Archive for Community Issues

Important articles posted on

Links to the more important articles posted on the blog during the past 12 months.


Mariemont Rankings fall in Cincy Magazine in May

The new Mariemont Firetruck

The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future April

Missed Opportunities come home to roost April

Does Village Government cede too much power to the Mayor? April

Can Mariemont’s chronic shortages of parking be solved?

Should the Village of Mariemont have a Village Administrator? March

How can local governments cut expenses? January

What if the Village had a budget surplus? January

Is the old Mariemont Steam Plant finally coming down? Nov 2014

A further look at Electric aggregation Oct 2014

A Vision Statement for Mariemont: All Parts July 2014

Things to Consider for the Future of Mariemont

Things to Consider for the Future of Mariemont

If you are progressive in your views about the future of Mariemont, I believe that you would support many of the following initiatives during the next four years.

  1. Cooperative agreements with adjoining communities to share police and fire services to reduce redundancy and cut taxes.
  2. Development of the South 80 into a more complete recreational destination.
  3. A long term solution to the chronic parking shortage in Mariemont.
  4. See new agencies emerge like 3CDC in OTR in Cincinnati to spur economic development and the rejuvenation of Old Town.
  5. Electric aggregation for Village residents.
  6. The hiring of a City Manager/ Village Administrator.
  7. New Village Ordinances that imposes term limits, reinstitutes the elected position of Village Treasurer, and increases the number of Council Members.
  8. A balanced budget without erosion of the Capital Improvement fund.
  9. Renovation of the Municipal Building
  10. A comprehensive tree management program
  11. Continued trash collection in the back.
  12. Revision of the Murray Intersection and support for Columbia Township to improve the Southern gateway to Mariemont.
  13. A revisiting of Mariemont Preservation’s Vision 2021 plan.
  14. The demolition of the Steam Plant with condo development. (Work in progress?)
  15. A better rating for Mariemont in Cincy Magazines’ Best Burbs.
  16. Measures to decrease the polarization of the electorate in Mariemont with a more democratic and participatory Village Government.

Best Regards.

Dick Wendel MD, MBA

Mariemont Rankings fall in Cincy Magazine

Each year Cincy Magazine ranks the top 50 Cincinnati area communities. Mariemont’s ranking this year is number 43 with Indian Hill, Terrace Park and Madeira ranked number one, two, and three. Newtown was #26 and Fairfax #39. Rankings for the past nine years are listed in the column below.

2006 – #3
2007– #8
2008 – #3
2009 – #19
2010 – #12
2011 – #14
2013 – #20
2014 – #28

2015– #43

These rankings may seem arbitrary, but this type of publicity makes one worry about future property values in Mariemont and how our Village Government is functioning. It begs the question, who will step forward with the management skills, leadership and vision to reverse this trend?

The new Mariemont Firetruck

The new fire truck is a firefighter’s dream. This type of fire truck is called a ‘quint’ reflecting four capabilities that include an aerial ladder, pumping capabilities, a tank for water and storage of ground ladders and tools.

The span of the aerial ladder is 107 feet with a 750 pound tip load that easily accommodates the weight of both the firefighters and rescued victims. The truck has a 400 gallon water tank and can pump 1500 gallons of water per minute.

The vehicle accommodates six firefighters and a 1000 foot large diameter supply hose and many smaller hoses. Its state of the art toolbox includes the extricating ‘jaws of life’ that can cut through metal and other barriers to remove trapped accident victims.

Notably, Mariemont’s old fire truck was sold for $8,000 and the purchaser refurbished it for $2,500 and it was placed back into service. I wonder why another community could repair the truck and use it when Mariemont could not?

Thus it begs the question, did Mariemont really need a $750,000 fire truck that ate into the reserves of the Permanent Improvement Fund (one final installment of about $250,000 due this year) as opposed to a standard fire truck? It is also noteworthy that there are two fire departments with ladder trucks within a radius of 3.2 miles and most structures within the Village of Mariemont are just two stories tall. Those that are over two stories have sprinkler systems that meet code.

