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Artists of Toledo

If “Golden Rule” Jones was mayor today

Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones is ranked the fifth best mayor in the history of the United States.

If Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones (mayor of Toledo 1897-1904) was mayor today….

He would answer my emails!

But that’s not all….

For good use of the pandemic federal “rescue grant,” he would help Toledoans with their gas and electric utility bills, since the pandemic made the costs go up so high.  He would already have given us municipally-owned broadband.

He would make parks safe for children again — the same parks (and more) that he started in his first mayoral tenure.

He would do all he could to stop the spiraling high murder rate that is killing our children.

He would pronounce “Home Rule!” to Lucas County Commissioners to stop their quest on taxing 117,000 city homeowners for ditch clean up that the people of Toledo already take care of quite well without the county’s interference…

He would eschew cronyism and make sure that all construction maintenance jobs for the city are triple-bid, not issued with the routine “emergency” status that most jobs are labeled today. Sam “Golden Rule” Jones would support free enterprise and competition between contractors, without the public’s top dollar doled out to government “friends.”

If Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones were mayor today, he would govern with a conscience.

In the old days, he kept saloons open on Sundays despite pressure from the churches because he felt the working class needed a place to relax on their day off, just as the upper-class enjoyed their smoking rooms.

That didn’t make him popular with the clergy, in spite of his great moral municipal experiment.

Excerpts from Toledo mayor (1907-1912) Brand Whitlock’s memoir, Forty Years of It.

Back then, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones occasionally sat in for judges to hear cases. He’d find any excuse to keep people out of jail, because jails were dangerous. He put an end to the incarceration of the homeless.

Prisoners were hung up in the bull-rings for thirty days, lowered to the floor only to sleep at night; “such things have gone on and they are going on today, but nobody cares.”

“Golden Rule” Jones was a wealthy industrialist. He gave his mayoral salary away personally each and every month to people in need.

He wasn’t popular in politics, in fact, he was a man without a party. The politicians tried their best to get rid of him, but the public loved him. When he died his untimely death, the entire city came out to mourn his loss.

“Golden Rule” Jones’ house was situated on the very site of the Peristyle Theater at the Toledo Museum of Art, the concert hall that was built in 1933. The Toledo Museum of Art shares Sam Jones’ illuminating spirit — the old museum director, George Stevens, in his own way, was quite a bit like Jones, and his spirit carries on at the art museum. To give one small example, the museum opened its doors on a traditionally closed Monday on January 17, 2022 to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. It was a warm embrace in a cold city.

In the interest of history and synchronicity, 110 years ago on that day, on January 17, 1912, the newly built Toledo Museum of Art on Monroe Street was opened to the public. After Edward Drummond Libbey opened the doors, Jones’s successor, Mayor Brand Whitlock, presented the museum with the key to the city.

Former city councilman June Boyd with some of her great grandkids (above). June is on a mission to make Toledo safe for children. Good luck, June! Below, “Golden Rule” Jones’ house, situated where Peristyle now stands.

If Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones was mayor today, and if I sent him an email, he’d have the courage to answer it. The root word of courage is Love. What a strange concept for the government, courage is love.

But it worked before – it could work again. After all, there is a good reason why our beloved Sam Jones has gone down in history as the fifth best mayor of all time.*

*The American Mayor: The Best and the Worst Big-City Leaders, a scientifically compiled survey of mayors by a panel experts, published in 1999.

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Artists of Toledo

Preserving and protecting our democracy

Laws are written and followed to preserve and protect our democracy. But with the new “watershed” ditch petitions, Lucas County is acting above the law.

Here is an example of an Ohio ditch petition happening 100 miles away from Lucas County, in Richland and Crawford counties. 

In Richland and Crawford counties, they follow the Ohio Revised Code ditch petition laws and respect the citizens.

In Richland and Crawford counties, Mansfield, the largest city, has a population of 47,000, compared to Toledo’s population of 276,000. But in Richland and Crawford counties, the people are heard. In Lucas County, the people’s voice is suppressed.  Here’s how:

In Richland and Crawford counties, a ditch petition comes from the people, not from a puppet sponsor, and the legal notice is a detailed explanation, not a vague demand sent junk-mail postcard-style like Lucas County’s.

photo of Lucas and Fulton counties’ postcard notification (that many people did not get):

photo of Richland and Crawford counties’ notification, that was mailed in an envelope marked “Legal Notice” as required by law:

When Richland and Crawford counties had the View for their ditch petition, they took people to the actual sites to see what the problem was, and they also showed drone footage at the View, unlike Lucas and Fulton counties, who just blew hot air on us, (they couldn’t even put out chairs out for us while they blew their hot air.) They had us captive but didn’t even show us photos – nothing to view at “the View” – just hyperbole and what ifs. And they told us we were not allowed to give our opinion!

That’s democracy?

Heck, Richland and Crawford counties even held the Hearing at 6:30, after work, so working people could make it, and also aired it online at the same time for those who couldn’t make it.

Now that’s democracy!

Unlike Lucas and Fulton counties, who quickly got their hearing over with in mid-afternoon by 3pm, taking just an hour — Lucas and Fulton counties don’t want you in the know!

Under the radar…because if we only knew the truth…

As for a record of the hearing’s minutes, Richland and Crawford counties give you the exact details of what was said – very democratic –  but not so in Lucas and Fulton counties, where they simply listed your name in the minutes if you spoke, along with the commissioners’ interpretation of whether or not you were “in favor” of the ditch petition or “asking a question.” Nothing about the substance of your comments or their replies.

 

How easy it is for Lucas and Fulton counties to get over on us. How much better it would be if our county government followed the law — like the democracy that it was meant to be –  isn’t that what our elected legislators wanted for us, instead of being subject to the corruption that has become so ubiquitous in Lucas and Fulton counties?

As if we the citizens of Lucas and Fulton counties do not deserve respect? 

“We are not proposing any projects at this point, this is just to have a mechanism in place so that when we do identify a project that has a critical need, we can come up with a cost and then spread the cost over all of the parcels in the watershed.” – Lucas County Engineer’s office, phone call in June, 2021. (See more quotes here)

In Richland and Crawford counties, their ditch petition is defined — you can actually understand what it is they are wanting to do, whereas in Lucas and Fulton counties, they are just pulling our chain — expecting us to write them a blank check and give them the right to do whatever they want with our private property — showing us nothing of any problem that necessitates a ditch petition and tax assessment. Lucas County and Fulton County have no plan — but somehow, the joint commissioners have given themselves a two-year pass to make a plan — which is such a waste of our resources and of our citizens’ time. Our officials ought to be paying more attention to our serious issues. (Murder rates doubling in two years, since this petition was written, for instance. And how about the Pandemic that is reported to rage on for another two or more years!) And how about paying attention to that big money coming in from the federal government for infrastructure — yet with the Lucas County Engineer who is paid close to $150,000 (the second-highest county salary next to the county coroner’s) and who teaches nearly full-time at the University of Toledo with the commissioner’s blessing, making even more money and taking time away from his responsibilities to us, the citizens of Lucas county  — how are we ever going to benefit? Is he just there to collect more tax money and take our land from us? You can’t run a department HOTW. (Hands Off The Wheel.)

It also helps that Richland and Crawford counties have not just one but two newspapers that actually report news on their ditch petition — about a dozen articles so far — unlike the two or three measly stories about our two ditch petitions affecting 127,000 landowners and their families (one story each) in the Toledo Blade.

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Artists of Toledo

Sunshine and the watershed

Sunshine and the watershed

Section 6130.04 of the Ohio Revised Code on ditch petitions states that if a petition for ditch improvement is brought by the county, that instead of the board of county commissioners deciding it, that hearings and decisions would be made through the Court of Common Pleas.

And here’s why: for fairness to everyone involved.

Lucas County cannot deny that the county engineer, Mike Pniewski wrote the Ten-mile Creek Watershed and Swan Creek Watershed ditch petitions, then shopped them around in person to find a puppet sponsor for each one of them. (Mike Pniewski pitched it to Sylvania Township, who turned him down, and he went to Spencer Township.)  Then the county commissioners themselves approved the petitions, being their own judge and jury. Not exactly fair to the hundreds of thousands of residents who will be forever affected by their action (increased tax assessments and blanket rights to go onto their private property.)

At the last minute, right before the hearings, addendums were added to each of the petitions, more than doubling the number of ditches of each petition, and adding road ditches, which are already paid for with county money! Ten-mile Creek Watershed petition originally had 21 waterways listed, but on Oct 27, 2021, added 22 more waterways. The Swan Creek petition originally had 34 waterways, but then added 46 to the list. 90 ditches! The petitions also removed the initial limits on certain ditches and rivers covered by the original petition, to cover the entire lengths, not just certain sections, as was in the original petition.

