Issue 1 passes; Issue 2 fails

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Provided via Ohio Department of Development)

Here is how Ohioans voted on Issues 1 and 2.

Issue 1: Passed

The issue, otherwise known as Marsy’s Law,  will repeal and replace the Ohio Constitution’s Second Amendment passed in 1994. Similar to Amendment 2, Issue 1 establishes constitutional rights for victims and their families, but the two differ in the actual execution of those rights.

Marsy’s Law designates 10 specific rights in its text. They include a right to a timely notice of all public proceedings, the right to restitution, the right to prompt conclusion of the case and the right to refuse interviews the defendant requests.

Five other states have implemented Marsy’s Law, which is named after Marsalee Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by a former boyfriend in 1983. Marsy’s parents ran into the accused murderer in a grocery store. They weren’t alerted he was released on bail.

Opponents, like the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, said the law interferes with due process and raises fair trial concerns. Since the victim would be able to intervene in any of the proceedings, the Ohio ACLU argues that it could interfere with the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

“There are several problems with this initiative, but the most important aspect is that it will essentially turn our system of due process on its head,” the Ohio ACLU said in their FAQ section on their website.

Issue 2: Failed

It would’ve require state agencies to pay the same for prescription drugs as the Department of Veteran Affairs, which typically pays 24 percent less than other agencies for prescription medication.

Supporters of the bill said it would save taxpayers $400 million by reducing prescription medication prices, which could help fund police, schools and other public services.

Critics argued the $400 million figure has no factual backing and operates under the assumption that Ohio doesn’t already receive significant drug discounts. Opponents also said citizens who don’t get their drugs from the state wouldn’t benefit since drug companies would likely drive up prices of other drugs not purchased by the VA.

OU College Republicans President Ryan Evans said he opposes the policy because it will increase costs for citizens whose drug purchases don’t go through the government.

“Any time you force these companies to provide lower costs for certain individuals what they do in turn is charge everybody else higher rates,” Evans said. “You’re basically paying more so somebody else can get it for less.”

OU College Democrats President Ashley Fishwick said she supports Issue 2.

“I think Issue 2 is a really important step on checking pharmaceutical companies,” Fishwick said. “It’s a step in the right direction for Ohio.”


Originally published for The Post on Nov. 7, 2017.


Grounded in Athens: Here’s what Peter Kotses would do if he’s reelected

Kotses at his business, Athens Bicycle. Photo by Abbey Marshall

Athens native Peter Kotses has three fundamental passions: bicycles, streets and his community.

Kotses, a 1992 Ohio University graduate and local business owner, is up for re-election as an incumbent of one of three at-large city council positions.

Kotses, a Democrat, was elected in 2015, making this the first time he’s run for re-election against four other candidates. Of the five candidates who are running, three are on council currently.

“A lot of that first term is just getting your feet wet and understanding what the position is and how it works,” he said. “If I were to move into a second term, what’s cool is I would move up the latter on some of the committees.”

Kotses expressed interest in leading the transportation committee, an issue he has focused on heavily during his time on council.

“You boil back the ingredients to make a city, it’s streets and people,” he said. “If those two don’t exist, you don’t have a city. … It’s the most important property the city owns, so it’s something we can always do a better job of analyzing and providing a better system in which people can get through the city.”

His passion for transportation within the city extends beyond council. Kotses has owned and operated Athens Bicycle, 4 W. Stimson Ave., since it opened in 1998.

“A lot of people love this region, but finding employment and staying is hard,” he said. “When we opened up, it was to provide something for the community that should be present in the community we love.”

Kotses said his business skills transferred over to his position as at-large councilor.

“I have over 40 years within the city limits, so I have a good history of what this town has done and what they’ve been trying to achieve.”–– Peter Kotses

“I see a lot of parallels to what I’ve done for 20 years here being good assets for the job,” he said. “I have to manage a budget and make sure people run a tight ship. Being on council is kind of similar. You have to provide a watchful eye and make sure the funds are being spent in a proper fashion.”

Of his time on council, Kotses cites his proudest moments as the votes he casted in support of the Stimson Avenue roundabout and the bikeway extension bridge over the Hocking River. He made $7,919.55 in calendar year 2017 as a councilman.