I know it is comforting to have a fire department with a superior ISO rating of 2, but is this really necessary, and when did we last have a significant fire? Most insurance companies do not base their rates on ISO ratings. Moreover,  Terrace Park residents feel quite safe with an all volunteer fire department (24 volunteers) that annually costs between $130,000 and $150,000 per year to maintain versus Mariemont’s cost of $821,187 in 2013 (exclusive of the $254,000 installment for the fire truck).

– Dick Wendel, MD, MBA

The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future

The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future

The South 75+ acreage was bequeathed to Mariemont in 1976. Historically the acreage was used to grow corn and beans although, at one time in the early 20th Century, it was a nine hole golf course with a club house, the remnants of which still exist. During recent years H. Hafner & Sons have cultivated the acreage without land rent in exchange for disposing of the yard waste and leaves in the Fall. Few Villagers even knew that this acreage was a part of Mariemont until small garden plots were offered to Mariemont residents in recent years and the Eastern Corridor project resurfaced.

During most of my 52 years as a Mariemont resident, the ‘South 80’ was considered just farm acreage in the flood plain adjacent to the train tracks at Clare Junction. In the days when Clare Junction was an active switching yard, the din from the steam engines and coupling of railroad cars was fairly continuous. Plus the smell of smoke or diesel fuel often settled like an early morning fog over the community. There was also an artesian well with a water tap at Clare Junction where anyone could fill containers with the pure Silver Springs water.

When my children were small, the ‘bottoms’ as we called the South 80 was a great place to shoot off bottle rockets, fly model airplanes and skip stones in Whiskey Creek. At that time, unbeknownst to most parents, the kids used to climb through the large pipes running to Whiskey Creek as well as climb up to the top floor of the abandoned steam-power plant along the railroad tracks.

Now let’s fast forward.  Almost overnight, this fertile farm land has become a remarkably prized piece of real-estate. It has morphed into the site of an ancient Indian Village and has allegedly become a lynch pin for Mariemont’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. Most now refer to the South 80 as a Park. Indeed, it has a nice hiking trail for a pleasant walk in the out-of-doors and numerous small garden plots for residents to grow vegetable and flowers. Additionally, a well with a hand pump has been dug for clean but non-potable water for the gardens.

Three major public work projects have catapulted the South 80 into prominence in the media and conscience of Mariemont. These include the Eastern Corridor Project for Route 32, the Oasis Trail Transit for light passenger rail and the Wasson Line Bicycle Trail. The foremost project creating the most pushback from the residents of Mariemont, Newtown, and Madisonville is the Eastern Corridor Project that entails building a “boulevard” extension of Red Bank Road to act as a connector to Route 32 in Newtown. The argument for building this extender is to relieve traffic congestion on Route 50 and the Beechmont Levee and provide a more direct route to Eastgate, Clermont County and beyond. ODOT contends that this boulevard would stimulate economic growth in the region even as the proposed route would bypass the business district in Newtown.

One of the Routes under consideration by ODOT for building a part of the Eastern Corridor carries the Route 32 connector through the South 80. Supposedly, this route is being considered because a more direct extension of Red Bank Road to Route 32 across the Horseshoe Bend in the Little Miami River would be more costly and challenging from an engineering standpoint.

At this juncture, this segment of the Eastern Corridor Project is unfunded even as it has been on the drawing board for over three decades. Furthermore, where is the $100 billion coming from with so many other competing infrastructure needs such as the Bent Spence Bridge? At the end of the day, I think it will be the no build option that wins out and, if the Ohio State Route 32 project ever moves forward, it will not be in our lifetimes.

The following objections were expressed in the Mayor’s Bulletin in early 2013 concerning the rerouting of Route 32 through the South 80.