The Village of Ottawa Hills has a plan to care for their portion of 10-mile Creek / Ottawa River that runs through their village. It’s called, “Envisioning a Greener Future.” Yet with the Ten-mile Creek ditch petition, Lucas County is taking control of this river going through Ottawa Hills, becoming “Big Boss” Overlord of the Village, if you can imagine that, having the right to move machinery through this beautiful, natural landscape, that comes up naturally every few months and has for as long as I have lived, to do whatever they fancy to be an improvement to the Ottawa River / 10-mile Creek. Taking private property rights. Disturbing ecology. When Lucas County has never had such an authority before, nor any experience, nor is it associated with science and nature. And most of all, it is not necessary!

With 25 feet of land taken from the banks of the waterways and access to that waterway, that’s quite the land grab of private property taken by the county government.

Notably, the plans and budget for cleaning the ditches remains the same – doubling the number of ditches and taking ten years to perform. Whereas without the petition, landowners would continue to maintain their own parts of the river, as it is now and how it has worked, forever, without any problems at all.

The ditch petitions will cause a lot of disruption to landowners and to private property owners adjacent to landowners, and  they will cause damage to the natural habitat, and they’ll have to find a dump for the sediment if they dredge the river, but Mike Pniewski, Lucas County Engineer, said that if the commissioners don’t approve it, the waterways will fall into ruin! (He failed to state the obvious, that the landowners would of course continue to maintain their property, as they always have done since the beginning of time. Pictured here is the 10-mile creek running through Wildwood Preserve.)

The Metroparks

I wonder how our beautiful Metroparks will be looking in a few years, waiting in line for their turn for county ditch maintenance, if ever. But I suppose the park system will appreciate not having to do their own maintenance on their rivers anymore with tax dollars they already get. Since the eminent attorney Fritz Byers, who is on the board of the Metroparks, is litigating for Lucas County on the Lake Erie-EPA lawsuit, and also serves as legal counsel for the Toledo Blade, I’m sure the Metroparks knows what’s going on and they seem to have no objection to it. Hopefully the Metroparks have a contingency plan for keeping the Metropark rivers and streams maintained in the interim, until it’s their turn to get cleaned by the county, like maybe in 2066. Or maybe the Metroparks will get the first cleaning, in that they have so much clout, making the other 132 waterways listed in the petitions have to wait until 2066, at least some of them.

The Hearings

In spite of the numerous private property owners braving the Covid-19 Pandemic to be present at the hearings in order to make their voices be heard, as well as the many remonstrances and public comments filed with the county before the hearings, the petitions were discussed, voted on and approved, in only one hour flat.

The Engineer’s own Final Report dated November 4, 2021 for the Ten-mile, same date as the Ten-mile Creek watershed ditch petition hearing, acknowledged a few obvious drawbacks of the ditch petition —

potential disruption for adjacent property owners, potential tree removal in areas of larger log jams to obtain access, disruption of habitat…  and if they remove “excess sedimentation,” they will need to find a “location for spoil, depending on quantity and nature of property.”

Then the engineer slipped us a fast one, as if he can see what will happen in the future if the county does not get their way with the petition, as if the actual property owners (like the Metroparks, Boy Scouts of America, Franciscan Sisters, the Cities of Sylvania and Toledo, University of Toledo, the Village of Ottawa Hills, and those few lucky rich people who have the river on their property) will become totally irresponsible and will all of a sudden stop caring for their own property. If the county doesn’t clean the waterways, then it will all fall into ruin!

After the report, the commissioners quickly voted affirmative on the petition and adjourned the hearing, all within 63 minutes of the start of the hearing.

Similarly, with barely a quorum present of the three-county joint board of commissioners attending the Swan Creek Hearing on December 2, 2021 (not one commissioner came from Henry County and only two commissioners came from Fulton County), the five out of nine commissioners on the joint board who bothered to come to the hearing rushed through the hearing and voted yes, in all within 47 minutes from the start of the meeting to the adjournment.

In this unfair environment with no chance of a discerning, unbiased deliberation and unbiased decision from the judges, Lucas County thus took control of a large swath of private property of over 127,000 homeowners and their families, mostly Toledoans, and forced a tax on them. And Lucas County already got the city of Toledo to say that they would go along with them, so that the city of Toledo would not enforce their “home rule” in spite of their responsibility to the citizens of the Toledo to do so, where nearly every living soul is affected by the county ditch petitions.

Shedding light on the subject

We are masked and we are vulnerable, we are quarantined and we are isolated from each other by the Covid-19 Pandemic that is raging through its third year now in 2022. Those of us over 65 are particularly at risk for serious illness and death. And that is what it is like when I tried to get a public forum going to discuss the ditch petitions and share information.

Lucas County, rather than being a disinterested party in the ditch petition process, has been difficult to communicate with, as if they are an adversary. They will not have a dialog. They don’t answer questions. They are not listening. They are defending their position as the powerful, biased party that they are, forcing this tax and this perversion of law on their defenseless, masked, and isolated.

Ohio’s Sunshine Laws are in place to shine a public light on the workings of our democratic government. But here in Lucas County, the county’s bulb is burned out and needs to be changed.

Six days after the December 2, 2021 Swan Creek Hearing, I asked to see public records, including the minutes of the Hearing. On December 21 after I still did not get the records, I emailed the clerk, but my email was “bounced,” returned to me with a notice indicating that the recipient had blocked my email. Outrageous! I had to contact the county prosecutor’s office when I couldn’t get a response from my email sent from a different email address.

The county prosecutor’s office had already been in touch with me before that, though, having been contacted by the commissioners’ office to handle my earlier request. The email from the prosecutor’s office was quite a jolt, and no doubt a nasty way for the commissioners’ office to intimidate and silence me. I had requested to see historic ditch petitions because I wanted to find out about a similar ditch petition that failed in the past. I asked the clerk about that ditch petition. She referred me to the county engineer’s office, but all the county engineer’s office was willing to tell me was that it occurred in the 1980’s. There is no list of ditch petitions in the commissioner’s records that I can quickly peruse to find hints. So I asked to see the actual historic ditch petition records. I first asked to see indexes to the records but was told that indexes do not exist. Nothing is digitized before 1997, I was told. I’m still trying to find out, as it seems very relevant to the current petitions.

Driving a Jeep in the 10-mile Creek just to prove that they can. Location:  Inlands estate,  Ottawa Hills. Photocomposition by Penny Gentieu (The actual photo of the Jeep in the river was photographed downriver by the old Jeep Factory by Central Ave., photo courtesy Images in Time, TLCPL, river photo by PG is how it appears present-day.)

Inaccurate records and obfuscating historic ditch petition records

 Does the Clerk of the Lucas County Commissioners know what she is doing? Only she and the county commissioners know for sure. As for my request for the minutes to the Swan Creek meeting, I also asked to see the remonstrances and public comments on the petition. The clerk sent me comments submitted by seven people, but did not include my own comments that I submitted on December 1, 2021 through the Lucas County portal for Swan Creek ditch petition comments. How many other comments did she omit that were submitted to the public record on the Swan Creek ditch petition?

Then in regard to the hearing minutes, which took her 25 days to finish because she had to get them “approved,” she listed only two of those seven people, along with the Home Builders Association of Greater Toledo (who gave Lucas County their undying support and kudos for doing the petition! And no wonder – since the petitions are such a gravy train for construction workers.)

Perhaps to make it perfectly clear that she keeps inaccurate records for the commissioners, the clerk voluntarily sent me a completely different set of comments made to the Ten-mile Creek petition. The new set culled, not added to, the set of comments I had already received in November. The updated collection did not include several comments from people opposing the ditch petition. In fact, 107 pages had been cut out! I admit that 99 culled pages were my detailed remonstrance and comments that I had worked on for all of these months. But, I was cut out? I thoroughly expected my remonstrance that I hand-delivered to the Lucas County Board of Commissioners at One Government Center on November 3, the day before the Ten-mile Creek hearing, to be in the public record!

But such corruption of the public trust is just that easy do. You have to wonder, when public records are requested by the public, what “set of books” do they get?

