicular homicide in connection with the incident.

An Athens County Grand Jury indicted the man named in the lawsuit, John W. Rohr, 37, of Clinton, a small town south of Akron, in late September 2018 on two second-degree felony counts of aggravated vehicular homicide; a first-degree misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and two counts of failure to stop after an accident (felonies of the third degree). Rohr ended up pleading guilty and being sentenced to three years in prison in late July.

Rohr was accused of running over an Albany area man, Tad Albano, in late June 2018 in the area of Carpenter and High streets in Athens with a pickup truck, and driving away from the scene.

Albano, 47, died a few days later after succumbing to his injuries.

The suit also names John Rayl, of Akron, Ohio and Nationwide Insurance, based in Columbus, as defendants. The suit alleged that Rohr was negligent in operation of a 2002 GMC Sierra-SIE that was “negligently entrusted to him” by Rayl, who owns the vehicle, on the night in question when he hit Albano.

Ex-student convicted of rape

The NEWS reported that a former Ohio University student from Oman had been convicted of a first-degree felony count of rape and several misdemeanor crimes.

Mohammed Nasser Rashid Hamed Al-Mashrafi, 23, of Athens (originally from Oman, he was here on a student visa), was sentenced to a mandatory four years in prison with five years of post-release control on the single count of rape, a third-degree misdemeanor count of public indecency, and a first-degree misdemeanor count of menacing by stalking.

Those charges were mainly connected to allegations that Al-Mashrafi had sexually assaulted a woman in his car while at the Athens Parking Garage, and kept the doors locked to prevent her from leaving during that incident. 

Al-Mashrafi also will be subject to Tier III sex offender status, which requires registration/verification requirements every 90 days for the rest of his life, according to a release from the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office.

In the article, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said his office had found another alleged victim of Al-Mashrafi in Kentucky, who went to school with Al-Mashrafi at Western Kentucky University, and who said she was sexually assaulted by him (she was called as a witness by Blackburn’s office in this case). That case was never reported to police in Kentucky, although it did go through Western Kentucky’s student disciplinary system, resulting in Al-Mashrafi’s suspension from that school, Blackburn said.

OU was not aware of that prior disciplinary record when it received Al-Mashrafi’s application to attend OU, Blackburn said, 

Blackburn has previously reported that Al-Mashrafi had been accused of stalking “multiple women in and around Athens,” at times using their social-media accounts to do so.

“Al-Mashrafi is further accused of visiting a local spa where he was observed fondling himself and, upon being asked to leave, refused to pay for his services and ultimately left without paying,” Blackburn reported in the initial press release on Al-Mashrafi being charged.

Distillery comes to town

The Athens NEWS went along on a tour that the co-owner of the West End Cider House led in May showcasing a new distillery facility on Athens’ West Side that soon would be selling retail bottles of locally crafted liquor and cider.

The distillery, previously known as Dancing Tree Distillery, now called the West End Ciderworks and Distillery (or simply the West End Distillery), had been located in Meigs County since 2012. Now, co-owners Kelly Sauber and Deanna Schwartz have moved those operations to the former Electric Motor Services building at 237 W. State St. in Athens.

At the time, Sauber said the business would be open to customers in mid-July, but he revised that in a short interview on Aug. 2, tabbing a late August opening (which may have already happened when you read this).

Essentially, a large portion of the building (which was totally renovated by the business owners, including new utilities) will play host to a tasting room for the gin, bourbon, vodka and brandies that will be made on-site. Bottles of that liquor will be available for sale for off-premises consumption as well. The distillery will have six or more taps for ciders for on-site consumption, and eventually will sell specialty packaged ciders for off-site consumption (such as the Cider House’s gin-barrel-aged cider and persimmon cider).

OU library has a birthday

Ohio University’s Alden Library celebrated its 50th birthday on May 23, with cake and punch served on the second floor of the Library to commemorate the major anniversary.

During the event, according to a news release, music from the Woodstock era was played to highlight another major event that happened in 1969, the year Alden first opened, and a button-making station was available for those who enjoy making wearable art.

Thursday, May 30 Edition

New market on the Near East Side

Kindred

The new Kindred Market on East State Street opened to the public on May 25.

Kindred Market, an independent, full-service natural and organic-foods grocery, opened May 25 on East State Street to the general public after a “soft opening” the previous week.