  1. Destabilization of the Miami Bluff hillside and further loss of the Indian serpent mound earthwork at the top of the Bluff from landslides caused by major excavation at the base of a volatile hillside
  2. Possible loss of National Historic Landmark Designation
  3. Destruction of Native American Archeological Site (Prehistoric village just discovered by University of Cincinnati)
  4. Negative environmental impact on our park and nature trails
  5. Significant reduction in Village of Mariemont parklands
  6. Increases in the amount of air pollution in the Village
  7. Terrible noise pollution
  8. Water pollution to the Little Miami River, which is listed as a National Scenic River and must be protected
  9. Loss of wildlife habitat (In what other Hamilton County community can a short walk from your home lead you to a natural wildlife area and scenic river? Do we want to lose this unique characteristic of our Village?)
  10. Destruction of the track used by our high school Cross-Country Track team
  11. Impact on Concourse resulting in loss of one of the most beautiful valley views in Hamilton County
  12. Major impact on the nearby Prevey Bird Sanctuary
  13. ODOT’s flawed analysis of alternative routes

In the 2013 Mayor’s October Bulletin, he showed how the Eastern Corridor opposition was gaining momentum. The Mayor was appealing to the court of public opinion and listed the groups showing support to preempt any ODOT plans. This opposition list included the Village of Newtown, the Madisonville Community Council, the Village of Terrace Park, Little Miami Incorporated, Sierra Club, the National Trust in Washington, D.C., John Ruthven, Dr. Ken Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Preservation Association, the Mariemont Preservation Foundation, Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel, Greg Hartman and Todd Portune, Laure Quinilvan, Dr. Stanley Hedeen, the National Trust of Historic Places, the Hillside Trust, the Ohio River Way, Heritage Ohio, the Ohio Ornithological Society, the Cincinnati Bird Club, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, State Representative Peter Stautberg, Brad Wenstrup, and the Piqua Shawnee Native American Tribe. To obtain the endorsements from this mind-boggling array of individuals and agencies must have consumed a huge amount of the Mayor’s time. In general, it seems like overkill and an invitation to make ODOT a hostile advisory to the interests of the Village.

In another Bulletin, the Mayor disclosed that he had enlisted the services of an attorney, Matt Fellerhoff and Bob Newman, to represent the Village in this matter and initiated a program to raise money for legal defense and appeals.

To further muddy the waters, ODOT sponsored community poster sessions for the Oasis Trail Transit Project and the Eastern Corridor Project. Even though the whole engineering crews was present at these meetings, the presenters shed little light on the specifics concerning the rerouting of State Route 32 and Light Passenger Rail.

At a recent scheduled ODOT meeting in Fairfax to explain the programs, I attempted to get some answers from Andy Fleugemann, the 8th District Deputy Director of ODOT. Despite intense probing, he provided no specifics and seemed indifferent to the rising tide of negative public opinion. At that meeting there were no less than 6 engineer representatives from ODOT and I came away with the impression that these Projects were insuring long term employment for this cadre of engineers.

There are many questions to answer if the State Route 32 extender were to go through the South 80.

  1. How wide an easement or swath would the road occupy and how many lanes would it have. What assurances do the residents of Mariemont have that this would not be an expressway or Interstate Highway?
  2. Would the highway or boulevard be separate or run parallel to the railroad tracks?
  3. Assuming the Oasis Rail Line and Watson Road bike path became a reality; how would they integrate with the Ohio 32 extender?
  4. How many of the South 80 acres would be consumed and what would be the configuration of those left for development?
  5. How would you insure improved access to the residual acreage for recreational activities?
  6. How much and to what height would the connector need to be elevated to address the flood plain issue and to what degree would this obstruct the view from the Mariemont Concourse?
  7. Would the high tension wire towers need to be moved, relocated or would these utilities be buried?
  8. The traffic would cause what decibel level of background noise and what steps would be taken for noise abatement?
  9. Would the project cause any instability to the Miami Bluff or cause rerouting of the Little Miami River?
  10. How would you safeguard or preserve any antiquities that might be uncovered during construction?
  11. How much money as ‘sweeteners’ to the deal would ODOT give to the Village of Mariemont to build access to the South 80 and create recreational facilities such as ball fields, picnic areas, parking lots, camp grounds, gardening sheds, electric outlets, city water and a fishing dock?
  12. How will ODOT deal with the Mariemont Historic Village issue and manage all the concerns expressed by the residents of Mariemont as well as other effected communities?