Perhaps the clerk is incompetent, or perhaps she might say that she’s just doing her job. But as a disinterested keeper of public records for the public trust, she fails miserably. I requested the corrected minutes of the Ten-mile Creek Hearing. In the corrected minutes, citizen comments are still labeled as “public question” and “in favor” when they clearly are opposed to the ditch petition. She corrected only one such label. Also, at the top of pages 2 and 3 of these officially signed minutes is the text, Minutes of the Hearing for Schmitz Ditch instead of Ten-mile Creek, and it’s there quite obviously – you can’t miss it! – it’s printed in a bold 12-point font! Mistakes on purpose, perhaps. What a muddy mess that makes for these ditch petitions!

The county’s behavior all makes sense when you see that it’s in the county’s best interest to suppress the voice of the opposition. The county itself is the interested party bringing the petitions, and not Spencer Township who signed the petition. The Spencer Township trustees are simply puppets in Lucas County’s plan. Not one of them even showed up to a View or a Hearing of the sweeping ditch petition on which they signed their name.

Ditch petition of yore

I’m a very patient person. I’m as business-like as can be, having been in business all of my adult life, most of my years as a successful and well-known photographer in New York City. In New York City, there’s no time for bullshit. People are professional and considerate. But with Lucas County, trying to negotiate my rights to see public records is like being in a Kafka-esque nightmare!

I can’t even describe how painful and anxiety-ridden it was to have received an email from the actual Lucas County prosecutors’ office, which misrepresented my public records request; and then to have had my email address get literally blocked by the clerk of the county commissioners; and then to have been shown “two sets of books.” It seems like they are putting their thumbs up to their ears and wiggling their fingers at me!

But I soldiered on, knowing I have every right to see public records on ditch petitions. As for trying to find the historical ditch petition that Lucas County had tried but failed, I will find it. But the clerk is telling me that it will take considerable time for me to go through the records. Apparently because there are no finding aids for any of the pages of records they have on film and microfiche. Apparently, the Lucas County Commissioners Office didn’t digitize records until 1998, and apparently the previous clerks did not keep a database of Resolutions before that, either. At least nothing that’s handy that they are willing to share with me. Am I to believe that the clerks and commissioners that came before her left everything in a big mess, as if it’s all thrown in a giant shoe box with no way to navigate anything?

I trust that the clerks of yore were organized and professional, and that Sandy Isenberg, the President of the Board of Lucas County Commissioners in the 1990’s, was a diligent and forthright public official, and that those in the past who worked in the Engineer’s Office took their jobs seriously. I wonder what our public officials of the past would think of our present Lucas County commissioners and engineers playing fast and loose with their reputations? I wonder how the memory of today’s commissioners will fare, and what legacy they will be leaving.

Why don’t they just outright tell me what I’ve been asking — what about that similar ditch petition that failed?

I am starting to think that the county must have something to hide to go to this much trouble to hide it. I’m learning that the proper venue for these two ditch petitions should have been the court of common pleas, because the petitions were clearly invented by the county. The county commissioners should have recused itself from judging its own petition since it can’t be objective —  follow the intentions of the law. Respect the people! Maybe that old ditch petition that I am looking for was correctly heard by the court of common pleas….

…on account of fairness for everyone involved.

Ohio Revised Code Section 6131.04 Petition for construction of ditch improvement.  If the petitioner is a public corporation or the state, the petition shall be signed by its authorized representative. If the petitioner is the county, the petition shall be filed with the clerk of the court of common pleas, the matters in the petition shall be heard by the common pleas court as if the petition had come to the court on appeal, and the clerk and the court shall do all things that sections 6131.01 to 6131.64 of the Revised Code provide that the county commissioners shall do. The court of common pleas may appoint a board of arbitrators to assume the duties of the judge. The board shall be comprised of three disinterested persons chosen by the judge, who shall designate one of the persons to be chairman.

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Artists of Toledo

Our government today

“Government of, by and for the people — not hidden from the people — must be more than mere words written in a history book. It doesn’t happen unless we make it so.” Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General

Is transparency the basic covenant between a democratic government and the people?  Yes, because without it, corruption thrives.

I’m doing my best to get to the truth.

Here is my public records request of December 8 that has not yet been fulfilled. I’m waiting patiently, because that’s what I have to do. Merry Christmas everyone, and please don’t catch the Omicron variant Covid-19 virus that is raging across the country at this very moment.

December 8, 2021
Dear Ms. Balogh (Clerk of the Board of Lucas County Commissioners),
I am requesting the following records in digital format (which I understand from you is the way they are kept):
1. Historical Resolution Search Report using the text “Ditch Petition” from January 1, 1995 to February 11, 1998
2. Minutes to the Swan Creek Watershed ditch petition hearing that was held on December 2
3. Engineer’s final report for the Swan Creek Watershed ditch petition
4. All remonstrances and public comments to the Swan Creek Watershed ditch petition to date
5. In regard to the November 4, 2021 Resolution to the Ten Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition that is downloadable online, it is not signed. I request a copy of the signed resolution.
6. In regard to the November 4, 2021 resolution to the Ten Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition, a copy of the map of additional ditches added to the ditch petition, indicated in the Resolution as attached. It is not attached to the downloadable copy — I request a copy of the map.
7. In regard to the November 4, 2021 Resolution to the Ten Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition, I would like copies of the “petitions for amendments have been filed and have been requested to be added to the list of ditches (and as shown on the attached map) presented in Petition #1053 by benefiting owners”.
8. Corrected copy of the minutes of the November 4 hearing of the Ten Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition.
Do you make recordings of the hearings, perhaps to assist you in writing the minutes?
If you require for me to make each of these requests separately, please advise.
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Artists of Toledo

Remonstrance II

Remonstrance II: Swan Creek watershed ditch petition 

Remonstrance is an old-fashioned word from the 16th century, widely used throughout the 19th century, meaning “forceful protest.” It’s used in the Ohio ditch laws as a right recognized for citizens who strongly oppose a ditch petition — they are allowed to file a “Remonstrance.” This is mine, filed on this link tonight — https://www.co.lucas.oh.us/FormCenter/Engineer-40/Swan-Creek-Public-Submission-Form-224:

Swan Creek River, downtown Toledo. Headquarters of Owens Corning Fiberglass in the background.

Toledo’s murder rate actually doubled since 2019, since around the time that the Lucas County Engineer dreamed up this massive, multi-county, multi-city ditch petition scheme to bring work to his construction buddies, reporting to the Blade in April 2020 (after several weeks of city lockdown due to the yet-to-come-two-year-plus world pandemic) that he wanted to “grow our economy and our competitiveness.” This is it! A blank check and land control.

The ditch petition has not even been proven necessary, but the city of Toledo is already in on it, pledging millions of taxpayer dollars to the county, giving up the city’s protective, sovereign “home rule” powers to the county’s ditch petition. How does the city get to answer for all the affected citizens, in one fell swoop?  Seems very oppressive, and back-room dealing-like.

A similar over-reaching ditch petition failed in the 1980’s.

No information is forthcoming from the county about the ditch petition that was similar to the current massive watershed ditch petitions, that failed in the 1980’s, other than it was in the 1980’s and it didn’t get enough votes. Shouldn’t the Lucas County Board of Commissioners office be working for the citizens of Lucas County, and not for the unproven interests of this conniving, stinking unnecessary ditch petition that has yet to have a hearing and has strong opposition?

As if the county can scheme with the city while keeping important public information from the citizens – censoring history – pulling the wool over on its citizens – not being fair!

We know at least this from history, that since the 1980’s overreaching ditch petition failed, in all this time, about 35 years, we have been doing fine without. Since then, there have been countless ditch and river projects paid for with grants from the likes of the EPA. The county engineer, echoed by a Lucas County commissioner, said that nothing has been done to the rivers and ditches in 50 years? Just a few minutes on Google will show that statement to be a lie.

No proof given.

No actual proof has been given at any of the Views for the need for these petitions, and the sole example pictured in the Ten-Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition “Final Report” dated Nov. 4, 2021 was of a log jam in a millionaire’s backyard. He was a man who died the same month that Lucas County got Spencer Township to submit the petition — he was a distinguished citizen who served in Washington, DC as the Commissioner of Medical Services Administration, responsible for Medicaid. Did the engineer bother to ever contact this person to discuss the log jam?  Are the citizens of Lucas County supposed to foot the bill to remove log jams on millionaires’ properties, or could the county engineer kindly phone the widow and discuss the log jam, if in fact this log jam is causing flooding or drainage problems with its millionaire neighbors, instead of using a photo of their property in the Final Report as an excuse to bring in an unlimited revenue stream to the county.

Cleaning and maintaining our rivers has always been the responsibility of landowners. Our rivers are already maintained by the well-to-do landowners, including such major owners as the Metroparks and University of Toledo, and much of it is funded by EPA grants.

Murder rate has doubled.

