To paint the wall, or not to paint the wall?

On a slow day, I like to pick up the pace and talk a nice jog around the town. I have learned during these jogs that for such a, “small town,” Athens has many places that I need to discover. Good, bad or ugly.

A few weeks ago, I jogged across Walker Street and noticed a plain, gray, ugly and deteriorating wall that stretched along the sidewalk. What is ironic about this wall is the fact that ARTS/West, an art facility that serves the citizens of Athens as part of the City of Athens’ Arts, Parks and Recreation Department, is located nearby. I look at these walls and I can only think that they beg for some kind of transformation that only Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb can perform on The Today Show.

On Monday night the City and Safety Services Committee listened to proposals on issues ranging from snow removal to an art project. I did not know that the art project in particular would affect the same wall that I came in contact with a few weeks ago.

That wall that is considered an eyesore may get its makeover, or at least a fresh coat of paint.

The Athens City Council listened to a proposal from local artist and Ohio University student Jolena Hansbarger to transform the wall for Athens Beautification Day in the form of a mural.

Hansbarger wants to paint Greek mythological figures such as Poseidon along with multiple constellations in her current plans for the mural.

Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, is a member of the City and Safety Services Committee and supports the proposal.

The Athens City Council discusses matters relating to the ARTS/West mural on February 8th, 2016.
The Athens City Council discusses matters relating to the ARTS/West mural on February 8th, 2016.

“I embrace art outside of an art complex,” said Butler, who also stated that the proposal is privately funded and would not require city money.

The mural would allow residents of Athens to take part in its creation by being the artists themselves and painting the design that Hansbarger put forth in her proposal. Yes, this includes children, and Hansbarger knows that she may need to add some extra hours fixing the potential mistakes those novice painters could make.

“I don’t expect them (children) to paint inside the lines of my design, so I plan on working to fix those problems,” said Hansbarger.

Now children who aspire to be the next Picasso may not be the only problem with the mural, but elderly citizens who see the project as a distraction for the neighbors of the wall brought up objections to the committee.

Multiple residents brought up the potentially controversial subject material, the glow-in-the-dark paint (proposed to be used), and the location of the mural as potential headaches for neighbors.

At the same time, Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, does not think the wall serves the best interests of Athens residents due to its mythological subject matter and the question of ownership of the artwork once the mural is finished. Papai expressed concern that the city would have to use public funding to keep the wall maintained after the mural begins to wear out or the wall experiences damages.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson brings up a point during the Athens City Council meeting on February 8th, 2016
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson brings up a point during the Athens City Council meeting on February 8th, 2016

Councilman Patrick McGee, I-At Large, proposed an alternative to the Walker Street wall for Hansbarger to paint the mural.

“I wish there was a portable wall that can display this art for not just the west side, but the entire city,” said McGee.

McGee thinks that the art would best serve Athens if it travels around the city for all residents to see and not just the residents that live near the permanent wall.

Tensions were never high in the room, and each member of the council treated each other with respect. There was never an instance when I thought the council meeting would turn into an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, which is what I would expect from an Athens City Council meeting. They were talking about art tonight, not war.

I learned a lot about the city I live in during the hour that I sat in on the meeting, making it clear to me that these meetings mean a lot to me. Will I sit in on every meeting from this point on? Probably not, but I will surely make an effort to go to more council meetings, or at least appreciate the work these government figures do for their citizens.

As to the proposal itself, the Committee will revisit the matter next week. Until then, I will still be walking by that ugly hunk of concrete on Walker Street when I take a jog around Athens.

Athens City Council debates artwork and anticipates snow removal situation

A new glow-in-the-dark mural may soon grace Athens’ streets, as discussed at the biweekly Athens City Council committee meeting Monday evening.

The mural would be the work of Jolena Hansbarger, an Ohio University student and west Athens resident. Hansbarger was awarded a grant by OU to fund the project at no cost to the city.

The proposal would be part of an Athens Beautification Day initiative. If it goes as proposed, the community could come together to paint a wall off Walker Street, close to the ARTS/West center.