None of these questions have been answered to the satisfaction of the vast majority of Mariemont Residents.

When I hike the trail, I see additional opportunities for the Village to consider in the utilization of the South 80 such as:

  1. A couple of baseball diamonds or soccer fields with a parking lot and portable toilets. This would alleviate some of the congestion and improve safety around Dogwood Park in the heat of baseball and soccer season and provide practice fields for the Mariemont School System.
  2. An elevated open air shelter house that can be easily cleaned if flooding occurs and provide shelter for campers, hikers and picnickers.
  3. Make the garden plots more appealing by offering rentable sheds to house farming equipment and provide electric
  4. Improved access and parking

This is just brainstorming to produce food-for-thought for the council committee that oversees the South 80. The minutes of their meetings have been posted on this blog in the past. As the first step the 1.4 mile scenic trail around the South 80 acres below Miami Bluff is a great addition. The community is indebted to the volunteers for the hard work that brought this about.

Missed Opportunities come home to roost

Missed Opportunities come home to roost

Village Residents that follow the political landscape in Mariemont are dismayed that Mariemont was ranked 28th among the suburbs in Greater Cincinnati by Cincy Magazine. Let’s try to sort out why Cincy Magazine might make this assessment. It certainly does not relate to our school system or safety services. Indeed, Mariemont is a safe, walk able community with many amenities that make it an outstanding place in which to live and raise a family.

Perhaps, our high comfort level with the way things are may breed complacency that fosters an acceptance of the status quo. In business school parlance, the residents of Mariemont might be “dumb, fat and happy” so why change or become circumspect as to why Cincy Magazine does not rate us amongst the very best suburbs? Maybe it may relate to the management of Village finances and strategic planning during recent years.

In 2014, the Village posted a General Fund budgetary loss for the first time in many years of $28,652. Also, the Permanent Improvement Fund or Capital Fund notably decreased by $183,272.  Taken by themselves, these losses are fairly modest but they do suggest a downward trend in Village finances.

The financial position of the Village has been and will be impacted by the following factors.

  1. The loss of Ohio State estate taxes and subsidy that historically produced about $250,000 in annual revenues. Indeed, Governor Kasich has balanced the Ohio State budget by cutting back on the funds that the local communities receive from the State.
  2. The missed opportunity to form a JEDZ with Columbia Township which probably would have produced over $200,000 in unfettered annual revenues. This directly led to the formation of a JEDZ between Columbia Township and Fairfax.
  3. The possible winding down of Kellogg operations in the business district that would put $600,000 in revenues at risk (about 18 percent of the total budget).
  4. The continued maintenance of a fully-equipped independent Police, Fire and EMS service without sharing these services with surrounding communities.

With these threats to Village income, what is left to cut to balance the budget? At this time, it appears that the Village is poorly positioned to meet the coming financial crunch without higher taxes.

In retrospect, when the Village was flush with revenues during the past ten years, many strategic initiatives could have been undertaken to enhance the standing of the Village amongst the suburbs in Hamilton County. These might have included:

  1. Give financial support and incentives to rejuvenate the Historic District
  2. Plan and build a parking garage to alleviate the shortage of parking
  3. Renovate the Municipal Building
  4. Develop the South 80 into a recreational destination
  5. Hire a Village Administrator
  6. Work with surrounding communities to save money by sharing services
  7. Put in place a plan for a community center
  8. Use creative financing to foster business development

When I first heard that Mariemont was ranked 28th among the suburbs in Hamilton County, I was incredulous. However, this ranking does point to the fact that the status quo may not be good enough.

Does Village Government cede too much power to the Mayor?

Does the current structure of Village Government cede too much power and control to the Mayor?

Mariemont has always had a strong mayor or mayor-centric form of government which is the norm for small communities. In Mariemont the Mayor is elected for four years without term limits.

Six Village Council members with four year terms are the only counterbalance to the authority of the Mayor.  In January 2014, the two elected official positions of Village Clerk and Village Treasurer were eliminated and replaced with a Mayor appointed ‘Fiscal Officer.’