Kindred joins The Farmacy on Stimson Avenue as the second natural-food grocery outlet on Athens’ Near East Side.

The store is located in a building that used to be occupied by Premiere Video. The Athens Bread Company also occupies a small space in the building at 284 E. State St. The stores are a short distance east of the Village Bakery.

Kindred Market offers a variety of products and services, such as a grab-and-go case with salads, soups and sandwiches, taps for local beers and kombucha, a small coffee and espresso café with seats, and a full assortment of grocery store goods with a focus on natural and organic products. 

The store also features an extensive bulk section with lentils, coffee beans, beans, candy and other things. 

Thursday, June 6, Edition

(Our first weekly edition since 1978.)

Death from fall

Athens Police investigated the death of a local man who died after apparently falling from the top of the city parking garage.

On May 27, the Athens Police released an update identifying the man as Evan D. Key, 36, of Athens. That information had been withheld over the weekend pending notification of family. The updated release said, "The investigation is ongoing. Nothing suggests foul play at this time."

An initial release Friday said that Athens Police officers and Athens County EMS personnel at 4:52 p.m. May 24 “responded to a report of an unconscious, unresponsive male on College Street near the parking garage.” Upon arrival, officers found the man on the sidewalk near the entrance to the parking structure, the release said.

According to the release, “First responders were unable to render assistance due to the extent and nature of the subject’s injuries. Initial indications are that he fell from the top of the parking garage.”

The Athens County Coroner responded and Key was pronounced dead at the scene. Members of the APD Criminal Investigations Unit are conducting an investigation, according to the release.

Key was a bartender and server at the Corner on Union on West Union Street in Athens, and he also worked at Bella Vino on Stimson Avenue, Ric Wasserman, owner of both businesses, confirmed May 28.

According to his obituary, Key was a 2001 Athens High School graduate; he studied art, film and photography at Ohio University; and he completed the National Ranger Training Institute at Hocking College.

More sexual harassment at OU

Boyle

Lindsay Boyle alleges that she was sexually harassed by OU journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango when she attended OU. Provided photo.

The NEWS reported that a second Ohio University Title IX investigation had substantiated a student’s claims of sexual harassment against an OU journalism professor, and the student was now speaking out about the difficulties people have in coming forward about sexual harassment.

A copy of an OU Title IX investigation’s memorandum of findings (provided by an anonymous source within the Scripps College of Communication) found through a preponderance of evidence standard that currently suspended journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango had sexually harassed OU journalism student Lindsay Boyle (who graduated in 2013) while she worked on a program he supervised back in 2011-2012.

The university already has substantiated another student’s claims of sexual harassment against Kalyango in a separate case while she was working in a program supervised by him in 2017 (when she was a graduate student).

So far, a university professional ethics committee convened in 2018 for the purpose of considering discipline against the professor has recommended that Kalyango face detenuring and dismissal in that first case, and OU Provost Chaden Djalali has agreed with that recommendation. 

Kalyango appealed that decision by Djalali to OU President Duane Nellis, and Nellis denied that appeal. Now it's up to OU's journalism school to determine what kind of disciplinary measures Kalyango could face. That entire process likely will need to be repeated now that a new Title IX report (completed by OU’s Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance) has found Boyle’s claims to be credible.

Kalyango has denied any wrongdoing in both of these cases. In the first case, the alleged student victim – graduate student Tess Herman – has filed a lawsuit against Kalyango and OU alleging that her civil rights were violated.

Kalyango filed a cross-claim alleging that OU’s Title IX investigation process is flawed and was biased against him.

In the newest Title IX investigation completed, ECRC Investigator G. Antonio Anaya found credible Boyle’s claims that Kalyango put her in a position during a trip to Zambia where she was up against a wall, and he tried to kiss her and “make out with her.” That was during a study-abroad course in Zambia in 2011 that Boyle was enrolled in. Another incident during that trip included Kalyango allegedly inviting her into his hotel room to dance with her, alone. Multiple other witnesses corroborated that Kalyango appeared to dote on Boyle, and some corroborated Boyle contemporaneously disclosing that these incidents happened.

Kalyango disputed those allegations and said that he was nothing but professional in his interactions with Boyle, and also said that he would not have pursued her because he knew she was “gay,” although Boyle told the investigator she was not openly gay and “out” at that point. (Full disclosure: Boyle worked as a freelance reporter forThe Athens NEWSwhile an undergraduate at OU.)