“Before Athens Beautification Day, I would like to paint all of the outlines so people can come in and paint in between all of the colors,” Hansbarger told the council.

Kent Butler, D-1st ward, supports the initiative because it’s a privately funded project and won’t cost the city of Athens any money.

Hansbarger added that various organizations have showed interest in participating in the painting of the mural, including OU ROTC as well as Alpha Omega Pi Fraternity.

However, the project does not have total support. Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, commented that the issue could be controversial. Papai said just because the project is privately funded does not mean it is of public interest due to the Greek mythology of the mural.

Jennifer Cochran, D-At Large, felt the mural was not a big issue and that it would give the community an additional thing to do during the event other than picking up trash.

“I think folks would like to buy a house where there is vibrant community art,” Cochran said. “I applaud the opportunity to bring it into Athens Beautification Day because it’s so much more of a meaningful project than picking up trash.”

Mayor Steve Patterson added the city could potentially own the mural if it was included in the ordinance. The idea will be formally brought before the council next week.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson listens to speakers during Monday's meeting.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson listens to speakers during Monday’s meeting.

Council also discussed complaints citizens had about snow removal. The council reminded citizens to remove snow from sidewalks in a timely manner, as per city code.

The council also proposed giving elderly residents waivers so they would not be fined if they didn’t remove the snow immediately.

Chris Fahl, D-4th ward, further discussed snow piled up at bus stops and cited that the city should do more to further remove snow on sidewalks.

Service Safety Director Paula Horan-Moseley said the city only has six snow removal trucks and one bulldozer for snow removal, making it hard to clear snow immediately. Mayor Patterson suggested citizens should help one another by helping the elderly remove snow on sidewalks.

“What is the purpose of a city if it’s not to protect its citizens?” asked Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward. “The elderly are the most vulnerable of our citizens.”

Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, cited various other Ohio cities who remove snow from both streets and sidewalks and proposed the city fix the issue, while Patrick McGee, I-At Large, proposed code enforcers place salt down on sidewalks while they are handing out violations.
“I would ask the administration to perhaps have the people issuing citations drop salt on the ice at the time so maybe the danger would be eradicated at that time,” McGee suggested. “I would certainly contribute a dollar to the administration to pay for a bag of salt.

 

City Council’s plan to Replace Athens Community Pool Remains Uncertain

Athens City Council began discussing an ordinance that would bring a new community pool to the city Athens back in 2014. At a meeting Monday, February 8,  one thing has become clear: the waters are uneasy and tensions have risen between members of council about what the best course of action is.  City Council is no closer to a decision today then they were two years ago. It’s time to calm the waters of the  community pool issue and make a decision. Any decision.

Ordinance 0-02-16 was introduced by First Ward Representative Kent Butler, authorizing engineering services for an outdoor municipal swimming pool. The ordinance also allows Athens City Auditor, Kathy Hecht, to borrow a $500,000 bond to do so. No decision was reached Monday.

City Building Athens, Ohio
City Building located in Athens, Ohio.

Council knows they want a new pool for the community, but they don’t know much else at this juncture.

Right now, the project cost remains uncertain, the most basic elements of this project (indoor or outdoor) remain undecided, and the mayor is “praying” that the pool will open by next summer. I think it is safe to say the notion that the new pool with be open and fully functional by summer 2017 is laughable and nothing short of a pipe dream.

With this in mind, I have just one request for City Council , a request for progress. Make decisions, stick to them, and move forward with what will inevitably be a very time consuming, arduous process. Give the people of Athens a new pool, a pool without leaks and rusted pipe pieces.

The biggest doubter of the project is Third Ward Representative Michele Papai, who commented,

“I have to tell you, my confidence in the process has waned over the past year. When I see outdoor pool I wish it would say outdoor aquatic center,” Papai said. “It really doesn’t include a lot of what our community asked for. The bottom line is the fairness to the voters. It’s difficult for me to back this ordinance. The wording of this ordinance isn’t specific enough. I think we put the cart before the horse.”

Both Representative Patrick McGhee and Fourth Ward Representative Christine Fahl echoed the remarks of Papai.

