Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To Dr. Nicolette W. Powe, a public health scientist and associate professor in Youngstown State University’s Department of Graduate Studies in Health and Rehabilitation Services, for earning this year’s highly coveted ATHENA Award from the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber and The Vindicator. Powe was among the 23 exceptional women nominated for the honor that recognizes professional women in the region for their outstanding accomplishments, leadership skills and role-model status. Powe clearly excels in each of those categories. She has worked as an educator and mentor in impacting Mahoning Valley residents’ health and well-being, implementing a program to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities, mentoring young women in higher education for their mental and physical well-being and more.

ORCHID: To President / Librarian Raquel Scheetz of Greenford Community Library for her tireless work in reopening the library after its closure during the COVID-19 pandemic. What was once part of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County network is now nonprofit and better than ever due to programs for seniors and children and for all who care to join in the activities sponsored by Scheetz. This library, which has been greatly missed, is a boon to the community. Kudos to all who made this reopening a reality and special thanks to Scheetz for her boundless energy, imagination and creativity in bolstering the Greenford Public Library with treasures and rich adventures.

ONION: To management of the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown for the out-of-control violence that has wracked the privately operated detention facility this month. In one recent week, three stabbings — one causing critical injuries to an inmate — and one assault have been reported among inmates at the Hubbard Road medium-security prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic. Clearly, greater efforts must be made to increase security and surveillance and reduce violent attacks among its hundreds of state and federal detainees.

ORCHID: To staff and students past and present of the Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown on the vocational school’s 50th anniversary this year. Over those five decades, the school has registered significant growth and success in teaching young people valuable skills in key trades for the workplace. We’re particularly pleased that such growth is continuing at a rapid pace. Sherry Cross, director of adult education at Choffin, reported last week that enrollment in Choffin’s practical nursing program has doubled this school year. Increases also have been seen in other programs such as its surgical technology and dental assistance offerings. We’re confident that momentum will continue to benefit even more students and employers.

ORCHID: To the Ohio General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review for finally approving rules this month to permit the sale of recreational marijuana in the state beginning as early as mid-June. Some in the Legislature have been stalling implementation of state Issue 2, the voter-approved initiative on last November’s ballot to legalize recreational marijuana. The new agreement allows medical marijuana dispensaries already in place throughout the state to also sell recreational cannabis. It also ends the stonewalling toward fulfilling the clear wishes of the majority of the state’s electorate last fall.

ORCHID: To Landon Stokes, a Boardman High School senior, for his success in illustrating a children’s book with creative and artistic flair. Stokes, who will graduate June 2, read the book titled “We Are Producers” to a captive audience of kindergarten students in Boardman earlier this month. The characters that he spent a year drawing talk to each other and encourage self-discovery and personal evolution. With two sequels already in the works, the young and hard-working young man is destined toward a successful artistic career.

ONION: To Youngstown’s Department of Public Works for planning a 3-mile long detour during rehabilitation work on a small bridge along South Avenue. While it is commendable that the bridge will be repaired given that it has been ranked as “structurally deficient” and “poor” by the Federal Highway Administration, nonetheless the excruciatingly long rerouting of vehicular traffic — about 9,100 vehicles daily — over the bridge is bound to aggravate many motorists. The good news is that the project is not planned until next year, giving public works and street department workers plenty of time to explore less lengthy and less frustrating detours.

ORCHID: To the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program for providing grants of about $750,000 each to set up fast-charging stations at two Mahoning Valley locations. These grants from the agency of the U.S. Department of Energy will fund construction and maintenance of stations at Tiffany Square Plaza in Boardman and at a Sheetz gas station and store in North Jackson. Considering a healthy segment of today’s Valley economy rides on the success of EV’s, the growth of fast-charging stations is critical.


Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To Youngstown City Council for tightening its policy this month on reimbursements for employee travel expenses. The previous policy allowed employees to be reimbursed without receipts for expenses $30 or under. The new policy requires expenses for all food, hotel or other purchases. Finance Director Kyle Miasek hit the nail on the head on the value of the new restrictions: “This protects our policy so that taxpayer funds are not used inappropriately.”

ORCHID: To the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments for setting a great example for other groups and organizations by donating $100,000 to the newly created Lake to River Economic District that encompasses Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties. Lake to River is the newest of seven state-supported economic development districts overseen by JobsOhio, the state’s economic development agency. As Guy Coviello, president / CEO of the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber put it, “The $100,000 from Eastgate is huge. It shows the commitment and shows the community is embracing this.” Others should follow ERCG’s commendable lead.