The Title IX report included details of other alleged incidents of harassment against Boyle.

Thursday, June 13, Edition

Showing PRIDE

Around 300 people showed up Saturday, June 8, to participate in an uptown Athens Pride Parade as a part of festivities for the third annual Athens Pride Fest from June 5 through June 9.

Organized by Southeastern Ohio Rainbow Allliance (SEORA), Ohio University LGBT Center and OhioHealth, the 45-minute-long uptown Athens parade encouraged people to celebrate the LGBTQ+ communities. 

delfin bautista, board member of SEORA and organizer of the parade, said one of its main purposes was to provide an opportunity for everyone to be open about who they want to be and to make people from the LGBT community visible. 

No water

Daryl and Frank

As of publication of this story on June 13, Daryl, left, and his son Frank had been working recently to fix up Daryl’s home in Nelsonville, which had no running water due to issues with the waterline running to the home. In the meantime, Daryl and his family had been hauling water to drink, cook and clean with.

Athens NEWS Associate Editor Conor Morris reported on the fact that numerous residents of Nelsonville, a small city northwest of Athens, and other area communities don’t have the benefit of running tap water.

One man interviewed for the story, Daryl, said he hasn’t had running water in his home for at least a year or two, if not longer. In that time, he and his wife have been hauling all of their water from a spring–fed watering trough in nearby Buchtel for cooking, cleaning and drinking. When they need showers, they go to a friend’s house. When they need to use the bathroom, they pour some spring water into the toilet bowl and flush it.

The most recent estimate Nelsonville City Manager Chuck Barga could give about the water situation in Nelsonville was that approximately 45 properties in Nelsonville have their water shut off, although another official said she believes the number is likely quite a bit higher.

“I think there’s a lot of people that have had their water shut off for years and never get it back on, so they’re just kind of under the radar and dealing with it,” she said.

Drag Queen Story Time

drag queen protester

C. Nicholas Tepe, director of Athens County Public Libraries, left, asks an unidentified protester to not block the driveway into the library June 29 before the Drag Queen Story Time was scheduled to start. The lone protester wasn’t blocking the drive and said he didn’t intend to. His sign reads, “Don’t Place Your Sin on Our Children: Welcome to Brainwashing Story Hour.” He reportedly left not long after. 

 

A national debate over so-called “drag queen story times” and other events featuring drag queens at public libraries gravitated down to the state of Ohio level two weeks ago, and in late July the controversy made its second Athens appearance in the past year.

In conjunction with Pride Month in Athens, the Southeastern Ohio Rainbow Alliance (SEORA) reserved space at the Athens Public Library on Saturday, June 29, for a Drag Queen Story Time. A similar event early last June drew nearly 175 people, both youngsters and adults, who packed the library space to hear children’s stories read by two drag queens, according to an Athens NEWS article that ran June 11, 2018.

That children’s story time was briefly interrupted when a library visitor, apparently there without children, loudly addressed the group, asking parents why they thought it was OK to expose their kids to sexualized content. The man reportedly was reacting to a drag queen reading to the children from a book about a little boy who wants to wear dresses but is constantly told that “boys don’t wear dresses.”

Attendees attested to the fact that the event included no sexualized content. The man was asked to leave, not by library staff, but by people in the audience.

The June 29 Drag Queen Story Time transpired with just one protester showing up outside by the library driveway, and otherwise attracted a large, positive audience of kids and parents to the Athens Public Library’s main meeting room to hear children’s stories read by two drag queens.

Knock ’em down

IMG_3363.jpg

Demolition continued over the summer on Atkinson House on OU's Back South/New South Green. The razing of Smith House, next door, was nearing completion at the time.

Demolition continued in June on South Green residence halls, with Smith House and Atkinson House both leveled by the end of the month.

The total cost of the project was around $3 million, The NEWSpreviously reported.

A third South Green dorm, Armbruster, is expected to be demolished later this summer.

The university has torn down six other South Green dorms (Cady, Foster, Brough, Fenzel, O’Bleness and Martzolff houses) in recent years as a part of a university-wide housing renewal strategy. Previously, the university suggested that all 15 of OU’s Back South/New South residence halls be torn down over time. There are no current plans to raze the older Front Four South Green dormitories (Pickering, Brown, Mackinnon and Crawford).