McGhee said, “I see no reason to rush this, I completely agree with everything Councilwoman Papai has said.

Similarly, Councilwoman Fahl said, “I don’t have a lot of confidence. I think the planning process that’s been presented to the public has been very confusing. The plan is too amorphous. The planning committee hasn’t served us well, maybe we haven’t asked enough questions.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson was equally concerned about the project due to the varying financial implication of the decision to construct an outdoor pool versus an indoor pool. Specifically, the financial burden of an indoor pool likely requiring paying employees year-round as opposed to paying employees seasonal wages as is customary with an outdoor swimming pool.

For Patterson, action, whatever it may be, should be taken quickly as the current pool is rapidly draining money. The cost to repair the current pool to keep it open just one more year is at least $150,000.

“We’ve been holding back on the citizenry for something that they’re already paying taxes for,” Patterson said.

Multiple Athens residents also spoke at the meeting, voicing the concern that there is no real plan in place. They are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of transparency on the part of City Council, saying that the numbers for the project just do not add up. They asked the council to come up with a plan and disclose it to the public where they can provide their input.

Many councilmembers mentioned the importance of planning. They said that multi-million dollar projects like this one, which is expected to cost “around” seven million dollars, needs a well thought out plan and a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have much of a plan, they are running out of time, and the project is surrounded by uncertainty. And sadly, if you missed the meeting you will be hard-pressed to find coverage. The Athens City Council Twitter (@CityofAthensOH)  provided sparse coverage. On the bright side, Ohio University’s WOUB has you covered with all the up-to-date coverage.

As a student at Ohio University, and a temporary resident of Athens, the utter confusion and disheveled nature of this pool project is concerning. What is even more concerning though is how little progress has been made week after week, confusion still persists.

At the January 19 meeting Ken Butler said, “This is solely for an outdoor pool, which may be controversial for some,” said Councilman Kent Butler, who presented the ordinance.

Similarly, on the 19th, Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran said, “The public has been led to believe that all options were on the table and now we’re essentially saying “no, this is only for an outdoor pool.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson was quoted at the January 19 meeting having said, “I’m pretty firm, personally, about moving this forward, getting things going,” Patterson said. “We’ve got an aging, failing pool…and I’m praying we can keep it going and be open in the summer, I really am.”

As a resident of Athens who will probably never even swim in the multi-million dollar facility I would just like to see some concrete decisions made. What I mean by that is: I don’t care if the pool is indoor or outdoor, I just want a decision to be made and stuck with. The reality is that there will be supporters and opponents regardless of what type of pool is created. You cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try.

Town and Gown: An Ohio University history

As an historic “college town,” Athens, Ohio, and the university in its midst have had to find ways to collaborate during the past 211 years to ensure both entities thrive. But sometimes, conflict happens. An errant circus. A near riot. An attempted rent increase. These are a few of the disputes that have put town and gown at odds over the years.

Ohio University history started when the Ohio General Assembly passed an act establishing  the college on Feb. 18, 1804. The state granted the land because the city had exceeded 5,000 population  – a requirement before any town could establish a university. The city of Athens became a town in 1801.

“Parents and guardians may rest assured that the morals, as well as the education of youth at this academy, will be particularly and strictly attended to by the principle and trustees,” according to an article in the Ohio Gazette and Virginia Herald on Aug. 11, 1808.

Ohio_University_campus_and_Athens_Ohio_preliminary_plat_1800

This map shows Ohio University’s preliminary plat in 1800. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by Levi Whipple.

In 1806, Jacob Lindley, an active trustee, drew a plan for a two-story brick academy building 24 by 30 feet, constructed on the east side of College Green. By 1808, the brick building was completed. This modest building would establish Ohio University as a college, but more work had to be done to ensure the university would be operational.

Academy_Building_sketch

This sketch shows what the first Academy Building might have looked like. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

Ohio University’s financial struggles in the early 1800s

In the beginning, the college had one main channel of financial support: rent. OU’s lands were granted by the state of Ohio. In 1804, 150 families lived on university-owned land.