ONION: To hooligans who get their kicks by risking the lives of others by carelessly and irresponsibly firing guns randomly in residential neighborhoods. Just last week, Youngstown police investigated reports of a “large amount of gunfire” outside a South Side home where a large family gathering was taking place shortly after sunset. At least six vehicles near the home were damaged by gunfire, but fortunately none of the bullets penetrated the home and caused injury or worse to the party goers. We hope these wild, wild West hoodlums are apprehended and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

ORCHID: To Christopher Neifer for besting many other fine candidates to be appointed superintendent of Boardman Local Schools last week. Neifer, who currently serves as superintendent of East Palestine schools, brings a bounty of experience to the post in virtually all aspects of public education. He has served as a teacher, principal at elementary and high schools, coach and superintendent. As an added bonus, he also brings a wealth of community pride to the post as he is a longtime member of Boardman Township. We’re confident Neifer will extend the school district’s longstanding tradition of excellence.

ORCHID: Posthumously to Lt. Col. Arnold W. Bokesch, an Austintown native and 1934 graduate of Fitch High School for being inducted last week into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor. Bokesch, an Army veteran, served in both World War II and the Korean War, received the Bronze Star with “V” Device for valor and three Purple Hearts. Bokesch died in 1973 at 57 from the effects of chemical agents, such as Agent Orange. We salute Lt. Bokesch and his proud family as he joined nearly 500 others, including four Fitch High School graduates, inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame since its inception 25 years ago.

ONION: To the thousands of drivers in the Mahoning Valley who continue to play mobile Russian Roulette by routinely driving motor vehicles without wearing seat belts. In Trumbull County, for example, only 82% of drivers regularly use seat belts, compared with the 92% national average, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. There are legal and financial consequences for not wearing a seat belt, but the major incentive of course is that the simple safety device prevents injuries and saves thousands of lives annually in the U.S. We urge the patrol and other law enforcement agencies to crack down aggressively during the current Click It Or Ticket seat belt campaign that runs through June 2.

ORCHID: To the many donors who contributed to the privately funded project to replace outdated and worn seating in the Beeghly Center arena at Youngstown State University. Work began this month on the $2 million project that will replace the majority of the nearly 5,000 seats in the complex by the start of fall semester in August. The more roomy and comfortable seating will reflect well on the quality of the five-decades-old structure and on the generosity of YSU alumni and supporters.


Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To music teachers in the Boardman Local School District for once again this year being honored by placement on the list of “Best Music Education Communities” in the United States. This is the eighth year Boardman’s music education programs have won the honor from the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. Such distinction should be music to the ears and a great source of pride for residents and taxpayers in the large suburban school district.

ONION: To the M. J. Joseph Development Corp. for failing to participate in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against it filed by Youngstown over the company’s long history of failing to live up to its commitment to construct and open a campus for the manufacture and distribution of self-chilling cans for beverage makers. M.J. Joseph was required under the agreement with the city to construct four buildings and create 237 jobs by Aug. 31, 2021. None of that happened. The latest court action involved the city foreclosing on the Chill Can property, and the judge in the case indicated the city soon rightfully can do so. So will end a very chilling and sad chapter in the city’s history of grandiose — but failed — development projects.

ORCHID: To the Youngstown State University softball and men’s track and field teams for capturing Horizon League titles this spring. This is the softball team’s second Horizon championship in the past four years. Leading the way has been senior Sophie Howell who tied the school record for most wins in a season — 22 — and became only the third pitcher in team history to secure 500 strikeouts. The men’s track and field team won its fifth straight title and eighth since 2014 by scoring 294 points while Milwaukee was second with 192 at the recent championship meet at Oakland. The two teams have gone far toward keeping the sheen on Penguin pride shining brighter than ever.

ORCHID: To the more than 100 couples who took part this week in a special Youngstown Diocese ceremony honoring long and happy marriages. Five of those couples were honored for 70 years or more of wedded bliss. Youngstown Bishop David Bonnar told the honorees at Sunday’s event at St. Columba Cathedral that they are living witness to the power of holy matrimony. We congratulate all of the couples and the stellar examples of family bonds and togetherness they all represent.

ORCHID: To the mail carriers from the U.S. Postal Service in the Mahoning Valley taking part in today’s annual Stamp Out Hunger campaign. Stamp Out Hunger has grown into the nation’s largest one-day food drive with 1.82 billion pounds of food collected over its 30-year duration. To participate, customers are asked to fill a bag with healthful, nonperishable food items and place it by their mailbox for mail carriers to pick up and deliver to local food banks. The letter carriers’ generosity reinforces their reputation as tireless, resilient and hands-on public servants.

ORCHID: To Tim Petrey, chief executive of Liberty-based HD Growth Partners and founder of White Glove Payroll, for being honored by Forbes magazine recently among its list of America’s Top 200 CPAs of 2024. Forbes singles out the honorees for their technical expertise, roles in innovation, thought leadership, community service and ethical standards. This award complements many others the honored local CPA has received over the years. We wish him continued success and more kudos as his career advances.