While Toledo’s murder rate is doubling and tripling, this petition siphons from our city funds (the deal has already been made!) money that the city of Toledo could use to hire 50 new police officers to curb the outrageous spike in crime. If Toledo could use the money promised to the county for ditches to increase the police force instead, lives could be saved.

And all this time, we remain in a serious world pandemic, and there’s no end in sight. Instead of helping, the county has become its citizens’ adversary by pushing these faulty ditch petitions, all while Covid-19, Delta, and now Omicron is killing us, killing our neighbors, killing our friends and relatives.  Add that to the doubled murder rate.

The county commissioners should stop these ditch petitions before more money is wasted and more citizens get killed.

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Artists of Toledo

Letter to Toledo City Council

Rich or poor – few escape the power of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, but the City of Toledo certainly can and should!

On November 4, Lucas County Board of Commissioners voted to pursue the controversial Ten-Mile Creek Watershed ditch petition affecting 73,236 homeowners and their families. Two of our three Lucas County commissioners, along with three Fulton County commissioners, voted for it, with the President of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, notably absent from her duty to officiate the hearing of this important issue and vote on it.

On December 2, Lucas County will vote for the matching Swan Creek Watershed ditch petition, nailing a total of 117,554 Lucas County property owners and their families to suffer these two ditch petitions, with an extra 6,095 Fulton County property owners added into it, which earn them the three votes from the Fulton County Commissioners too.*

No proof has ever been shown at any of the “views” to justify the sweeping petition. In the final report submitted on November 4 by the Lucas County Engineer, Mike Pniewski, only a single exhibit is in the record as an example of cleanup and maintenance that needs to be done to justify this overreaching, outrageous petition — it is an image of an out-of-date Google Earth overhead image captioned “a significant log jam in Sylvania Township.”

The only example used in the November 4, 2021 final report. This location is behind million dollar mansions off of Corey Road.

I traced Google Earth up the 10-mile creek and found the exact location, behind the homes of rich and prominent people, off Corey Road in Sylvania Township, on Riverhills Lane. That’s all the county has to show us. It is the same example that the county engineer gave to the Channel 13 news team on August 19 for their news story on the ditch petition. They filmed a tree down on the floodplain and a few logs in the river, behind these million dollar mansions.

The property off of Corey Road, on Riverhills Lane, on which was found a log jam some time ago spotted on Google Earth, which was used as the sole example to justify the ditch petition by county engineer Mike Pniewski, in his November 4 Final Report. 

One of the residents within a few hundred feet of this example is the grandson of Norman Nitschke, the famous safety glass industrialist who donated millions to the University of Toledo for three new engineering buildings with his name on it. Strangely, Lucas County Engineer Mike Pniewski, in his near-full-time moonlighting job that was revealed to us in the September 10 edition of the Blade in regard to his teaching five freshman classes at the university, teaches a class in Nitschke Hall. Norman Nitschke died in January 2021 of Covid-19. It’s so peculiar that our Lucas County engineer would use an example from the neighborhood of this great man’s grandson with the same name – Nitschke. We should expect at least a modicum of respect and discretion from our elected officials when dealing with our citizens — renown or otherwise. It begs the question, did Mike Pniewski ever contact the property owners of the log jam example, or is he really so crass that he would drag them through the mud with no consideration, just to push this ditch petition through?

Nitschke Hall, one of the buildings where Mike Pniewski does his moonlighting, teaching freshman engineering classes.

The owners of the property used in Pniewski’s only example are also quite distinguished. In the 1970’s, Malcolm Keith Weikel served in Washington, DC as the Commissioner of Medical Services Administration responsible for Medicaid. He later became the COO of HCR ManorCare, then the largest nursing home company in the United States. However Mr. Weikel also died in 2021, in March, just as Mike Pniewski was shopping around for a sponsor for his opportunistic ditch petitions.

It is worth noting here that even though a log jam was spotted in Sylvania Township, that the Sylvania Township trustees refused to sponsor this ditch petition. Did Pniewski tell them about their log jam? Pniewski then went to Spencer Township trustees for their sponsorship (even though they are technically in the Swan Creek watershed.)  It is unknown if Pniewski ever contacted the Weikels about their log jam that he found on Google Earth, or whether he just used the image to justify this ditch petition. I venture to say that if he had contacted the owner about their log jam and explained to them that someday it might have an impact on flooding and drainage problems, the problem would have been solved right away, without Pniewski getting to use it as an opportunity to drag in the entire county, and Fulton County too. Furthermore, it is unproven that the log jam has ever caused any flooding or drainage issues. Mr. Nitschke told me emphatically that he had no such problems, when I reached out to ask him if he or his neighbors were experiencing flooding or drainage problems from the river.

Contrast that picture, of the wealth and advantage of these famous Sylvania Township homeowners and their splendid river views, to the image of Toledo’s disadvantaged city population being forced to pay for the clean-up of those rich people’s log jams through this overreaching ditch petition. They use the rich to steal from the poor.

Look at these arbitrary maps drawn for those who are going to have to pay. For example, look at the Junction neighborhood behind the art museum in the city of Toledo. Every homeowner in that neighborhood is either named in the Ten-mile Creek or Swan Creek ditch petition. They will all be taxed. For what?

Areas shaded blue show the parcels that will be taxed for the Ten-mile Creek Watershed ditch petition.
Areas shaded blue show the parcels that will be taxed for the Swan Creek Watershed ditch petition; it fits into the Ten-mile creek map like a cookie cutter.
You may wonder, as do I, why all of the parcels in the poor neighborhood behind the art museum are so tightly designated into one petition or the other. Whereas, the museum itself is only partially included, with the other half being off the hook from any ditch petition. The Peristyle is out, but the Canaday Gallery is in. The Glass Pavilion is out, but the Director’s office is in. The Frank Gehry CVA building is out, but the old art school is in.  We will never know why this is either, because the Lucas County Board of Commissioners doesn’t answer questions.

Is the City of Toledo really going to give Lucas County the right to force their disadvantaged population to pay for the clean-up of the river behind the homes of the richest people in Sylvania Township? Beyond that outrageous inequity, do we really want the county government to usurp our municipal powers and private property rights as well?

There is such a thing as Home Rule. Why is the City of Toledo letting Lucas County do this to us?

It is preposterous!  The City of Toledo should take care of their many problems, and let the wealthy people of Sylvania Township take care of their problems. The same goes for ditches out in the country. Ohio ditch petition laws were written for unincorporated, rural parts of the state, not cities! City folks should not be taxed for rural ditches.

As for the river in the metropolitan area of Toledo, it is already taken care by its major owners, because the rest of the river, beyond the neighborhood of those prestigious and wealthy citizens mentioned above, is owned by the City of Sylvania, the Sylvania Country Club, the Franciscan Sisters, the Boy Scouts of America, the Metroparks, the Village of Ottawa Hills, the University of Toledo, the City of Toledo, and then a few miles of industrial ownership until it flows out of Point Place. All of these areas have had clean-ups and restorations, mostly funded by grants in programs that were initiated by Tina Skeldon Wozniak’s own father, Ned Skeldon, as is shown on this web page, Ned Skeldon, Betty Mauk, and their river legacy.


*The three Fulton County commissioners are all white men, I might add — and purportedly, they go along with how the two Lucas County white men vote. Those three votes from Fulton County represent 5% of the affected population, but they increase the ditch petition voting percentage in Lucas County’s favor by more than double! Who knows how the one woman (also white) of Lucas County would have voted on the Ten-mile Creek petition, or might be voting, for or against the Swan Creek petition – because she evaded the issue altogether – she was absent during the Ten-mile Creek hearing and vote. As the president of the board, and as a woman, she’s the closest thing to “diversity” that we have to represent us – but her vote wouldn’t count anyway, with that majority of male commissioners sticking together as they do – all due respect given to our white commissioners for their “service” to our community – but I strongly feel that they are not representative of me, nor of our diverse city population whatsoever, nor do they listen to us, and they are certainly not looking after our best interests. I live in the City of Toledo. Toledo City Council, will you please look after us? After all, the concept of “Home Rule” is the major reason why the City of Toledo exists, and that’s how you got elected!

Categories
Artists of Toledo

A river is not a ditch

The ditch Dictator arrives in Lucas County.  

2021: “Ditch Petition” takes over our rivers, disregarding our past.

After everything that Ned Skeldon did 40-50 years ago to set into motion the clean-up our waterways, today we are facing a “watershed” takeover by the Lucas County engineer, Mike Pniewski, who claims the “watershed” needs a “major cleaning” because it has not been maintained for “50 – 70 years.”  That’s exactly what he told us at the “View” on July 15, and to Channel 13 on August 19 to justify his two ditch petitions called the Tenmile Creek Watershed Ditch Petition and the Swan Creek Watershed Ditch Petition.