Thursday, June 20, Edition

Parking changes get slammed

new parking meter

Some single-pole double parking smart meters have been installed uptown, along with one-meter poles. 

Athens NEWS contributor Kayla Beard reported on the fact that recent changes to the city of Athens’ public parking policy have struck a nerve with some residents. However, city officials insisted that the policy changes are intended to help uptown businesses by encouraging more turnover of high-demand parking spots.

Athens City Council voted 6-1 last October to approve the policy changes. Most notably, the parking changes include certain designated parking zones, including for low-, moderate- and high-intensity parking; the implementation of short-term (20-minute) parking spaces; adjusted fees; and an expanded enforcement timeframe (till 8 p.m. rather than the previous 6 p.m.). Parking is still free on Sundays and holidays.

The new rates are $1 per hour for high-intensity zones, 75 cents per hour for moderate-intensity zones, 50 cents per hour for low-intensity zones, and 25 cents per 10-minute period for short-term parking zones. 

Additionally, the newly installed “smart” parking meters allow users to pay with a credit or debit card, mobile app or coins.

No more top party school

Ohio University was selected as one of three recipients of EverFi's’s national 2019 Impact Award for outstanding achievements in alcohol prevention, according to an OU news release.

The release stated that OU “stood apart from more than 100 institutions that were considered,” and on that basis was honored June 11 in Nashville, Tennessee.

This honor is quite a distance from the “top party school” rankings that for many years were routine for OU and that predictably rankled university officials.

The award was presented to Terry Koons, OU’s associate director of health promotion, at the 11thannual Campus Prevention Network (CPN) Summit. According to EverFi, a leading educational technology platform that provides digital education, Koons has “demonstrated through his hard work and dedication an unwavering commitment to creating a healthy and safe campus.”

In the release, Koons explained that the OU health promotion staff provide educational programs, social norming campaigns and student leadership opportunities that have helped to create the Healthy Campus Majority at the university. In that time, OU saw a 58 percent reduction in high-risk drinking, the release said.

Additionally, Koons said in the release that in the last decade peer-to-peer programming has made an impact on health behaviors of first-year students completing the CHOICES Learning Community Program.

Thursday, June 27, Edition

Major construction at OU

In its regular summer meeting, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved several big construction projects, as well as a new six-year capital-improvement plan to guide potential big construction and renovation projects over the next six years.

Some of the bigger construction projects approved include the next phase of a project to renovate Clippinger Hall on OU’s Athens campus and approval of demolition of Brown House on the College Green (which ended up taking place in late July/early August).

The Trustees approved the university’s “phase two” of a renovation strategy for Clippinger Hall, which will involve an estimated $33.6 million renovation project beginning late in Fiscal Year 2020 (likely in summer 2021) to renovate that facility as the university builds a new classroom building in Clippinger’s parking lot (which is currently under way).

Meanwhile, the Trustees approved the university’s continued work on a $768,000 project to work with the city to create a pedestrian tunnel under Richland Avenue and to improve sidewalks in the area, along with modifying Bobcat Lane to allow for left-hand turns (which are currently prohibited) and expand the bus stop in that area near Baker Center.

The Trustees also approved adding $5.4 million to an already $2 million project to upgrade the restrooms and heating and cooling systems in Gamertsfelder Hall on the East Green. They also approved a $1.8 million project to renovate Grosvenor Hall, which is currently occupied by the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. That will allow for OU administrators to be moved from the West Union Street Office Center and Human Resources Center on West Union in Athens to Grosvenor Hall by late 2020, according to a university release. Meanwhile, OU HCOM’s staff and students will be moved to a planned building on West Union Street as well as the Human Resources Center.

Big raise for the prez

The Ohio University Board of Trustees at the same July meeting approved a resolution granting a $72,000 bonus to President Duane Nellis, along with a $7,000 raise to his annual pay for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

In total, Nellis' base yearly salary will now be roughly $489,000. Last year the Trustees granted Nellis – who was hired in June 2017 – a $71,000 bonus and a raise similar to the one approved last week.

The fact that Nellis was granted that level of bonus raised the ire of many on The Athens NEWS’ Facebook page last week, with some noting that the decision came as the university’s budget is in a tight spot, with the university administration earlier this year asking academic colleges on its Athens campus to cut their budgets by $19.3 million over the next four years.

