Licking County News

Year in Review

Gun laws, councilman generated headlines in 2013

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LORI WINCE/THISWEEKNEWS
Heavy rainfall caused a section of foundation to collapse July 22 at the building at the northeast corner of Front and Main streets in Pataskala. City Councilman Mike Fox's businesses, Fox's Locks and Security and Fox's Archery and Firearms, were based in the building. Fox's "attempt to obstruct official business by interfering with the fire department trying to secure the area for the purpose of protecting the public" was the basis of one of the malfeasance charges against him, according to city officials.
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Pataskala made several infrastructure improvements in 2013, but the year also was marked by controversy regarding local gun laws and a councilman's conduct during an investigation.

Pataskala's firearms-discharge zone permits hunting and recreational shooting in areas of Pataskala that are zoned agricultural and rural residential -- about two-thirds of the city.

In response to complaints from some residents about the zone, Pataskala City Council limited the hours for shooting and removed property owned by the Licking Heights school district from the zone.

After three months of reviewing restrictions for recreational shooting, City Council on Sept. 16 approved an ordinance prohibiting shooting from dusk to dawn and including language that would prevent recreational shooting from becoming a nuisance or an unreasonable disturbance to neighbors.

Bernard Brush, a City Councilman who is chairman of the agriculture committee, said shooting must be done in a safe and lawful manner.

The agriculture committee decided to reference the National Rifle Association Range Source Book for safety standards and guidelines. If a resident is following those guidelines, a police officer would have to determine if the shooting was causing a nuisance, Brush said.

The committee declined to forward a provision limiting continuous shooting to two hours per day -- as originally was discussed -- because members said it could not be properly enforced by the Pataskala Division of Police.

About two months later, City Council was asked by Evangeline Fouras of Summit Road -- the most vocal opponent of the discharge zone -- and Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner, respectively, to remove two properties from the zone.

Fouras' request to remove 175 acres she says is owned by her family is pending until city officials determine if she can speak as owner of the entire property.

 

Fox under fire, too

City Councilman Mike Fox's status also is uncertain as 2013 comes to close.

Fox was investigated three times over the past 15 months and is the subject of a City Council hearing scheduled Jan. 14.

All the investigations are related to the firing of David Fulmer, former chief of the West Licking Joint Fire District. However, only the most recent investigation resulted in charges, and it also refers to malfeasance as a result of another incident.

The West Licking fire board dismissed Fulmer in November, citing misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information about former employees from another department he kept on his work computer. Some of the information was considered sensitive and included Social Security numbers, according to the investigation proceedings.

Fulmer, who won an appeal in Licking County Common Pleas Court in April that the fire board fired him without proving him guilty of wrongdoing, had claimed Fox did not serve objectively in the investigation against him.

Fulmer also alleged Fox did not completely recuse himself from the investigation proceedings, per a directive from Pataskala City Council.

City Council in September hired outside legal counsel to initiate the third investigation after City Attorney Rufus Hurst said he found evidence indicating Fox might have failed to comply with the directive from City Council.

Fox was issued a letter from Mayor Steve Butcher on Nov. 25 informing him City Council in January would hear charges of malfeasance he allegedly committed by participating in disciplinary proceedings for Fulmer.

The letter also listed charges of malfeasance that occurred July 22, 2013, when heavy rainfall caused a section of foundation to collapse at the building at the northeast corner of Front and Main streets. Fox's businesses, Fox's Locks and Security and Fox's Archery and Firearms, were based in the building.

The letter said: "There is also probable cause to charge you with malfeasance based on your response to public officials trying to manage the partial collapse of a building where your businesses are located. Your attempt to obstruct official business by interfering with the fire department trying to secure the area for the purpose of protecting the public is malfeasance."

 

Infrastructure improvements

Pataskala borrowed $1.355 million to resurface almost a dozen roads as part of the 2013 Roadway Asset Management Plan.

The roads included: Mill Street from Broad Street to Columbia Road; Cable Road; Adams Lane; North End Drive; Rich Street; First and Third avenues; Veasey, Robin and Hickory lanes; and roads within the Bright Waters subdivision.

The RAMP work was not without issues.

The street committee on Nov. 18 reviewed RAMP projects after residents and City Council members complained about some of the work on Cable Road and in the Bright Waters subdivision.

Benjamin King, the city's service director, told the street committee it needs to take a more active role in reviewing construction projects and make sure the design and layout will meet expectations.

The city worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2013 to repave Broad Street within the city limits, which City Administrator Timothy Boland said was a major accomplishment.

Boland said the city also received grant money to reconstruct Mink Street.

The first phase of Mink Street -- to reconstruct the road from the bridge north of Havens Corner Road to Morse Road -- will be completed in the spring of 2014, Boland said.