“Every street system needs to be analyzed … so people can get around better maybe without a vehicle and so can we encourage a healthier lifestyle for people,” Kotses said, referencing the complete streets project, which is aimed to accommodate multimodal forms of transportation.  “If you can make the streets safer, that (could) bring more people out so we have more human interaction. It’s breaking down barriers and making things more accessible.”

Kotses was born to an OU professor and raised in Athens. He lives in the city with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. He believes his 40-plus years of experience with the city gives him an advantage when it comes to being successful in his city council position.

“I have over 40 years within the city limits, so I have a good history of what this town has done and what they’ve been trying to achieve,” he said. “A lot of the initiatives we’re working on now, I can go back and look at why things are the way they are because of things that were happening in the ‘90s.”

Kotses said he would love to continue to serve the city he loves if he is given the chance come Election Day on Nov. 7. The other at-large candidates are Sarah Grace and Noah Trembly and incumbents Arian Smedley, D, and Pat McGee, I.

“I’ve always enjoyed the town,” Kotses said. “It’s a great place to grow up. I was excited that I was able to find something that allowed me to stay and raise a kid here. … Council is just another extension of providing help and assistance to a community I love.”

Originally published for The Post on Nov. 6, 2017.

Where is Tumbles, the two-legged dog, now?

Tumbles playing outside near his dog wheelchair. Due to being born with just two legs, OU’s Innovation Center made a dog wheelchair for Tumbles nearly two years ago. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

A local two-legged puppy tumbled his way into the hearts of millions two years ago after garnering international media attention. Nearly two years later, he no longer uses the wheels the Ohio University Innovation Center 3-D-printed for him.

Tumbles was born without his front legs. Because of his disability, he would get pushed out of the way by his brother and sister when he was trying to nurse, forcing his owner to give him up to a foster home.

Karen Pilcher, who was on the board of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs, has been by Tumbles’ side since he was four weeks old. She officially adopted him last December. He’ll be two years old soon.

Pilcher and some other members of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs created a Facebook page for Tumbles in November 2015, when he was six weeks old. An engineer saw the page and designed wheels to help Tumbles’ mobility. He brought his idea to the OU Innovation Center, who agreed to create the wheels using 3-D printing.

“OU was wonderful,” Pilcher said. “They only charged us for the materials for the wheels, not the labor. It only cost around $250, whereas other wheels are much more expensive.”

A video of Tumbles wheeling around began circulating the internet; before Pilcher knew it, she was the mother to a viral star.

“He was everywhere,” she said. “We got messages on Facebook and friends from all over the world. He was in the papers in England, Brazil, Germany, Ireland.”

Even though the wheels are adjustable and will last his lifetime, Pilcher said Tumbles doesn’t like to use them very much anymore. They inhibit his mobility, she said, and he much prefers hopping and pushing himself on his stomach. In the past few months, he also began walking on his back paws.

“He doesn’t know any different,” she said. “The thing that makes him great is his personality. There’s a lot of two legged dogs, and they all have great personality. They’re fighters.”

Tumbles now lives with three other dogs and 19 cats.

“They all get along great,” Pilcher said. “He’s just so happy about everything.”


Originally published for The Post on Sept. 24, 2017.

How a disability affected these Athens residents’ day-to-day lives

The Athens County Community Singers open for the annual Disabilities Speaks event on September 14, 2017. The Athens County Community Singers are a musical group open to people of all abilities. (Abbey Marshall)

Ohio University’s basketball coach Saul Phillips woke up this morning just like any other day, only when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t see.

Phillips spent the day with a disability like seven other Athens residents as part of the annual “Disabilities Speak” program hosted by the Athens County Commission on Disabilities.

“I was really struck by how my job and day-to-day hinges directly on my sight,” Phillips, who wore opaque sunglasses that obstructed his vision, said. “When it’s gone, you notice in a hurry.”

The disabilities ranged from being tethered to a walker to limb paralysis.

“We are all temporarily abled,” said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who served as the former chair of the Athens County Commission on Disabilities. “One day we will all have a disability. That’s just the frailness of the human body.”

All eight of the volunteers gathered in the Athens Community Center on Thursday at 6 p.m. to share their experience with the community. The program began with a performance from the Athens County Community Singers, a mixed choir of about 36 singers of all abilities.