Using the ditch petition process intended for rural and unincorporated county areas, he’s manipulating it to cover cities, too. It takes only two people to bring on a ditch petition, and only the three county commissioners to vote on it (in this case, six, including Fulton County) for it to become a reality. How easy is that, for government to tax and control property in large swaths of a so-called “watershed” area?

Need I mention that our tax money already pays for work done to our rivers? If I seem hard on Mike Pniewski by calling him a ditch dictator, it is because I’m disgusted that these flawed petitions have even seen the light of day.  Mike Pniewski wrote them, then had to shop them around to get two people to sign them, and now he is forcing them through the system, all during a pandemic, while Lucas County residents are suffering. It’s a shameful power and money grab. It’s thoughtless and cruel. He doesn’t care.

a river is not a ditch

The premise of the petitions is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Mike Pniewski is attempting to control all work done to the “watershed” by calling the Ottawa River and Swan Creek “ditches.” Really, our rivers are ditches?  Because this Lucas County engineer tells us so at the View? That’s not how the dictionary and Wikipedia define rivers and ditches. Somehow, in Pniewski’s mind, calling rivers ditches justifies the sweeping area he’s out to cover with these ill-conceived ditch petitions. Apparently he is too lazy to apply for grants for grant-worthy projects, so his bright idea is to tax us twice. He wants our city money to provide his department with a steady stream of income for his county ditch projects, by tying the rivers into his scheme, taking charge of the “watershed,” no questions asked, with no oversight of the ecologists, in defiance of the way it has worked since Ned Skeldon’s time, as well as being a complete misuse of the petition process.

He plans to tax 117,554 Lucas County property owners and do whatever “improvement” he wants. If you want to work on the river on your own property (even if you are a park system, a city, a university, or the Boy Scouts), you will have to get Lucas County’s permission – a permit! These ditch petitions will give his department and the Lucas County government control of every improvement made on the waterways of these two “watersheds” in Lucas County. They will tax us forever, whatever amount they want. The petitions have no limit of power or scope!

Clean 10-Mile Creek courtesy of Harroun Park, Sylvania, Ohio, which was recently cleaned and restored by the city of Sylvania with money obtained from a grant.

And he’s not kidding!

Channel 13 aired an interview with Mike Pniewski on August 19, 2021 reporting that the river needs a deep cleaning, and since Pniewski’s in charge of drainage, he’s going to tax all the property owners in the 173 square mile 10-mile creek watershed. Since so much of the river is in good condition, thanks to the myriad of independent restoration projects paid for by grants resulting from Ned Skeldon’s initiatives, he was hard-pressed to show an example. But, by flying a drone over private property on the river, Mike Pniewski found something and sent the Channel 13 news team in their van to videotape the private property “buried deep behind Corey Rd. in Sylvania township.” Perhaps he assumed that no one would think to ask the people living close by, a few houses up the river, if they have flooding or draining problems due to the tree that had fallen on the floodplain near the river.  But I asked one such neighbor, who answered with an emphatic NO – no flooding or drainage problems at all.

Mike Pniewski couldn’t find a better example than the one he picked out from this very elite neighborhood – just about the only suburban or urban river property for which the river isn’t already cared for by parks, universities, cities, Boy Scouts, agencies, commissions, geologists, grant money and public funds.

Ironic that Mr. Pniewski can take time off from his important job – and we pay him a whole lot more than we pay our three county commissioners — to appear on MSNBC in a story about political gerrymandering. This is what he said: “The radical few have taken over the ability to make policy that impacts all of us.”  Doesn’t he know it! Back in the Seventies, we would say, he’s projecting! Better put would be, “A few of us radicals are taking over the ability to make policy that impacts all of you!!”

Mike Pniewski took time off during a work day on August 26 to attend the Ohio Redistricting Commission public hearing, and appeared on MSNBC’s program, “Republicans against Democracy” saying, “the radical few have taken over the ability to make policy that impacts all of us.” The irony!

Very ambitious, this new Lucas County engineer, but does Mike Pniewski ever do any work for the Lucas County Engineering Department, as an official elected by the good people of Lucas County (since he was the only choice on the ballot)? It’s unusual that such a highly paid and important county department head like Mike Pniewski can take time off of his work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to teach 14 classroom hours of freshman-level civil engineering classes at the University of Toledo. Doesn’t he hold a high-office position in Lucas County – one needing his FULL attention, and shouldn’t he have the good sense not be taking on 14 hours of freshmen classes? I guess not! That’s our Mike “hands off the wheel” Pniewski.  Very frightening that he’s trying to make all of these changes and grow his department, while not really being there. He must think he’s Superman. But he’s not. His “Rate My Professor” score is terrible.  9 out of 15 gave him the lowest score possible. Check out these comments:

“He is the least helpful professor.” “Terrible” “Awful.” “Extremely vague and unhelpful. He refuses to answer questions and gets upset if you have any.” “Avoid if you can.” “This guy was honestly the worst professor I have ever had. Goes incredibly fast and incredibly boring. You won’t even have another option for a professor, so best of luck, you’ll hate it.  “Probably the laziest professor you could imagine.” “He refuses to actually teach his students and half the time he doesn’t even show up for class.”

This is Mike Pniewski asserting himself in the first few minutes at the 10-mile creek watershed ditch petition View at Wildwood Preserve, Ward Pavilion, July 15, 2021. He didn’t take us to show us anything, nor did he show us photos. He showed us NO PROOF whatsoever, when showing proof is the purpose of a View. He didn’t even put chairs out for the large, overwhelmingly senior citizen-age concerned audience that he drew – retirees mostly, since he scheduled the View in the middle of a work day. While most working people cannot take time off of work to attend a public hearing, he himself, as a public employee, has no problem taking off work to attend a political public hearing such as the one he went to on August 26, see previous photo above.  You may not comment negatively at my View, or else I will have you kicked out immediately! Sheriff, come here right now and drag her out of here!  She didn’t budge, nor did the sheriff come get her. It was all for show, to intimidate the audience. Does he remind you of anyone? Imagine him in a classroom. 

Check out this interesting investigation into Mike Pniewski’s teaching schedule reported by Tom Troy in The Blade on September 10, 2021:

County engineer’s teaching schedule cuts into work time

Here is some great investigative journalism on the topic. The reporter interviewed the University, the Ohio state auditor, the former Lucas County engineer Keith Earley, Commissioner Pete Gerken, and Mike Pniewski himself. It came out that Pniewski teaches 74 students in four separate classes over four different days. “Mr. Pniewski said a graduate teaching assistant handles most of the lab instruction as well as grading student work.”  Isn’t that comforting?  And how about the following quote of Pniewski’s, in light of the comments by his unhappy students on “Rate My Professors,” as if students exist to make him a better engineer, instead of the idea that his expertise would make them better students –

“I do enjoy their questions. The way they see the world, the way they learn, makes me a better engineer,” Pniewski told The Blade.

Here’s the nitty gritty on Pniewski’s head county engineer position –

The Lucas County engineer’s salary is $143,910, second highest of the 11 county-wide elected officials after the coroner’s $219,862, according to the Lucas County auditor’s office. He oversees an agency with a core budget of $18 million and just over 60 employees that manages more than 300 miles of roads, 400 bridges and culverts, and 210 miles of storm drains in the county’s unincorporated areas.

And, it is reported that Commissioner Pete Gerken doesn’t mind that he’s the instructor on record for 14 classroom hours a week.  Perhaps that is because Mike Pniewski does what Commissioner Gerken wants him to do, like waltz through the property rights and money grab “watershed” ditch petitions.

Many people today don’t know about the midnight viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that went on for 20 years at the Westwood Art Theatre beginning in 1975. The Lucas County engineer was just a baby when that cult classic came out. But here comes The Lucas County Horror Picture Show in 2021 and guess who’s in charge? This nightmare will be going on forever – you will never see an end to it. Mike Pniewski doesn’t know our local history. What does he mean, that our rivers have not been taken care of for 50 years? Au contraire!

Commissioner Gerken claims Pniewski is “extremely responsive to the community.” I don’t see how, when Pniewski tried to fly these ditch petitions under the radar without any public discussion and with no information sent to the press, while hitting an unprecedented 117,554 Lucas County property owners with these surprise ditch petitions, sending out a mere postcard that some mistook for junk mail, not even a proper notice in a letter in an envelope marked “Legal Notice” as specified by the Ohio Code on ditch petitions.

