Patriot resident Judy Clifford read from a prepared statement when given the opportunity to address the board. Clifford’s document was directed mainly at school board members Lynn Angell, Robert Cornwell and Ryan Smith. They were the three board members who voted in favor of a resolution that authorized the sale of a parcel of land to the Gallia County Board of Commissioners that could potentially be home to the county’s Green Township sewer facility. The resolution was approved during the school board’s regular meeting held Jan. 14 of this year.
In her written statement, Clifford outlined 12 points in which she believes the board of education, specifically Angell, Cornwell and Smith, “failed to protect the health, safety and welfare of school district children and local residents near Green Elementary and Gallia Academy High School by their vote. There is no justification that would supercede a board’s primary responsibility to children ... including political bailouts, etc.”
In her statement, Clifford outlined the following “failures” of the board:
• failed to “maintain a public trust” with school district residents;
• failed to “adequately communicate or inform citizens of the Gallipolis City School District that the sale of school property was being considered and imminent;”
• failed to consider financial ramifications in relation to the sewer project;
• failed to “protect taxpayer investments” of about $40 million in new school buildings;
• failed to “protect the significant financial gifts” from Holzer Health Systems, Holzer Clinic, the Eastman family and others who have donated private funds;
• failed to “stimulate economic development;”
• failed to “continue a ‘good faith’ verbal agreement with the Harry R. Pitchford family to only use the land sold to the Gallipolis City School District for educational purposes;”
• failed to respect the dead due to the close proximity of the land to the Centenary Cemetery;
• failed to “protect taxpayers’ investments by potentially wasting money previously spent to construct an approved ‘in house’ sewage treatment facility for Green Elementary and Gallia Academy High School;”
• failed to learn from a past mistake when a community swimming pool was built on a landfill site and later had to be abandoned;
• failed to “make the children of the Gallipolis City School District your number one priority;”
“As a result, our community has lost confidence in your ability to govern in their best interest,” Clifford said.
She then proposed a new “3 Rs” for Angell, Cornwell and Smith, saying, “Please resign now if you are unwilling or unable to reacquire the property and save the taxpayers their money that you will spend to defend yourselves. Do the right thing. Rescind (the motion of January 2010), or repurchase (the 3.5 acres given to the county commissioners) or resign!”
Clifford also accused the board of violating Ohio’s open meeting law (“sunshine law”) because the district took only about a month to make the decision to sell the land to the county.
Clifford left after reading her statement and was not present to hear rebuttle from board members.
Angell was the first to respond to Clifford’s statement. She addressed the verbal agreement with the Pitchford family, stating that Harry Pitchford had told the board that he did not want the land to be used for “a subdivision or a golf course.” According to Angell, language in regard to Pitchford’s wishes for use of the land was not included in the sale contract.
Former school board members Dannie Greene, David Walker and David Carmen were in attendance Wednesday, but did not address the board. Greene did say after the meeting that Pitchford’s wish was that the land be used only for educational purposes, but that no language of that nature was included in the written agreement.
Board member J.R. Sauer, who along with Dr. Timothy Kyger voted against the resolution to sell the land to the county, voiced his displeasure with Clifford’s comments.
“It really upsets me that the general public thinks that we as a board would do things that would be counterproductive for the kids; my kids, Ryan’s kids, everyone’s kids,” Sauer said. “That’s what’s disappointing. It’s just a little bit upsetting to hear.”
Sauer said that while he does not support the idea of having a sewer plant adjacent to the schools, the board has made a decision and must move forward. He also denied the allegation that the board violated the state’s “sunshine law.”
Smith made the point that the U.S. EPA has mandated that the county provide some type of sewer service to Green Township, be it in the form of a sewage treatment plant located in the township or by contracting with the City of Gallipolis to offer sewer service, which was discussed during a joint meeting of the city and county commissions on Feb. 4. Another option the county has, Smith said, is extending its Bidwell sewer service.
“Just so everybody’s clear, the sewer in Green is coming regardless of what anybody thinks of this board,” he said. “It became clear to us that that was going to be the case because (the county) has findings and orders (from U.S. EPA) that they have to take care of. The EPA is now willing to fine (the county) if they don’t take care of it. If (EPA) fines (the county), they pay it out of the general fund, which means it costs every taxpayer in this county money to pay for findings and orders that they have. They’ve never been to this point before.”
Smith said, according to a report provided by a consultant for the county, that the county could save about $4 million by connecting to the city’s sewer system. He also stated that the agreement between the school board and the county allowed the county to go forward and apply for grants that could help reduce the cost of the project and potentially save local taxpayer dollars.
Smith, however, took exception to Clifford’s accusation that the board “failed to make the children of the Gallipolis City School District your number one priority.”
“I appreciate the fact that the community is extremely passionate,” he said. “If they weren’t passionate about the kids, we wouldn’t be sitting in this fine facility. That’s what got us here. That’s why we’re here today. But I won’t sit here and take that somebody says I don’t have the kids’ best interests at heart. Three of the most important people in my life are going to Green Elementary and Gallia Academy. Now I hope that resonates with you.
“I wouldn’t put their lives in danger, nor would I any other student in this district if I thought that was the case,” Smith added. “I made my decision. I’m comfortable with my decision. I think we should let it play out and see what happens before everybody jumps the gun and gets completely upset.”
Cornwell also stated his displeasure with Clifford’s statement, saying he was hurt by some of her comments. He said he and the board have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing and researching sewer facilities similar to the one proposed for Green Township.