Following the performance, Barbara Conover, consultant for the American Disabilities Act and the mother of disabled children, delivered a keynote speech on universal design. Universal design is the concept of allowing accessibility for people of all abilities, such as ramps, door levers instead of knobs and wider hallways.

“Everyone ought to be able to use everything available to everyone,” she said.

Although the city has made great strides, including a lift to the mayoral office and an ADA accessible path in Sells Park, Patterson said the city has a long way to go.

Athens City Schools Superintendent Tom Gibbs, who had a paralyzed arm for the day, said the experience was eye-opening not only to physical disabilities, but all disabilities students might be facing.

“A physical example was good but … what we confront more everyday are things like mental, cognitive or social disabilities,” he said. “I used this opportunity to talk to our staff about how to address those disabilities as well.”

Patterson wrapped up the event by presenting the annual Athena award to Noriko Kantake, the president of Appalachian Family Center for Autism and Disability Resources and Education. Kantake has an autistic son and recognized the need for increased accessibility in Athens.

“To be here today … this really makes my heart soar,” Patterson said. “I’m hoping everyone walks away today with more sensitivities to those around them and more sensitivities to accessibility and inclusion.”


Athens Women’s Recovery Center to open January 2018

The 317 Board on Dairy Lane operates to implement policies and monitor programs intended to prevent and treat alcohol and drug addiction. (Emma Howells)

Athens’ first women’s transitional housing center will open at the beginning of 2018 after a longtime effort by local women in addiction recovery.

Jayne Darling, the president of the Women in Recovery Board, said as a woman recovering from addiction, she recognized the need for transitional housing following rehabilitation or prison sentences.

“What we were seeing was women who were going through recovery were not ready to return to independent living,” Earl Cecil, the executive director of The Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, also known as the 317 Board, said. “They went through the intensive work to learn how to be sober, but to return to the community, they were at risk of falling into their old crowd who would trigger their use again.”

The 317 Board helped with technical assistance and moral support for the Women in Recovery group. Cecil oversees many local recovery and mental health facilities but said there is no transitional housing specifically for women in Athens.

Darling said women in recovery face specific challenges men do not.

“Most of them have children and have lost their children to children services,” she said. “Most of the fathers are not in the picture. … They have a battle in front of them to try to get their kids back, which is something men don’t have. … It’s a little bit tougher for women.”

The idea has been in the works for about a year and a half, Darling said. The group of nine board members, all of whom are volunteers, has been advocating for the development with local bodies of government and filing paperwork.

“It’s been an adventure and a challenge, but the hard work is great,” Darling said. “We have a great board and volunteers. … We have a combination of people with a lot of talent.”

The group recently purchased a house on a 7-acre plot of land for $232,000. The house is in the Athens area near state Route 56. For safety reasons, Darling said the board would not disclose the exact address because some women have restraining orders.

The state granted Women in Recovery $190,000 for the mortgage and facilities, but none of that funding goes toward operations. Women staying in the house will be charged rent, but many people are not able to pay, so the operations are dependent on volunteers. They have received donations from local individuals and institutions, such as OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital.

Darling said the goal is to be open Jan. 1, 2018.

“Addiction is rampant here,” she said. “It’s destroying families and taking lives, and we believe there’s a way out of it. We want to help folks find that way.”


Originally published for The Post on Sept. 6, 2017.

City plans for construction of $6.9 million new pool

Iris, an English Bulldog, struts around the edge of the pool during the dog swim at the Athens City Pool on Saturday. (PATRICK CONNOLLY | MULTIMEDIA EDITOR)

The local pool, a staple of Athens since 1972, is set to be demolished this month by a construction company the city recently partnered with.

The city accepted a bid from Gutknecht Construction on July 28 to build a new outdoor hub to replace the existing 45-year-old community pool. The city budgeted $6.9 million for the project.

Construction was scheduled to begin Aug. 28, soon after the pool closes for the summer. The new pool will be built on the existing site, 701 E. State St. Demolition will cost $85,000 to $90,000, according to a report from MSA Sport, which completed a design for the city. Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas said the city hopes the project will be completed by May 18, 2018.

“We’re going to go forward quickly in terms of work and construction,” he said. “We don’t want our community to miss out on a pool season. We want to have it done for our community to enjoy.”