Trustee Chair David Scholl introduced the resolution Friday granting the pay raise and bonus after noting that the Trustees had conducted an annual comprehensive performance evaluation for Nellis. The resolution offered a glowing evaluation of Nellis' performance since starting at the university. Scholl cited a number of his accomplishments during that time. He said Nellis has helped the university continue to pursue multiple presidential "pathways" toward success that he introduced in 2017, centering around values of "dialogue, civility, inclusivity and diversity."

Criterion returns

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Cyclists round the treacherous No. 4 corner (Court and Union) Saturday evening, June 22, during the Women's Pro race, part of the Athens Brick Criterium held all day in uptown Athens.

The reincarnated Athens Brick Criterium – held all day Saturday, June 22, on the bricks of uptown Athens – drew a modest crowd at its start around 11 in the morning that grew steadily as day turned into evening. The Criterium “has to be considered a success,” race organizer Dan Brown of Athens said in an email the next day. The day went very well “considering that this was the first time any of us put on an event of this nature,” Brown said. Some 151 riders signed up to compete in the all-day/evening lineup of races, from kids to pros, and some came from “significant distances,” Brown said. The weather Saturday couldn't have been better, with highs in the low 80s and no rain.

Study stumbles

Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith reported on a new academic study linking the amount of radon present in Ohio homes to its proximity to deep-shale oil and gas “fracking” wells, which cited Athens County as having the most of these wells in the state of Ohio, with 108.

There’s one problem with that statistic: Athens County does not have 108 deep-shale fracking wells. In fact, it has zero. The number of horizontally drilled fracking wells in some eastern Ohio counties shown on a map that’s part of the study also appears to be incorrect.

Mark Bruce, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management, told The NEWS that the agency is working with the University of Toledo researchers who performed the radon/fracking study “to get their numbers right.”

It's unclear whether correcting the numbers of deep-shale fracking wells in the study will alter the conclusions of the study.

Since early last week, coverage of the UToledo study has been all over the web, with authoritative research, professional and science websites such as ScienceDailyThe Science TimesPhys.Org andEngineering 360 trumpeting its results. Most repeat some version of this paragraph early in their articles: “From the distribution, most of the fracking wells are located in eastern Ohio, while Athens County has the highest number of fracking wells…”

The study, called “Impact of the Hydraulic Fracturing on Indoor Radon Concentrations in Ohio: A Multilevel Modeling Approach,” recently was published on the website of the journal Frontiers in Public Health. According to the study, the UToledo scientists geocoded 118,421 homes in all 88 Ohio counties between 2007 and 2014, and documented how close the homes were to any of 1,162 fracking wells in the state.

That total number of fracking wells, as stated in the UToledo study, is wrong, according to Bruce of the ODNR.

He told The Athens NEWS that the UToledo study gave incorrect numbers for the overall number of deep-shale fracking wells in Ohio (more than 2,600, not 1,162); deep-shale fracking wells in Athens County (zero, not 108); and drilling in some other Ohio counties (for example, the study shows Carroll County southeast of Canton as having between 7 and 19 fracking wells; it actually has had “476 horizontal wells… drilled and hydraulically fractured,” Bruce said).

“We don’t believe these numbers (in the Toledo study) are accurate,” Bruce said. “We are working with them to get it right.”

Thursday, July 3, Edition

Music made in the Shade

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The June 26 Under the Elms concert featured a children's theme.

Ohio University’s Under the Elms Summer Concert Series presented its finale concert Wednesday, July 3, with its annual “Celebrate America!” concert of patriotic favorites in recognition of Independence Day,

The previous week, The Athens NEWShad shot a photo feature (on June 26) of an Under the Elms concert with a childhood theme. To commemorate the 40thAnniversary of the Athens Community Music School, the Communiversity Band presented this concert featuring child-friendly favorites.

Every summer, a series of outdoor concerts is held on OU’s College Green every Wednesday from early June to early July. The Under the Elms Concert Band, or “Communiversity Band,” is composed of OU faculty, students and alumni, as well as community members from Athens and surrounding communities.

Thursday, July 11, Edition

Restaurant shakeup 

In uptown Athens, returning OU students will see two fewer restaurants but one franchise expanding onto Court Street – D.P. Dough.