Ohio_University_campus_map_18001813

This map shows how Ohio University looked in 1800 to 1813. The image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by William E. Peters.

By 1812, the number of students began to increase (from three to 14). A new building was needed. By 1812, Cutler Hall was built for $17, 806.

Cutler Hall and Fence

This photo is a drawing of Cutler Hall. In the center of the building is the bell tower, which was added in 1820. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

As the student body and college buildings expanded over the years, so did the amount of debt. By the late 1820s, students paid $5 per semester, which brought in around $1,000 yearly. Annual rents from lands were around $2,700, more than double the revenue from tuition. Operational costs were estimated at $3,850 yearly, around $150 more than what OU was taking in. OU was having some financial issues. Regardless, additions continued to be made …

Town and Gown relations today: rowdy weekends

From city roads to enforcing public safety during large event weekends, the Athens City Council and Ohio University often have to work side-by-side.

Athens Councilwoman Christine Fahl said that in general being a council member in Athens is not that different than being a council person in any other city.

“As a council person you are always balancing your decisions, actions and policies between various players and issues,” she wrote in an email.

Still, demographics do play a role. Fahl explained that the city incurs a lot of extra expenses because of the high student population.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city of Athens has a population of around 23,000. Ohio University has a student body of around 22,000.

“Other towns of similar size are not having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to public safety for overtime due to huge parties for weeks in the spring,” she said.

The parties include bashes such as Palmer Fest. The annual block party is hosted every May and has around 8,000 attendees. Incidents such as the near-riot in 2009, where furniture was set on fire, tasked the Athens City police with working overtime. During the 2015 fest, there were 57 arrests, according to The Post.

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This photo shows the police force at Palmer Fest. The photo appeared in an article on The Cleveland Scene in 2012 by Kyle Swenson.

Mike Canterbury, Athens city councilman, said the university and the town often have to come together to work on projects.

Sometimes this cooperation can be difficult when the city and council don’t agree on a project …

Fight over the Green in the mid-1800s

The combination of selling off lands to pay for rising costs and expansion efforts escalated conflict between the town and the college.

On Sept. 16, 1827, OU’s third president, Robert Wilson, recommended to the board of trustees that a fence be built to safeguard what is now called College Green. Wilson believed the dirt from the town was the root of sickness and epidemics that had been affecting the small student body. The fence would keep out the “filth” from the cattle, sheep, and livestock, Wilson argued.

However, there was one major problem: Wilson asked for the removal of College Street to implement this plan. No action was taken. But Wilson was determined to have his fence. On April 15, 1835 — eight years later, Wilson and Rev. Amos Miller attempted to seek a deed from Athens town council relinquishing the Green for the enclosure.

The townspeople appear to have ignored this request.

On June 30, 1835, the circus was in town. Despite Wilson’s warning to keep away from the college campus, a tent was erected in the middle of College Green. This incident led to a lawsuit. Wilson won his case, but he also fueled the already brewing tension between the college and the residents again over the Green, a suit which ended up at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Eventually, a compromise allowed the college to rebuild a fence to cover as much of the area as deemed “necessary” to preserve the sanctity of the college. The fence was built in 1838, 11 years after it was first proposed.

 

Cutler Hall

This photo is a drawing of Cutler Hall in 1848. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

The civil war monument that sits on College Green is a tribute to two battles: the actual Civil War and the one between town and gown. The monument was built by the city, and shows the 94 foot wide strip that used to be considered town commons.

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This photo is of the civil war monument. The photo was taken from waymarketing.com.

Town and gown relations today: Bobcat Lane’s 7-year closure

Bobcat Lane is a road off Richland Avenue running to Baker University Center. The university built the road to improve access to campus for visitors and emergency response vehicles as well as to become a new drop off/pickup site for public transit vehicles, according to Ohio University’s Compass.

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This is Bobcat Lane. The photo is from an article in The Athens Messenger. 

The road was constructed in 2008, but it didn’t open until 2015. Athens city officials expressed safety concerns, according to The Athens Messenger. Council members still have those concerns.