How can Pniewski be the least bit “responsive to the community” when he uses a petition process meant for small rural ditch projects, for what seems to be a great political experiment, or a joke, counting on how gullible he thinks we are, to impose an unlimited tax on us while gaining control of our property rights, by lying to us about how our rivers (he calls ditches) haven’t been taken care of for “50 – 70 years,” so therefore the county must take charge of cleaning our rivers, the same rivers that 50 years ago, Ned Skeldon, the father of Commissioner President Tina Skeldon Wozniak, cleaned up by setting up a tradition of grants funding projects, a tradition which has grown into countless collaborations of agencies, groups, volunteers, and experts, as Dr. Patrick Lawrence, geography professor at University of Toledo, pointed out to The Blade in 2018, see link above.

You’d think that when we elected Pniewski to run the county engineering department, that he would be using his full attention at the job – isn’t that the covenant – not that he’d play political and legal games with us, as if the law says he really only has to show up for work five days out of 30 days – or is it five days out of 90 days? – before illegality sets in to kick him out. Have we really sunk so low? It’s like our elected officials are thumbing their noses at us! Has it really come down to what’s legal – instead of what’s common sense?

Hey Pniewski, Ask not what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county.

What would Ned Skeldon and Betty Mauk think about the Lucas County government’s opportunistic takeover of the “watershed,” especially with Mike “hands off the wheel” Pniewski in charge?

Mike Pniewski should drop this petition, try working at the job of being head county engineer, and hire someone in his department to apply for real grants. Better yet, Mr. Pniewski and his engineering department should leave such fragile restoration work of our rivers to scientists and ecologists, and stick to fixing the roads.


“Ode to Swan Creek” poem by Betty Mauk for the Toledo Historical Task Force, 1998. Betty Mauk Papers, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections
Inlands, the French Renaissance Revival country house built by Ward M. Canaday in 1927, is one of the few private property parcels in Ottawa Hills on the 10-Mile Creek/Ottawa River. Canaday is known as the Father of the Jeep. Will Pniewski target Inlands next? (Since there are very few other private parcels to pick on, along our river that he calls a ditch?)

More about the 10-mile creek watershed ditch petition:

10-Mile Creek ripoff

A Blank Check

Who owns Ten-mile Creek?

Categories
Artists of Toledo

Ned Skeldon, Betty Mauk, and their river legacy

Downtown Toledo waterfront, circa 1920’s. Betty Mauk Papers, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections

Two proactive Toledoans in the 1970’s
made Toledo rivers and riverfront livable.

Betty Mauk (1918 – 2012)

Betty Mauk made the downtown Toledo riverfront livable.

Betty Mauk was born in 1918. Her mother died in childbirth. Her father died when she was six months old, a victim of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Betty grew up in the Old West End, cared for by her society aunts and uncle. She married, raised a family, and lived in Ottawa Hills.

In 1964, the riverfront was a literal parking lot. But the commissioner of harbors and bridges put out park benches, then picnic tables, for the workers, who were going down to the river with their bag lunches.

Betty visited France, her great love, at least 50 times in her lifetime. When the downtown Toledo waterfront was lined with parking lots and old abandoned buildings, in the 1960’s during the time they were considering building the 475 – I-75 expressway along the river, Betty had a vision to turn the waterfront into a Parisian park, transforming the Maumee riverfront into the Seine.

Betty had the “savoir faire” and “je ne sais quoi” to turn the riverfront into a real park, giving it a French festival atmosphere, with monkeys, elephants, musicians, puppet shows and plays. Betty furnished it with an authentic French kiosk imported from Paris, and she herself operated a crepe stand. Betty and her husband bought a boat, the Arawanna II, and gave rides in their boat up and down the Maumee River.

A nativity play at Promenade Park in the 1970’s. Ned Skeldon is the third wise man on the left. 

Imagine how our downtown riverfront would look today if a big expressway had been built over it, which might have happened if it weren’t for Betty Mauk. And that’s not all she did…

Ned Skeldon (1924 – 1988)

“a malodorous cesspool”

Ned Skeldon, who is the father of Tina Skeldon Wozniak, the current President of the Board of Lucas County Commissioners, made the Maumee River livable.

Ned Skeldon, city politician, Lucas County commissioner, fresh from bringing baseball back to Toledo in 1965 after a nine-year absence, was disgusted by the filthy condition of the Maumee River and Lake Erie. He warned that in 50 years, if something wasn’t done, the river and the lake would become a marsh.

Ned Skeldon had an equal amount of Betty Mauk’s “savoir faire” and “je ne sais quoi,” Midwestern style. A charismatic politician possessing much chutzpah, Ned, for the show of it, independently formed a temporary non-profit corporation, Clear Water, Inc., with five Toledo industrial leaders, to raise awareness and money to clean up the river and lake.

With such luminary partners as Steve Stranahan, Thomas Anderson of the Andersons, Charles Ballard, director of the UAW Region 2-B in NW Ohio, Dr. William T. Jerome III, president of BGSU, and John Willey, the associate publisher of the Toledo Blade, Ned Skeldon described Clear Water, Inc. to be “primarily a public relations organization,” its purpose is to alert the general public to the dangers of water pollution and prod them into action.

In 1968, Clear Water, Inc. sent a cleanup barge up Swan Creek, a river running into the Maumee in downtown Toledo, which had become a dump.

Clear Water, Inc. became a funding agency for state and federal pollution control funds. Since 1966, it has provided more than $1.75 billion in 2021 dollars for municipal and industrial pollution control facilities in the Maumee basin.

Ned Skeldon swam in the Maumee River in 1973 to symbolize the improvements made. This is the Blade photo for the article, Hundreds see Skeldon Master Muddy Maumee. “Like a bug thrashing in coffee with cream,” Ned said. The Blade, July 16, 1973.

“Every municipality of more than 5,000 population in the Maumee basin has improved sewage treatment facilities,” said Ned Skeldon in 1978. And the river was much cleaner as a result of Ned Skeldon’s grassroots efforts…

Ned Skeldon is one of the originators of the water-clean-up grant system we have today. These are some of the long-lasting accomplishments of Clear Water, Inc.:

  • helped to initiate the federal Clean Water Act.
  • and the formation of the Ohio Water Development Authority (1966) a funding agency for state and federal pollution control funds.
  • city of Toledo approved a $17 million bond issue to combat pollution by 1969, did more than other cities
  • Ohio EPA
  • Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act
    Ohio Water Development Commission (or Authority) — offering industries treatment facilities on a rental basis (1968) Skeldon appointed to newly created board by Governor Rhodes
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Agency, 1968
  • Ohio Water Development Authority – a funding agency for state and federal funds

Through Ned Skeldon’s efforts, many commissions and agencies came into existence that were able to get municipalities and industries to stop dumping filth and poison into the water.

Clear Water, Inc. was a “coordinating agency for citizens, local, state and national governments and other agencies interested in cleaning up the waterways in the Maumee River basin.” Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Dec 7, 1978

Ned Skeldon, in 1978, declared that he did the job he set out to do, to clean up the river and the lake, and closed Clear Water, Inc. for business. He always intended to do just that. He died in 1988.

One year after Ned Skeldon died, a Clear Water, Inc. founder granted Betty Mauk permission to start it up again, so that she could continue the Swan Creek cleanup work that Skeldon began in 1968 . . Betty Mauk worked on it throughout the 1990’s.

Clear Water gets grant, The Blade, December 19, 1990. Betty Mauk, of Clear Water, Inc. is photographed with Tom Kovacik and Peter Fraleigh (who later had a dirty, filthy Ottawa River tributary that was cleaned up, named after him.) They led a program for students to test the water of the rivers in the 1990’s. Betty Mauk Papers, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections

Then many years later…

The Ottawa River is healing because of collaborations among countless agencies, groups, volunteers, and experts, Patrick Lawrence, University of Toledo geography professor involved in many of the programs and projects, told The Blade. “Toledo’s Ottawa River takes another big step in its long healing process,” The Blade, June 18, 2018

Here’s a random list of agencies, groups and projects that with the help of volunteers and experts, take care of our rivers since Ned Skeldon’s Clear Water, Inc. started it all:

look what they are up to now:

a river is not a ditch

Categories
Artists of Toledo

A Blank Check

Part Two of the 10-mile creek rip-off 

What’s the problem?  Check out the pdfs for more beautiful photos of the Ottawa River and waterways here and here and here and here and here. We have nice waterways and they appear to be kept up quite well by the actual property owners, such as the Metro Parks, The Boy Scouts, the Village of Ottawa Hills and the City of Sylvania and Toledo already.