ONION: To AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for illegally sharing customers’ location data without their consent. Each of them sleazily sold customers’ data to third-party data aggregators. We applaud the Federal Communications Commission for coming down hard on the wireless carriers last week by fining them a total of $200 million. Let’s hope that penalty teaches them a lesson or two about respecting customers’ privacy rights.

ORCHID: To the Western Reserve Port Authority for its plans to create and open an aviation training school at the sprawling Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna. The new proposed 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot facility will complement the highly successful Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics branch campus at the airport and will help meet strong demand for pilots across the country. We hope all necessary financing falls into place easily so the project can take off expeditiously.

Orchids and onions

ONION: To the reckless prankster who reported an active shooter at Harding Elementary School in Youngstown last week for causing undue panic and fear among students, teachers and staff at the school. The prank also required unnecessary dispatch of the city police department’s tactical team to scour the school, only to determine the call was a hoax. A spokesman for the school district called the prank “irresponsible and dangerous.” We concur and hope authorities thoroughly investigate it, apprehend the caller and subject him or her to the stiffest penalties possible.

ORCHID: To Willow Miller of Mineral Ridge and Dillen Knowles of Williamsfield for receiving the first construction scholarship among students in Youngstown State University’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program from Dawn Incorporated, a Warren-based construction company. It’s a win-win for both parties. The students benefit by having their full tuition paid through their graduation and a salary at Dawn. The company benefits because it gets two motivated and talented young people as employees whom they hope will stay on once they finish college. This mutually beneficial program is one that other employers in the Valley should duplicate.

ONION: To Youngstown fire Chief Barry Finley for embodying the latest example of Ohio’s misguided and unfair retire-rehire policy. Finley officially retired as fire chief March 15 and was then rehired March 18 by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. Not only does Finley get to double-dip taxpayers by collecting a public salary and a public pension, but he’s also eligible for tens of thousands of additional dollars in unused sick time and other perks. The larger target of this onion’s stench, however, is not Finley but rather the state’s lenient public retirement laws, which our Ohio Legislature has long lacked the cojones to fix.

ORCHID: To the 2,000-plus workers and managers at the sprawling Ultium Cells plant in Lordstown for playing a significant role in the enhanced profitability of General Motors’ electric-vehicle sector. GM CEO Mary Barra, in a letter to shareholders last week on the company’s latest glowing earnings report, used Ultium Cells as an example, writing “the cost of battery cells came down significantly” as the plant “ramped up production.” The plant continues to grow, and as it does we’re confident such kudos will keep coming.

ORCHID: To the anonymous donor who is funding a costly trip to the prestigious Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer for 15 theater arts students at Youngstown State University. Those students will be performing the musical “Here There Be Dragons” at the international gathering of performing artists, according to Adam Day, a lecturer of musical theater at YSU. The unbridled generosity of the donor will no doubt make the experience a lifelong highlight for the students performing as the Steel Penguin Ensemble.

ORCHID: To Linda Macala, retiring director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau, for a job well done over the past 17 years in her post. Macala has overseen the construction of eight new hotels in the county and has spurred growth in visits and tourism. One solid indicator of her success has been the surprising rise in county bed-tax revenue, which increased 14% in 2022 and a whopping 22% in 2023. Her successor who will be announced soon clearly will have some mighty big shoes to fill.

ONION: To homeowners who neglect or refuse to pay property taxes to support their local school districts. In Youngstown, delinquent taxes cost the city school district more than $12 million last year. County Auditor Ralph Meacham recently reported that 23,593 properties — or 37.5% of the 62,883 residential, commercial, industrial and other properties within the district — are delinquent on taxes. Given that the district sees no end in sight to operating budget deficits, each dollar lost through nonpayment hurts educational programming for students. Those who do not have the resources to pay an entire half-year bill should waste no time contacting the county for inclusion on a payment plan.

ORCHID: To the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for cracking down on contraband entering its prisons by opening a sophisticated mail processing center at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. At that center, ODRC staff receives and digitizes all snail mail addressed to inmates at the penitentiary and eight other prisons. It is then loaded into each inmate’s electronic tablet for reading. That way, there is no way contraband — such as illicit drugs — can enter the prison via the U.S. mail. We’re pleased to see that three new mail processing centers soon will open serving 28 ODNR facilities.

ORCHID: To Courtney Kelly of Lowellville, a Youngstown firefighter and fire instructor at Choffin Career and Technical Center, for receiving the Instructor of the Year award at the Ohio Fire Service Hall of Fame and Awards ceremony recently. Judging by Kelly’s resume, she richly deserved the award. As a result of her commitment, the Choffin program’s facilities and resources have expanded, which has translated into increased enrollment, improved graduation rates and successful employment outcomes for her students. Clearly, her passion for her vocation serves as a model for all other firefighters to follow.



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