The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 2, 2014

A cleaner Conneaut is the top priority of council president

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — City Council President Nicholas Church has vowed to give Conneaut more eye-appeal next year.

“I want to clean up Conneaut, whether it be the downtown or the community in general,” he said. “I’m hearing a lot complaints about a run-down here and a run-down house there. My biggest goal (for his term) is to clean up the blight.”

Council, mindful of community forums that listed the city’s appearance as a number one concern, has taken steps to spruce up the town and make its buildings safer for residents. Property-owners now have to register vacant houses and commercial buildings with the city, and last year council approved an occupancy permit program that requires a municipal inspection of houses and apartments before they are rented or sold.

Those actions are good, but more can be done, Church said. He plans to create a new committee geared to tackling the problem. Church, City Manager Tim Eggleston, Planning/Zoning Manager Deanna Gates and Fire Chief Steve Lee will be charter members of the group, Church said.

“I’m not rushing into making new ordinances,” he said. “I want to tighten up the ordinances we already have.”

Church also wants to go the criminal route in dealing with law-breakers. Instead of putting unpaid fines and fees on tax duplicates, violators should be cited into court, he said.

The cleaning has already begun — in council’s home base. Church has arranged to give the meeting room a good scrubbing, including the carpet and council’s chairs. New seats have been obtained for the audience, replacing stained, fabric chairs that saw years of use. Money existed in the city budget for the purchases, Church said.

Also, the entire room has been redecorated with iconic images of Conneaut. The make-over began last month, soon after Church took his oath of office for the two-year term that begins today. Church said he hopes citizens like the decorative touches.

“I didn’t do it for me,” he said. “I did it for the people.”

Church also hopes to revive the twice-monthly work sessions for council that were shelved two years ago for more committee work. The work sessions would be held the first and third Mondays of the month, while regular meetings will remain on the second and fourth Mondays. Unlike the regular meetings, the work sessions would not be televised on local cable channels, Church said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.

Church, unopposed in November’s election, is no stranger to the council president position. He served from 2003 until the middle of 2005, when health problems obliged him to step down. He brings plenty of enthusiasm to his new duties.

“I’m rip-roaring and ready to go,” he said.

The rest of council is a blend of incumbents and familiar faces. John Roach (at-large), Doug Hedrick (Ward 1), Phil Garcia (Ward 2) and Thomas Kozesky (Ward 4) all earned a new term in November’s election. Joining Church as “rookies” are Deborah Newcomb (Ward 3), the former Ashtabula County commissioner and state representative, and Jon Arcaro (at-large), the town’s now-retired police chief and safety-service director. Newcomb began her political career on Conneaut council.

The group will hold an organizational meeting at 6 p.m. today, followed by a 7 p.m. special meeting to consider legislation related to a house demolition program.