Puppet Petitioners

Mike Pniewski is petitioning the Board for maintenance of ditch improvements.

From the Spencer Township Trustee minutes of March 4, 2021, the meeting that directly preceded the filing of the petition:

Under the heading of “Pay the Bills” —

  • Mike Pniewski from the Lucas County Engineers’s Office gave a presentation on the cleaning of 10-mile creek. He is petitioning the Board for maintenance of ditch improvements. Resolution 2021-03-04 was read. Trustee Valentine made a motion to accept the resolution. Trustee Anderson seconded. Roll call: 3 yes to 0 no.

Under the heading of “Road”

  • The Lucas County Engineer’s Office sent information to petition the Joint Board of Lucas and Fulton County Commissioners to construct and maintain ditch improvements to the Ten Mile Creek/Ottawa River Watershed.
  • A virtual meeting with the County Engineer’s Office for upcoming projects is scheduled for Friday, March 12, 2021, it will be a virtual meeting.

Then on March 20, 2021, Mr. Hood and Mr. Valentine and Spencer Township submitted a Petition that affects the majority of the landowners in not one but two counties.

From the Spencer Township Trustee minutes of April 1, 2021, the meeting that was directly after the filing of the petition:

  • Virtual meeting was held with LC Engineers on March 12, 2021

Nothing is documented in the April 1, 2021 minutes regarding the submission of the petition, nor is anything noted for the payment of the $500 bond plus $2 for each parcel of land in excess of 200 parcels — which would add up to be about $150,000 for the cost of the petition that was submitted in the name of Spencer Township, naming 74,644 parcel owners as “benefiting.” Hmmm……….. seems like a big action, as well as a big expense, for Spencer Township to leave it out of their minutes.

The bond is to cover the expense of the notifications. At two dollars per parcel owner, why didn’t Lucas County send official letters? The county cut corners by sending the landowners a notice in the form of a postcard, instead of in a letter that is clearly marked on the envelope, “Legal Notice” that would have been taken much more seriously by the 127 thousand landowners it will affect (including the recipients in South Toledo who are victims of the duplicate petition filed the same day by the neighboring village of Whitehouse for the “Swan Creek Watershed.”) Doesn’t the Ohio Revised Code specify that all petition notifications shall be in the form of a letter with the envelope so marked? Many people ignored the postcard, as it was casual, and you don’t have a clue why you would get it if you don’t live on 10-Mile Creek. That’s what we thought at first, and so did our friends. I venture to speculate that this sneaky petition is huge for Lucas County, in that it is directed to the largest group of people in twenty or forty years. Just a guess, judging from the very few tax assessments on our tax bill. Why didn’t Lucas County do it right? The answer seems obvious.

A quid pro quo?

Had the Spencer Township trustees, Hood and Valentine been buttered up with the Lucas County Drennan Ditch project grant for $200,000 from the Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program  to fix 2.25 miles of the ditch that runs through their properties?

Also in the April 1, 2021 Spencer Township minutes is this report under “Correspondence”:

  • Spencer Township will be the lead agency to bid and award any crack seal work located in and around the Township. The Lucas County Engineer’s Office will prepare the necessary plans, bid documents, specifications and construction estimates.

Did Lucas County Engineer Mike Pniewski manipulate Spencer Township to put their names on a petition that did not really come from Spencer Township? Sure looks that way.

A blank check

Is this all a scheme to make a lot of money for the department, a result of Mike Pniewski’s zeal to “grow our economy?” Mike Pniewski is quoted in a Toledo Blade article from last April:

“I see myself as the chief infrastructure officer of the county,” Mr. Pniewski said. “I need to get as much money into the county as we can, to grow our economy and grow our competitiveness.” The Blade, April 21, 2020, “New position marks move closer to home for Lucas Co. engineer”

I don’t hear him saying, to clean up the environment.

How fair is that to the population of Toledo, Sylvania, and Ottawa Hills are essentially being told to give the county a blank check, and personal property rights, for entry anytime for anything they want to do to a creek, river, pond, or ditch on or near their property?

Seems like it is not the Lucas County engineer’s job to dream up tax assessments for us. Petitions for ditch improvements normally come from a citizen or entity and are limited to a specific legitimate need — not from the Lucas County Engineer himself, who seems to have economic growth and competition on his mind. Public officials are fiduciaries of our trust and best interest, after all. We elect them to serve us, not so we can serve them.

Hoodwinked

It appears that the origin of the scheme to put an eternal tax assessment on work that has not been proven to be necessary and unprecedently changes private property law forever, did NOT come from Spencer Township. It appears that the Spencer Township Trustees got hoodwinked by Mike Pniewski, and we in turn are getting hoodwinked by these unsavory shenanigans.  A hoodwinking that will last forever….

Are we going to let them do that?

So Conflicted!

Recorded in the minutes of the November 5, 2020 Spencer Township meeting, Trustee Michael Hood stated that he would not put a levy on the ballot, especially in the current financial status of the country. But apparently Mr. Hood doesn’t care if homeowners are simply assessed extra taxes for this sweeping, multi-county ditch improvement that is undefined in specificity but unlimited in scope.

Location of the first “view” and hearing on June 10 at 3:30pm — Lathrop Park, 12150 Sylvania-Metamora Rd., Berkey, Ohio. Pack a snack since they are probably too cheap provide refreshments — and come early to reserve your picnic table!

And need I mention, the world is experiencing a pandemic. Lucas County’s big push now is to get our community vaccinated, as we lag in percentage of vaccinated population compared to the rest of the country. Listen to the county’s plans here —  The Lucas County Commissioners still have virtual meetings!  But as many as 75,000 landowners (and their spouses) received official notifications from the county to publicly gather for the first “view” and hearing at a venue that has a couple of picnic tables and one porta-potty. Doesn’t look like much of a venue for a “show and tell” for a community of 100,000 people, does it?  but then does the county really expect anyone to show up? Because they think this is a slam-dunk!  Hope it doesn’t rain…

The Engineer’s office at Lathrop Park?


Penny Gentieu                     June 5, 2021

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10-Mile Creek ripoff

Lucas County combined with Fulton County is taking a nasty money and property rights grab.

A postcard from the Joint Board of Fulton and Lucas County Commissioners, c/o Lucas County Engineer, 1049 S. McCord Road, Holland Ohio mailed to 71,000 addresses:  “Ditch improvement notice — hearings on the TenMile Creek Watershed for a Joint-County Ditch Petition filed by Spencer Township on March 20, 2021 — 

“All costs of engineering, construction, and future maintenance will be assessed to the benefiting parcels of land…” 

Lucas County wants a new tax on 117,554 Lucas County homeowners for a new ditch improvement petition that covers Lucas and Fulton Counties.

We called about the above ditch improvement notice and spoke to Jay Mosley, the Lucas County Stormwater Program Manager, who told us this:

“At this point, we do not have a project identified nor are we making any assessments to any of the parcel owners, this is just to start the process.” 

“The county doesn’t have permission to go in and work on private property, so we are setting it up.”

This process allows us to spread the cost of any projects we would do…to all of the parcels in the watershed that contribute runoff that would ultimately get to the ditches and creeks and streams.” 

“We are not proposing any projects at this point, this is just to have a mechanism in place so that when we do identify a project that has a critical need, we can come up with a cost and then spread the cost over all of the parcels in the watershed.”

We are looking at places where there are ditches that need some maintenance that have been filled up with sediment and have some trees down, we certainly would not disturb nice natural habitat.”

“We are proposing to spread the assessments out over everyone in the northern part of the county and city of Toledo, even to Fulton county.”

“We don’t have a project identified.”

“We can’t go on to private property and do it without this mechanism.”

Diggers in waiting, in the early morning mist.

Rivers and ditches have always been the responsibility of the property owners. Ditches along county roads are the responsibility of the county, and tax funds are already allocated for those ditches, as are ditches created after 1957. Without this tax increase petition, river, creek and ditch maintenance on private property would remain the responsibility of the property owners, which Lucas County tells us in their FAQ’s.

Individual property owners have always taken care of their rivers, creeks and ditches, as it is on their property, but now the counties want access to all property on the 10-Mile Creek-Ottawa River Watershed, and also the Swan Creek Watershed.

With the passing of this assessment, property owners will be giving the counties blanket permission to bulldoze through their property for any and all future river, ditch or pond project, and they will be paying for it forever.

Without the passage of this assessment, the county does not have the absolute right to tear through private property. What they do have now is a limited utility access, as delineated on the maps on Areis (Lucas County property database.) If the county needs more, it has to get permission, and they have to repair any damage they incur with their bulldozers. The county now wants the absolute right to tear through our property, carte blanche.