Gutknecht initially proposed that the project would cost $7.25 million based on the design from MSA Sport. To bring cost down to $6.9 million, the city and Gutknecht agreed to remove some proposed amenities, such as one of the water slides and the canopy over the concession stand.

The money for the new pool comes from a levy that passed in 2014. The ordinance approved a tax increase for 20 years, that began Jan. 1, 2016 and will end Dec. 31, 2035.

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said the city did not want to wait 20 years to complete the project, so Athens City Council passed an ordinance to secure a bond.

“We can’t wait 20 years for that money to accumulate,” Knisely said. “We have to authorize bonds. … It’s a way of borrowing the money, so it’s all there and available so once we have the design for the pool, we should be able to build it.”

The ordinance said the bond could not exceed $7.3 million, and it must be designated to “swimming pool facilities bond.”

“The whole concept of parks and recreation is important for the quality of life,” Knisely said. “It’s a resource that makes Athens an up-to-date community.”

Kalei Edenfield, a 2016 OU alumna, said she was excited to see the additions the new pool will have.

“I have been to the pool before and found it to be extremely basic but a pool nonetheless,” she said. “It will be a great new addition for everyone in the community. Based on the proposed pictures so far it looks as though it’s going to be a great summer activity for families or even (students).”


Originally published for The Post on August 31, 2017.

Initiative to depenalize recreational marijuana will be on city ballot

A person rolls a joint outside of Seigfred Hall. Various groups in and around Athens are working to depenalize marijuana in Ohio. (FILE)

Athens residents might soon be able to blaze it with lesser repercussions.

Following the collective efforts of a group of Athens community members, The Athens Cannabis Ordinance was officially added to the Nov. 7 ballot after a petition driven campaign.

This is the second attempt to get the measure on the ballot. The success this year can be attributed to other statewide efforts to depenalize marijuana, Athens resident Caleb Brown said. Brown was one of the leaders of the TACO petition.

Brown said the ordinance uses aspects from the Ohio State Constitution that allow municipalities to alter laws and penalties for misdemeanors within city limits. A common example is varying levels of fines for speeding tickets in different cities.

“Since there are some misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Ohio, the idea is to change the fines and penalties all the way to zero,” Brown said.

Marijuana misdemeanors in Ohio are defined by possession of 200 or less grams. Currently, offenders could spend up to 30 days in jail and be fined up to $250.

To put an initiative petition on a ballot in Ohio, petitioners must gather 10 percent of the number of people who casted votes in the most recent governor election, which was in 2014. In Athens, that equated to 319 signatures.

“Initiative petitions are a really cool thing that we as citizens in Ohio have available to us,” Brown said. “It’s awesome because it’s a safety gap for democracy. … We can by petition enact ordinances and laws as citizens, which is pretty cool.”

Brown said in 2016 they were only a few signatures short, but this year the group garnered 625 signatures, 405 of which were valid.

“The petition this year is a lot cleaner and better,” Brown said. “When we did it last year, there was a lot of pending court cases. It was kind of like a shoot for the moon kind of deal because we didn’t know what we could do. … This year we knew we could make it happen.”

Though Ohio legalized medicinal marijuana in September 2016, Saraquoia, another leader of The Athens Cannabis Ordinance petition, said she was excited by the prospect of Athens depenalizing recreational marijuana use.

“It’s not dangerous,” she said. “We know that our jails are sometimes occupied by people with low-level cannabis offenses and that law enforcement hours are being wasted. … It’s a no brainer to reduce our cannabis (penalties) and denounce the stigma attached to cannabis.”

Students who register to vote in Athens with proof of residence in the city will have the opportunity to vote on the issue in the upcoming election.

“It should be up to the people to decide whether they want to partake or not,” Daniel Ingram, a senior studying recreation management, said. “It’s a lot like alcohol. In small doses, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think someone should get into that much trouble if they make a small life choice or mistake.”

Saraquoia said although Athens is a small town, she hopes to have influence on surrounding areas.

“It’s baby steps,” she said. “It’s the ways we can affect progress in our community. … We hope other cities snowball and eventually the state will try to push something through the legislature.”


 Originally published for The Post on August 29, 2017.