In July, signs and construction crews confirmed what a construction worker hinted at weeks ago: D.P. Dough planned to expand to a South Court Street location, in addition to its longtime spot on Richland Avenue. The business subsequently opened in a storefront on 19 S. Court St., most recently occupied by Lady B’s and before that a series of other restaurants in recent years.

In other uptown restaurant news, Franco’s Pizza Place, 42 S. Court St., and Lotsa Stone-Fired Pizza, 14 S. Court St., both closed over the summer. 

Nobody from Franco’s could be reached for comment by the Wednesday print deadline, but Cornwell Properties confirmed with The Athens NEWS that the storefront is for rent. 

Anthony DiGangi, chief operating officer of Lotsa Pizza, confirmed that the business had closed due to poor sales.

He cited the summer lull in foot traffic on Court Street as the cause of a major reduction in profits for the location.

“This summer was a lot worse than last summer, and we’re hearing that from other businesses as well – there really isn’t much of a draw to Court Street in the summer,” DiGangi said. “Although business could be good during the school year, the profits get wiped away during the summer.”

Tragedy follows bullying

Athens NEWS Associate Editor Conor Morris wrote an investigative piece about a local 13-year-old girl who took her own life after reporting she was being bullied at school, with the bullying continuing on social media after her parents pulled her out of school for home-schooling.

Sunday, July 21 (online)

Last Call for Ohio Brew Week

Ohio Brew Week's culminating weekend ran head-on into Excessive Heat Warnings throughout the country's mid-section and East, though heat indexes well over 100 Fahrenheit didn't seem to impede the fun.

The BrewBQ Friday afternoon and evening at the Athens Train Depot also drew a healthy crowd, as did the Last Call street party all day and evening on North Court Street's two blocks.

Last Call especially had plenty of available water (free in front of Artifacts), and everyone had easy access to air-conditioned street-side bars, restaurants and businesses.

Ohio Brew Week kicked off Friday, July 12, with plenty of events, large and small, including the brand-new “First Call” block party Saturday afternoon, July 13 on West State Street, near Casa Cantina and Tony's Tavern.

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Athens Ohio Roller Derby league members sweat out a toe-stop exercise during practice at Dow’s Rollarena on June 30, 2019, in preparation for a match kicking off Ohio Brew Week.

Continuing the excitement, the Appalachian Hell Betties (Athens' roller-derby team) waged an all-out brawl at the Athens Community Center early Saturday evening, July 13, with the Gem City Roller Derby term (from Dayton). The Hell Betties won handily over the visiting team, with more than a 100-point lead.

Thursday, July 25, Edition

Summer enrollment down

Ohio University’s summer semester enrollment was down compared to the same time last year, as of the usual date that the university sends its enrollments statistics to the state.

OU’s total enrollment across all of its campuses was 13,632 as of the 15thday of the summer semester, compared to 14,630 last summer at the same time. OU’s Athens-campus summer enrollment was also down, from 5,644 students last summer to 5,061 students this summer. The Athens campus totals are only for physical on-campus students, not those enrolled in online learning.

The cross-campus total and Athens-campus summer enrollment tallies for this year were down from a high of 15,240 students total across OU’s campuses during summer semester 2016 and a high of 6,337 Athens campus students in 2016.

At the same time, OU’s summer eLearning program’s enrollment has remained steady over the past several years. This summer, that total was 6,592, fluctuating from 6,340 in 2016, to 6,438 in 2017, to 6,722 in 2018.

However, due to OU’s multi-start online and summer programs, “fluctuations” in enrollment are common by the end of the summer term. As such. these statistics should not be considered the final word on OU’s summer enrollment, according to Craig Cornell, the university’s senior vice provost for strategic enrollment management.

According to final summer enrollment tallies from 2012 to 2017, OU’s physical summer enrollment has trended downward in recent years, but its eLearning (online classes) population has increased.

Snake wranglers

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Copperheads mascot Homer poses with a fan during the Copperheads’ July 18 game in Athens. 

Athens NEWS summer intern Cole Behrens wrote a feature on the Ohio University student interns who help the Southern Ohio Copperheads, a local summer baseball league team, operating all summer in Athens.