Damage done to nice natural habitat on our property adjacent to the 10-Mile Creek caused by the use of heavy machinery.
The watershed and flow of water is like breathing air; it’s a fact of life, — it’s not a benefit. But the list of so-called Lucas County “benefiting parcels” in the 10-Mile Creek and Swan Creek watersheds total 117,554 homeowners, most of Toledo and all of Ottawa Hills and Sylvania!
Out of these 117,554 homeowners, maybe a total of ten or fifteen families actually have 10-Mile Creek running through their property. In Toledo, Sylvania, and Ottawa Hills, most of the land adjacent to 10-Mile Creek is owned by the various municipalities and parks, as will be shown below. But 117,554 Lucas County homeowners are hereby petitioned to bear the brunt of cleaning up twigs or dredging a ditch in Fulton or Henry County and while doing so, grant Lucas County the perpetual right to bulldoze through their private property whenever the county wants to and for whatever reason the county dreams up in the future, while Lucas County gets to raise taxes on 117,554 homeowners forever.
The pattern of the rise and fall of the floodplain, on which we live, has not changed during the the many years we have lived on it. I have also observed the floodplains of Ottawa Hills for over 50 years, and they seem the same as always. Our delicate watershed on which we live should not be disturbed by the county engineer.
In all of the county website information (see below for links) they have not even shown one good reason why they should be granted a tax assessment that could possibly disturb our ecology — we have floodplains, and our floodplains haven’t changed in the past 50 years, and our floodplains are working just fine now. Should the EPA be involved in this proposal that concerns our delicate watershed? We are just not convinced that there is a problem that needs to be fixed here. The county shows us no issues.
10-Mile Creek – Ottawa River watershed area (click to enlarge)
What about the River Raisin Watershed in Michigan, connected to the Ottawa River Watershed? Are they going to get them to pay, too?
The Ohio Watershed — why not think big, politicians and money-grabbers!

Why us?

could this have something to do with it…

The vast majority of parcels containing 10-Mile Creek, that are really “benefiting” from 10-Mile Creek are owned by entities such as the City of Sylvania, the Franciscan Sisters, The Boy Scouts, the Metro Parks, the Village of Ottawa Hills, the University of Toledo, the City of Toledo, and the Lucas County Port Authority, who all happen to be Lucas County tax exempt from any assessment made to “improve” the 10-Mile Creek running through their property. (see these major 10-Mile Creek parcel owners here)

Taxpayers are already paying for a lot of the maintenance of the “watershed” because 1. these entities listed above get tax breaks that we make up for by paying more tax, 2. we pay taxes that support many, if not all, of these entities, and 3. the many grants available for river and ditch projects, much of which comes from our tax money!

It’s been the responsibility of the landowners all throughout the history of landownership (going back, no doubt, hundreds and thousands of years and probably based on the Magna Carta and old Roman law, if not the common law of cavemen) to tidy up their own rivers, creeks and ditches.

In Toledo, that’s exactly what they do — property owners care for the rivers and creeks on their land — those conscientious Franciscan nuns, the rich golf-course owners, the well-funded-by-our-taxes metro park maintenance departments, the well-endowed University of Toledo, the rich Village of Ottawa Hills, the cities of Toledo and Sylvania with their maintenance crews and dedicated water departments, and the very few lucky private owners of the eastern and most populated half of the parcels that contain such waterways.  These stewards of the river are more than happy to be good caretakers of the water that flows over their land. They’ve been doing it ever since human beings have populated the planet. We don’t see them petitioning the residents of the counties of Lucas and Fulton Jointly to get the government to take this burden off of them.

Bringing this petition are two people who live in Holland, Ohio: Michael B. Hood of 630 N. Meilke Rd. (who lives at Spencer Township Hall, aside of Drennan Ditch, which is over-run with trees and brush. Why don’t they clean up their own ditch? They seriously want us to do it for them? Why should we have to clean their ditch? –

Drennan Ditch between N. Meilke Rd. and S. Raab Rd. This ditch is actually part of the Swan Creek Watershed, so why are these Spencer Township folks (who BTW actually do not own property in Lucas County as far as I can see, according to the AREIS parcel owner database) petitioning parcel owners of the 10-Mile Creek Watershed? So many details of this petition are weird and strange.

– Oh! I see that Lucas County IS cleaning up their ditch presently — 2.25 miles of it, and it is costing $200,000 and is funded by Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program…) and Shawn P. Valentine, of 9545 Frankfort Rd. (a neighbor who lives around the corner, a property which is also on Drennan Ditch, see photo on left, on the part that is getting cleaned right now. On Areis, Valentine is not identified as the owner of the listed address, just as Michael Hood is not the owner of the Spencer Township Hall.) These two petitioners, who actually live who knows where – they are not Lucas County parcel owners, attached the names and addresses of 74,644 parcel owners in Lucas and Fulton counties, petitioning them to pay for any and all ditch and creek clean-up projects they can dream up within a broad geographic reach.

There is also a petition for the Swan Creek Watershed for another 49,005 parcel owners, adding up to 123,649 total parcel owners who will be stuck with an assessment — 117,554 who live in Lucas County.

The petitions, both having the same exact language, site no problems, nothing specific; just, “Let’s do it!”

Lets do an improvement utilizing any and all of the methods in Ohio’s Revised Code Section 6131.01 (C)(1)(2)(3)(4)(5) necessary for the disposal of surplus water, and make this list of 117,554 suckers in Toledo pay for it! (As they outnumber us 100 to 1.)

You would think that farmers in the rural areas are fine with taking care of their own ditches, and when there is an urgent problem with a ditch or creek that they cannot handle, they would get assistance from the state or local bureaus that help farmers, maybe even the Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program, as Spencer Township is doing right now.

But to force the responsibility of rural ditches on the majority of the population in Toledo, while at the same time taking away certain landowner rights and responsibilities? Not cool!

Tearing through private property and dredging up ponds and rivers on “watershed” missions to be determined (show us one example!) has got to be inefficient and hurtful to our local and regional ecology.  But what a lucrative business model that would be!

Not the most transparent petition, this “Joint-County Ditch Petition filed by Spencer Township.” Yet, it is easy to see through.

125,185 parcels are proposed to be subject to the new tax. 117,554 of those parcels are located in Lucas County. 7,486 parcels are located in Fulton County.  145 parcels are located in Henry County. It doesn’t seem quite equitable for Lucas County to bear 94% of the proposed burden, especially when we already pay in tax dollars a healthy portion of the maintenance of 10-Mile Creek.  I wonder if we should start thinking about charging Fulton and Henry counties for their water running through our “watershed.” It’s an idea almost as ridiculous as having to clean up their creeks, ponds and ditches, when we’ve already paid for our own. What are we, moneybags? Or just suckers?

Calculating a quick estimate of the cost of creek clean-up, as put forth by the Drennan Ditch project now being done on 2.25 miles of ditch for $200,000 by the Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program, it’s going to cost Toledo homeowners a lot of money, at $88,889 per mile of ditches. And when they have completed cleaning the 200+ miles of waterways in Lucas and Fulton counties for 18 million dollars, they will start all over again, under the guise of “permanent maintenance.” That assessment amount will stay on our tax bill forever, or at least until the year 2100.

Tell them what you think of Petition 1053.

Three Lucas County Commissioners will be either approving or not approving this petition. Here is their contact information — let them know what you think:

Tina Skeldon Wozniak  President  twozniak@co.lucas.oh.us

Pete Gerken  pgerken@co.lucas.oh.us  

Gary Byers  GByers@co.lucas.oh.us

Board of County Commissioners

One Government Center
Suite 800
Toledo, OH 43604

MORE LINKS:

https://co.lucas.oh.us/3456/Drainage-Petitions

https://co.lucas.oh.us/3487/Tenmile-Creek

https://co.lucas.oh.us/DocumentCenter/View/78925/LEGAL-NOTICE-Ten-Mile-Creek-WatershedRev05-13-2021

https://co.lucas.oh.us/FormCenter/Engineer-40/Tenmile-Creek-225

https://co.lucas.oh.us/DocumentCenter/View/78935/FAQSheetView-1stHearing_TenMile

Lucas County Engineers Office, Mike “hands off the wheel” Pniewski (419) 213-2860


Penny Gentieu   May 26, 2021

This blog post was updated on June 1, 2021.

June 5, check this out — Part II  A Blank Check

Facebook page made on this subject Toledo Now

September 2021: A River is not a ditch

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