Typically, two or four Council candidates are nominated at an annual Village Town Meeting in March or April every other year and generally run unopposed. Many prominent residents believe the Village Town Meeting construct is an outmoded and antiquated system that as a ‘default result’ produces weak candidates due to a lack of resident participation. Moreover, councilmen receive nominal compensation of about $1000 per year for their volunteer time and efforts that includes many meetings that deal with mundane matters. It is easy to see why so few Villagers wish to become involved in local government and at the present time, most new recruits for Council are ‘persuaded’ as ‘friends of the Mayor’ to run for Council. It is not surprising that the turnover rate for Village Council members is quite high due to term expiration, resignations and relocation.

Unlike corporate America and larger nonprofit boards, the members of the Village Council are not selected based upon their competitive range of skills, knowledge and abilities and, as a consequence, there is limited diversity and narrow skill sets in council membership. Additionally, there is no formal Village Administrator to handle operations and provide input and feedback to the Mayor and Council.

To understand the dominant power and control equation enjoyed by the Mayor consider the following:

  1. All Departments report directly to the Mayor
  2. The Mayor crafts the agenda for Council Meetings
  3. The Mayor controls council committee appointments
  4. The Mayor restricts committee activities to those he personally assigns
  5. The Mayor unilaterally, without review or approval by Council, produces a monthly Mayor’s Bulletin for distribution to each household in the community
  6. The Mayor is a voting member on the Architectural Review Board
  7. The Mayor is the Chair of the Planning Commission and a voting member
  8. The Mayor maintains an official Village website that gives little transparency to Village Government
  9. The Mayor presides over very perfunctory bi-monthly Council Meetings that last an average of 18 minutes, in which real issues are seldom discussed
  10. The Mayor has a three minute time limit for any Village resident coming before Council.

My suggestions to improve the make-up of Mariemont Village Government include:

  1. Form a Membership or Governance Committee of Council to recruit qualified candidates for Council. The committee could be chaired by the Vice Mayor and comprised of an additional Council member, a Village resident appointed by MPF and a representative from the School Board for a total of 4 members.
  2. Modestly increase the compensation for the Mayor and Council members
  3. Hire an empowered Village administrator that has more than just clerical duties
  4. Reinstate the elected Office of Village Treasurer to act as an independent voice
  5. Increase the number of elected Councilmen to eight with the addition of two at-large-members identified by the Governance Committee
  6. The Mayor should be only an ex-officio member of the Planning and Architectural Review Boards
  7. Term limits: two successive terms for both the Mayor and Council members


Responses to this post from Mariemont Residents:

  1. “Agree with your assessment. There are likely 20 more examples of the lopsided nature of government in Mariemont.”
  2. “The problem stems from the mayor being too power hungry compounded by voter apathy and fear of reprisal. Without new faces, nothing will change.”
  3. “I think we would be better off pursuing term limits and would further support the hiring of a Village Administrator as the remedy for the over control of the Mayor.”
  4. “It should be emphasized that the Code of Ordinances governs the Village, and it specifically states that the Mayor reports to Council, not vice versa.”

Can Mariemont’s chronic shortages of parking be solved?

In the MPF’s Vision 2021, a shortage of parking spots around the Mariemont Square is mentioned many times because it creates an inconvenience and obstacle for visitors going to the Theatre, Quarter, Greaters and the Inn during peak hours. Events in and around the Square also overload parking. One quote from the Vision 2021 Plan states, “While parking changes have been instituted on an as-needed basis, much of it has been reactive and not proactive in solving the underlying parking problems. Parking decks and an increase in on-street parking might curb such issues as the Village aims to attract new businesses and conveniently serve the needs of visitors to the village.” Others suggest, “Create a parking deck behind the cinemas/create garage parking behind The Strand” and “solve the existing parking problem—not enough parking.” For as long as I have lived in Mariemont, inadequate parking has been a chronic problem that has resulted in friction between property owners, businesses, the Mariemont School Board and Village government. It would seem reasonable that a long term strategic plan for Mariemont address this problem in a definitive way.

A parking garage in Mariemont is not a new idea. When the Mariemont Inn was renovated, there was talk and push back about an underground garage.