Clad in conspicuous orange T-shirts, the interns, affectionately dubbed “snake wranglers,” run the ticket booth, they assist fans in the stands, and they even take turns stuffing themselves into the mascot. “To put it simply,” the article noted, “they run the show.”

Each year, for 16 seasons now, dozens of these snake wranglers have stayed in Athens for the summer to gain valuable experience in operating the front end of a baseball team. The Copperheads are part of the Great Lakes Collegiate Summer Baseball League (GLSCL), a league for college prospects to stay active in baseball over the summer. 

What the interns do was describe in the article as a “learning lab,” an opportunity for students in the field of sports management, marketing or communications to obtain practical, hands-on practice running a baseball team.

Thursday, Aug. 1, Edition

Why no medical pot in Athens?

One of the enduring mysteries over the past several months in Athens has been why the medical marijuana dispensary – called Harvest – on West Union Street in Athens has yet to open for business.

It turns out that the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has been investigating the company behind the dispensary, Harvest of Ohio LLC, on allegations of fraud and misrepresentation, according to documents obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer as reported in a July 10 article. This is why the business hasn't been granted its license to operate.

As it stands now, residents of Athens County with medical-marijuana cards must travel to out-of-county dispensaries. The closest is in Jackson, around a 35-40 minute drive to the southwest and Grandview Heights (Columbus) around an hour and 20 minutes to the northwest.

In court filings, the Ohio Pharmacy Board has noted that Harvest was issued three licenses pursuant to a provision in Ohio’s medical marijuana law requiring that at least 15 percent of all medical marijuana dispensary licenses be issued to companies majority owned and operated by someone from one of several “economically disadvantaged” groups: African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, Native Americans or Asian people. That designation allows a lower-scoring company to potentially leapfrog over higher-scoring applicants who don’t have disadvantaged status.

“The (state Pharmacy) board later investigated Harvest related to its status as an economically disadvantaged group,” the filing reads. “Based upon Harvest’s operating agreement and additional information discovered by the board, Harvest was issued three notices alleging that it does not meet the criteria for licensure as an economically disadvantaged group.”

Ben Kimbro, a spokesperson for Harvest, told The NEWSthat his business looks forward to "correcting the record" on the issue.

Thursday, Aug. 8, Edition

Back on the Ballot

The NEWS reported that Athens City Council member Pat McGee regained a spot on the November election ballot.

During an Athens County Board of Elections meeting on Aug. 5, the four members of the board voted unanimously to return McGee to the November general election ballot. The Board of Elections (BOE) in mid-July ruled that McGee failed to provide enough valid voter signatures to run for re-election.

McGee filed a letter with the BOE contesting its decision to decline to certify his re-election petition not long after the initial decision. The letter included signed affidavits from seven Athens residents who had signed McGee's petition in a printed style, and who the Board of Elections had said had signed his petition in a manner that did not match signatures on their voter-registration records.

McGee said Aug. 5 – not long after the conclusion of the meeting – that the BOE decided to certify his petition as valid because he acted “promptly” to provide affidavits showing he had enough valid signatures. He said he cited two Ohio Supreme Court cases that backed him up on this matter.

McGee is running as an independent for a third term for an at-large Athens City Council seat.

“I think it’s going to be a really interesting election,” McGee said. “No doubt there some issues that are going to be brought before City Council that are really important for the citizens of Athens to get all sides, all of the viewpoints on those issues. That’s why I’m running.”

Thursday, Aug. 15, Edition

Confederate flag has to go

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An example of some of the Confederate flag-emblazoned items on sale by a vendor at the Athens County Fair in early August.

The Athens County Commissioners in early August sent a letter to the Athens County Fair Board asking the board to “immediately” cease fair vendors’ sale of Confederate flag merchandise and ban future sales of those products during the county fair, which ran from Aug. 2-10. That request provoked a contentious debate among many in Athens County.

The Fair Board did note in a general statement to the Commissioners issued via email that this debate arose in the middle of fair week, so “this is a topic we may decide to address at a later date.”

According to that statement, “At this point in time, there are no federal or state laws prohibiting the sale of Civil War memorabilia. We do respect your opinion, and we thank you for expressing it.”

The county Commissioners in their letter noted that the Ohio State Fair Board and the Warren County Fair both have banned the sale of Confederate flag-related “symbols and merchandise.” They confirmed that they have received complaints from members of the public about the sale of the products at the fair.

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