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Speak up, Speak out: Lorain residents given chance to ask city leaders questions

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    Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy Jr., left, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera speak at 19th annual Speak up, Speak out at Lorain City Hall on Saturday.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

  • Speak-Up-Lorain-1-jpg

    Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy, Jr., left, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera speak at 19th annual Speak up, Speak out at Lorain City Hall Jan. 12.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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LORAIN — Following tensions at Lorain Schools’ CEO David Hardy’s Thursday’s town hall meeting, Saturday’s 19th annual Speak Up, Speak Out saw one local leader apologizing for actions at the Thursday meeting.

Speak Up, Speak Out was a chance for community members to ask Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy, Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera questions or voice concerns in their community.

During introductions from each of the forum’s sponsors — the Lorain NAACP, the Lorain County Section of the National Council of Negro Women, and the Lorain Club of The Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, Inc. — E. Jean Wrice, Lorain NAACP president, apologized to Hardy for the “procedures and the attitudes” at the town hall meeting.

Thursday’s town hall ended abruptly, though going roughly half an hour longer than scheduled. Parents, community members and local officials packed Longfellow Middle School’s cafeteria, with some asking pointed questions of the CEO. He was escorted from the meeting by district security after audience members continued trying to ask him questions after he’d ended the session.

“It was very — let’s put it this way — I felt very uncomfortable, as a black person,” Wrice said to Hardy on Saturday afternoon. “Lorain is known as the international city, and all I’m just doing is apologizing, I’m not bringing anything up. But I was really hurt, Lorain is known as the international city and we had our Caucasian friends that (were) really rude … So all I can do is apologize for the black community, and I would like to say this much as the NAACP president because the civil rights are the way — that was the beginning of that behavior and I hope that’s going to be the amen of it.”

Following introductions, Mayor Chase Ritenauer opened his speech thanking those in attendance and forum organizers — while touching on the criticism public officials receive.

“It’s a pleasure to be with you today, but I would say though this as mayor, one thing I’ve learned, especially in the past couple weeks, especially with what’s going on in the community, is that in this seat, I’ve found criticism doesn’t know sex, it doesn’t know age, it doesn’t know race or creed,” he said. “It is your right as residents, as citizens, to let us know what you think in whatever form you decide to do that. And oftentimes for me it’s at the gas station, it’s at the grocery store, it’s out to eat — that is what we do as public officials so you should never feel ashamed of that.”

Hardy did not address Wrice’s comments directly, focusing on Martin Luther King Jr.’s upcoming birthday and teachings.

“I think about the leadership that Martin Luther King provided not only to us but our country,” he said. “He made a statement that I think we all know very, very well, that his hope was one day that we would be judged by the content of our character, rather than the color of our skin. And unfortunately, to echo some of what the mayor was speaking to, unfortunately the national politics and circumstances that we live in today, have polarized us. Have pushed us further to our extremes, rather than toward the center together.”

Lorain Schools

Following introductions from each panelist, moderator Darryl Tucker, managing editor of the Morning Journal, asked audience-submitted questions.

Hardy’s questions ranged from why move the district’s commencement ceremony to the Wolstein Center, to how teachers are being evaluated this year.

While several questions were similar to those asked at Thursday’s town hall, Councilwoman Mary Springowski, D-at large, addressed a concern that hadn’t been brought up save for last Sunday’s newsletter: Is the district looking at “potentially” closing schools deemed to be underperforming?

Hardy replied if schools are underperforming, the district will need to “go a different path,” but would get community input.

“I think right now, are we closing any schools? No. Are we planning on closing any schools? Absolutely not. Our job is to improve them, and we have to find ways to improve them, and so the focus in time and our energy is to figure out what is the best way to provide a high-quality education at the 14 school buildings that we currently have.”

In the January “Titan Touchpoints” newsletter, Hardy stated that school buildings in

danger of closing due to academic performance will be notified of their status by February and have one year to show improvement before the building will be closed.

Later, Tucker read a question from a resident that was critical of Hardy’s leadership, as well as damaging to relationships between parents and teachers.

“Mr. Hardy, I did not write this question, so don’t judge me on it,” Tucker said before reading the note card, “But how can the community pitch in to help schools when so many have lost faith in your leadership?”

Speaking on teacher/parent relationships, Hardy said it is important not to confuse parents who are poor with poor parenting, and that the district needs to separate the two.

As for the community’s perception of his leadership, Hardy said there are conversations currently happening that need to continue, including his “Chief Chats” with teachers, and building relationships with the school board.

“As far as the community and the confidence in my leadership, I think there’s a lot of conversations that are currently happening that need to continue to happen. I think one of those is making sure those that want to talk to us have time to talk to us …

Lorain Police Department

Sgt. Chris Colon gave a presentation on the city’s crime statistics — highlighting how violent and property crimes are both down, but there still is a high instance of discharging weapons in the city. The number of drive-by shootings, where no one was injured but property was damaged, is not included in FBI violent or property crime statistics, but has happened as a result of gang tensions between the south and west sides.

Discharing firearms has “more than doubled” since 2016, Colon said. The last time it was this high was in 2009, following outbreaks of group violence and back-to-back homicides. While the city has reduced violent crime, it’s not for lack of effort from a select few attempting to cause harm, he said.

“They’re just not hitting anybody,” he said.

To combat this, Chief Cel Rivera said the department’s action plan for 2019 is to try to reach out to susceptible youth, roughly those 16-to-25-years-olds who could get caught up in gangs or the “underground economy,” like drug dealing, giving them alternatives and options “so they don’t end up in prison or in a coffin.”

The city

Ritenauer addressed utility rates and blight, as well as a question on the community development department.

Residents have seen an increase in water and sewer rates in part because of regulatory guidelines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

“In some cases we were 80 or 90 years old on water lines — that’s unacceptable when you look at what’s going on in Flint (Michigan) or other areas, heck, even other areas in Ohio that’s just not acceptable. So we needed to focus on our water lines, but also on our sewer lines. From a regulatory standpoint, the federal EPA with regard to our sewer system, the big tunnel that’s out there as well as all the sewer work we need to do, this wasn’t my choice or Council’s choice, this was the federal government saying ‘You will do this, or else.’”

Regarding the Community Development Department, Ritenauer said the city decided to reorganize the department in 2013, tearing it down and rebuilding it after scandal had left it in a position of misused federal funds. Having pled its case to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Columbus, and under Building, Housing and Planning Director Kellie Glenn, he said the city is working to build back the HOME program, while fixing issues dating back to the 1980s and ’90s.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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