Councilman Canterbury said he was concerned that pedestrians wouldn’t look before crossing the road, and the university should help increase public awareness. Councilwoman Michele Papai also was concerned with pedestrians crossing the road but said the situation was difficult because the college wanted it and a written memorandum of understanding between Mayor Paul Wiehl and University President Roderick McDavis that had already been signed years ago.


Attempted rent increase sparks tensions in the 1840s

In 1843, the college tried to resolve its bad financial situation by reappraising its lands. This reappraisal would mean a rent increase for residents living on college land.

Ohio_University_campus_map_18441910

This map shows what Ohio University looked like in 1844 to 1910. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by William E. Peters.

The issue was brought before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1842. Leaseholders argued that their rental agreements were not subject to re-evaluation.

Tensions reportedly rose to the point where Athens townspeople stoned McGuffey in the streets, but there is no proof that this in fact occurred.

In 1843, the court ruled that OU could not reappraise its lands. Furthermore, a limit was imposed on how much rent OU could collect annually. Today, that limit is $4,500 per year.=

Eventually, the college was able to solve its financial problems and the college became a symbol of Athens. During the Hocking Valley Flood in 1873, the townspeople and the university helped rebuild the lands destroyed by the natural disaster.

1873_Athens_Flood

This photo shows the 1873 flood. The Ridges can be seen in the background. This image was taken from genologytrails.com.

Athens in the 1900s

During World War II, the city placed more than 2,000 student veterans in homes. After the war, the student population increased to the extent that the college could not provide housing for the influx.

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East Green’s Veteran Housing. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

But the main difference between relations in the 1900s is the beginning of active involvement between the city residents and the university in resolving conflicts.

Harry Crewson was OU’s 17th president and prior he was the president of the Athens City Council, elected six times. Crewson was known for resolving conflict between the city and the college.

In September 1971,  OU employees were on strike and near riotous. The mayor of Athens was away at a convention for sister cities in Athens, Greece. Crewson as the acting mayor, had to step in to resolve the conflict.

This recording was used with permission from the Mahn Center Archives oral history tapes by Archivist, Bill Kimok in 1997. The tapes and oral history collection have never been published. Kimok’s article can be found on Ohio University’s Ohio Today. Harry Crewson passed away in 2003.

 Town and gown relations today: memorandums of understanding

“If it weren’t for the university, you wouldn’t have the city,” Councilman Canterbury said.

He talked about the $250,000 pledge that OU gave towards a new fire truck. OU relies on the city’s fire service. The new fire truck will help improve the safety of all residents in Athens.

“Their needs are our needs too,” Canterbury said.

Memorandum-of-Understanding-Appendix-J-1-1

 This image is a copy of the memorandum of understanding signed by Mayor Paul Wiehl and OU President Roderick McDavis. It details the agreement that the college and city work together on accessibility planning for people with disabilities. Taken from Ohio University’s site.

Councilwoman Papai said that in the past 10 years she has seen a lot of improvement in communication between the city and college.

Papai referred to the public meeting in which OU talked about its 2016 Master Plan for expanding the campus.

“In past years it was done in a vacuum,” she explained. The last Master Plan was released in 2006.

Papai also discussed memorandums of understanding between Mayor Wiehl and OU President McDavis. Bobcat Lane and the new fire truck pledge resulted from having memorandums of understanding. Other examples include helping enforce safety procedures for big event weekends like the annual Halloween block party.

“It legitimizes the position by having this agreement,” she said.

All the councilmembers agreed that having the university around provides another source of ideas, and when there is transparency between the two governing bodies (the council and university), the city population as a whole sees the benefit.

OU_VisionOhio_Masterplan_Rendering_550x250 This image shows the 2016 Master Plan. It was taken from OU’s site. 

To trace Ohio University and Athens history, the author used material from Ohio University Mahn Center archives’ building files in addition to two well-known historical books on Ohio University: Betty Hollow’s “Ohio University, 1804-2004: the spirit of a singular place” and Thomas Nathanael Hoover’s “The history of Ohio University.”