He said the second phase -- to reconstruct the road from Morse Road to U.S. Route 40 -- is expected to be done by 2018.

In February, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission announced Pataskala will receive $3,579,872 to resurface Mink Street from Broad Street to Havens Corners Road.

The city also will use $500,000 from the Ohio Public Works Commission for the project.

City Council on Dec. 10 agreed to issue another $2.4 million in debt to resurface the rest of Mink Street in the city limits.

Pataskala also completed several sidewalk projects after starting an inventory and approving nine standards to determine when sidewalks need to be replaced.

City officials were able to link 20 percent of the city's population -- about 3,000 people -- with a new sidewalk south of the Settlement subdivision on the east side of Oak Meadow Drive, past the Pataskala Square Shopping Center to Broad Street, east of the Dollar General.

Sidewalks were extended east on both sides of Broad Street to the McDonald's and Huntington Bank and a pedestrian crossing was added at the intersection of Oak Meadow and Vine Street.

The sidewalk continues south of the intersection on Vine Street, extending into the old parts of downtown Pataskala, where sidewalks are intermittent.

Boland said it links the Settlement subdivision and the Thomas J. Evans Foundation Park with the Bright Waters subdivision and Municipal Park.

The city chose Newcomer Concrete Services of Norwalk for the $127,905.41 project.

Also last year, the city used a $480,000 grant from the state's Safe Routes to Schools program to connect intermittent sidewalks around the Pataskala Elementary School on High, Second, Granville, Cedar and Broadway streets and Tyler Avenue. School crossing signs were added around the building.

 

New faces in new places

Pataskala welcomed several new employees to City Hall in 2013 and said goodbye to others.

•Pataskala hired Eric Fischer as the planning director to replace Dianne Harris, who retired May 10.

He started June 10.

•The Pataskala Division of Police replaced clerk Lori Burkhart, who left in February after working at the department for 10 years, with two part-time employees to expand the department's phone coverage.

•Pataskala restored funding in the 2013 budget for a parks coordinator and hired Bryan Harris in May but City Council on Dec. 16 amended the 2014 budget and eliminated Harris' position and $21,321 salary.

•The city's project manager, Robert Schroeder, resigned Sept. 21 and City Council accepted the resignation five days after voting 6-0 on Sept. 16 to restrict the city's use of signage related to the RAMP.

City Council's decision was related to placement of four 4-by-8-foot signs posted at Main Street and First and Third avenues alerting residents to roadwork.

Boland said the signs cost $1,700 each.

The city later removed the signs and city officials said they would try to find another use for the signs.

Schroeder was hired to the newly created project manager position in June 2012, and was responsible for the city's road projects.

•Pataskala City Council also declined in October to renew Boland's contract, which expires Dec. 31.

Boland was hired by Pataskala in 2006 and started in January 2007. He earns $107,195.92 annually, plus benefits, according to city finance records.

In late November, Boland accepted a position as city manager of Steubenville.

He is expected to start Jan. 6 and receive $90,000 annually.

•Pataskala's government also changed after Butcher lost his bid for re-election to City Councilman Mike Compton in November.

Bryan Lenzo was re-elected to one of the three opening at-large City Council seats, but Bernard Brush was defeated.

Because Merissa McKinstry declined to run for a second term, two newcomers will join Lenzo on City Council in January: Timothy Hickin and Todd Barstow.

 

New trash hauler

Pataskala residents transitioned to a new trash hauler in 2013 after the city approved a contract with Big "O" Refuse of Newark.

City Council approved legislation in March authorizing the bid process and allowing the administration to contract with the lowest bidder for residential trash pickup.

The lowest bidder was Big "O" Refuse, which charges residents $11.43 per month, plus a fuel surcharge.

The contract with Big "O" Refuse began Oct. 1; the city's contract with Waste Management expired Sept. 30.

 

Death of Pataskala woman almost resolved

Ali Salim, 44, of 5077 Turner Close, a doctor who worked for the Knox Community Hospital in Mount Vernon, took a plea deal Oct. 24 to avoid a trial in relation to the death of 23-year-old Deanna Ballman of Pataskala and her unborn daughter.

Salim's home is in the Columbus portion of Hampsted Village near New Albany.

He was charged early this year with kidnapping, raping and murdering Ballman and with murdering her unborn daughter.

To avoid the trial, he pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of tampering with evidence and one count of abuse of a corpse.

He also entered an Alford plea to a count of rape. The plea maintains his innocence but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him, according to WBNS-10TV.

Salim was expected to be sentenced Dec. 20, according to the Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Ballman met Salim Aug. 1, 2012, after allegedly answering an ad on Craigslist for house work.

Prosecutors say Salim injected her with heroin, killing her, then ditched her car with her body in it on Bevelhymer Road in Harlem Township in Delaware County, 10TV reported.

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