The parking area behind the Mariemont Theatre currently accommodates approximately 100 cars. I would conjecture that increasing this number to 200 or 250 parking spaces would address Mariemont’s parking needs once and for all. The topography and space behind the Theatre is quite adequate to accommodate an underground parking garage with the upper deck providing the foundation for restoration of the existing storefronts. Parking garages are not cheap and each space typically costs about $20,000 to build. Thus projected costs would run between 4 and 6 million dollars.

The development costs may seem overwhelming, but there are many financial instruments to consider in funding such a project including: TIF financing, municipal bonds, grants, a Community Development Corporation and investment by owners and businesses. To financially succeed, parking fees probably would become a necessity in Mariemont so as to generate funds to service the debt and make up for the lost revenues due to tax abatements. Moreover, with the disappearance of estate tax revenues for the Village, an additional revenue stream may be necessary to balance the Village’s budget in the near future with or without the garage.

A project such as this warrants a feasibility study conducted by outside consultants, qualified local residents and interested developers. If successful, Mariemont would have a real trump card to attract and retain businesses as well as foster gentrification and new business development.

— Dick Wendel, MD, MBA

Should the Village of Mariemont have a Village Administrator?

Should the Village of Mariemont have a Village Administrator?

At the present time, Mariemont has two employees that are called ‘administrators’ but act mainly in a clerical role of answering questions with a job description of “assisting residents with questions or concerns regarding such items as road repairs, drainage problems, trash collection, recyclables, weather-related issues and zoning issues, and serving as an information source for numerous other parties such as real estate agents checking on zoning matters or contractors.”

In adjoining communities, Village Administrators take a much more active role in community affairs and services. For instance, in Fairfax the Village Administrator’s job description is defined as follows:

  • Oversees the Maintenance and Recreation Departments.
  • Works directly with existing and potential businesses in the Village on economic development issues. Business retention and expansion is the main focus of the Village Administrator’s office.
  • Acts as the liaison for the Hamilton County Department of Economic Development’s “Enterprise Zone” program for commercial and industrial businesses.
  • Acts as the Street Commissioner for the Village – all street and sidewalk opening permits must be obtained from the Administrator. The Administrator oversees all road repair work and improvements handled by the maintenance department, or projects that are bid out to a contractor and works directly with the Village Engineer on plan specification and design.
  • Administers employee benefits program including: medical, dental and disability plans.
  • Manages all Workers’ Compensation claims/accounts.
  • Researches and applies for various County, State and Federal grant opportunities for Village capital improvements, infrastructure, and recreational items.
  • Acts as Purchasing Agent for the Village.

I was unable to find any Village, City, or Township in Hamilton County that does not have a City Manager or Chief Administrator.  The only person that Mariemont has to deal with the aforementioned functions is the Mayor, and to some extent the council.

In most municipalities, the elected Mayor presides at ceremonial and council functions, puts together the budget and directly oversees the police and fire departments. The administrator reports to the Mayor and village councils or board of trustees.

Mariemont is an incorporated municipality with about 1,450 households and an annual budget of roughly 3.4 million dollars. As a sizeable entity, it is difficult to imagine that both the burden of administrative and governance functions can be adequately managed by just one person, or a mayor.

Many of us would encourage the Village Council and Mayor to consider hiring a full-time Village Administrator with experience and skills that could smooth out the processes of Village administration. This would free up time for the Council and Mayor to consider longer term strategic initiatives to enhance Mariemont’s exceptionalism with the goal of becoming the best suburb in the Cincinnati area. Many of the recommendations in the Mariemont Preservation Foundation Vision 2021 are truly worth considering as a strategic template for the future.

MPF’s Complete Vision 2021 Plan

MPF’s Vision 2021 Plan: A Remarkable Gem of a Document that garnered a resolution of support from the Village Council in 2009 and was published in 2011, but withered primarily due to resistance from the Mayor. The MPF committee members David Zack, Frank Raeon, Millard Rogers and Don Keyes put in endless hours of work compiling creative and constructive ideas from an exhaustive range of sources.  A link to the full document is available here