What Athens City Council did during the fall semester

For every complaint Ohio University students may have about their rental homes or disrepair of local sidewalks, there’s a local city representative to take it to, though students might not be keenly aware of that fact.

It’s true — someone is making the big decisions around here.

If you’re just catching up with the happening of Athens City Council — which meets every Monday at 7 p.m. in the Athens City Building at 8 E. Washington St. — that’s quite alright. The crew of seven members has been up to a few ordinances and resolutions this past fall semester, and if you feel that it applies to you, you’re always able to catch the next meeting and speak your mind (they’re open to the public.)

Some hubbub surrounding Airbnb

Athens City Council members aren’t the first to air concerns about Airbnb, a popular home-sharing company that boasts 46 rental properties in Athens and thousands nationwide. Residents (and lobbyists, of course) in Washington D.C. and particularly feisty homeowners in New Orleans have decried Airbnb for blurring the lines between hotel and rental service, citing the regulatory concerns and safety hazards typically not bestowed up it. More locally, Abe Alassaf, an Airbnb host in Athens, has recently taken to Athens City Council meetings to speak against a proposed city ordinance that would redefine “bed and breakfast” in the city’s code and possibly place new restrictions on Airbnb users. But, Athens City Planning Commission member Nancy Bain said the ordinance would address issues as simple as installing smoke and carbon dioxide detectors in such homes.

“It sounds like a law enforcement nightmare and an extreme waste of city resources and tax payer money if (city officials) really want to enforce this,” Alassaf said at an Athens City Council meeting in October, according to a Post article. 

Athens City Council members convene for their weekly council meeting where they write, discuss and adopt ordinances into code.
Athens City Council members convene for their weekly council meeting where they write, discuss and adopt ordinances into code. (Patrick Connolly | The Post)

Drilling in Wayne National Park

For the most part, the entirely-democratic city council has long been opposed to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and the placement of injection wells in its jurisdiction.

So, when the federal government announced a few weeks back that, the nearby Wayne National Forest would be considered as a potential site for oil and gas developments. City council members chose to pass a resolution requesting forest management reconsider releasing any of its land to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and condemned oil and gas developments as “dangerous” to nearby aquifers.

However, Jackie Stewart, a spokeswoman for Energy In Depth Ohio, told The Post that such leasing has been going on in the region for years, and that there are more than 1,200 active wells in the Wayne National Forest.

Outside of Athens City Council, the Bureau of Land Management held a public hearing on the matter earlier this month that allegedly became contentious after a U.S. Forest Service Officer shoved an environmental activist, according to a Post report.  There were more than a hundred anti-fracking activists at the hearing, though those in support of oil and gas development in the region at the hearing said activists were becoming verbally aggressive.

Hoverboards aren’t that hip

Some call them hoverboards, others call them contraptions meant to kill their users. At an Athens City Council meeting in early November, the Athens Service Safety Director, Paula Horan-Moseley proposed an explicit ban on “electric personal assistive mobility devices” used for recreational purposes, according to a Post report. Her reason was that the devices can lead to congested walkways, and encourage racing among riders.

Nate Doughty stands on his hoverboard outside of Nelson Dining Hall on Oct. 8. (Michael Swensen | The Post)
Nate Doughty stands on his hoverboard outside of Nelson Dining Hall on Oct. 8. (Michael Swensen | The Post)

To be fair, that probably (totally) happens. The hands-free segways are hard to miss around Athens, as students are quickly taking to the device that encourages laziness and has probably resulted in a few head injuries. Still, if such a ban were to go through, students would be unable to use their hundred-dollar devices on Court Street and elsewhere. That’s a lot of pocket change to throw around on a device you can’t use. It pays to watch the government access channel.

Drama in the city building

For those that haven’t been following along, Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht and Mayor Paul Wiehl have been at odds for several months now. Most recently, that contention was over an ordinance that would affect the vacation accrual of non-union city employees. Hecht even called Wiehl an “ass” at a November city council meeting, according to a Post report. She had said there were sections of the ordinance that directly contradicted with one another.

The spat stems from an incident last year where Hecht granted her employees a non-council approved 2-to-4 percent pay increase.