Brown Hears Belmont County Issues

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown believes the concerns of smaller, rural areas such as Belmont County don’t always get the attention they deserve.

That’s why on Friday he presided over a roundtable discussion with Belmont County leaders to hear about the issues that most affect them.

Seated around the table at the Bellaire Public Library were representatives of local education, law enforcement, government entities and business. Brown spoke little but listened as each spoke out on issues.

Richland Township Trustee Greg Bizzarri, a teacher, talked about how today’s educators must focus their curriculum on preparing students for standardized tests.

“As a teacher, I don’t want to teach to a test,” Bizzarri said.

Brown asked him what a better way might be to measure accountability in schools.

“We can test … but it seems like we’re doing nothing but tests,” Bizzarri said. “We could be teaching new material rather than just reviewing information.”

Officer Jeff Gazdik, a school resource officer in the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, said that while overall behavioral problems among students have decreased since he came on the scene, some still exist.

“I kind of serve as a guidance counselor,” he told Brown.

Gazdik, also a member of Belmont County’s homeland security committee, said more money is needed to increase security in the schools, as well as for most county agencies.

While the county initially received $280,000 in the first year for homeland security preparations, that allocation has since dwindled to $80,000. There also are more project requests – such as for securing local water supplies, Gazdik added.

Money could be used to put the floor plans for every county agency on computer disks to be accessed in times of emergency, he said.

Bellaire police Chief Michael Kovalyk noted it does no good for local communities to receive federal funding for which they must raise matching funds. The budgets in cities and villages already are strapped and don’t warrant extra spending, he said.

St. Clairsville Mayor Robert Vincenzo commended the COPS program that enabled him to hire an additional officer – and to place Gazdik within the school system.

“The theory behind the homeland security program was great, but the first responder in a situation is not usually fire or emergency squads, but police officers,” he said. “I feel this has not been addressed fully.”

Brown observed that “it seems that while we are spending a lot on homeland security, this is taking away from daily operations” of police and emergency squads.

“I see it that way,” Vincenzo said.

Also participating in the discussion were Joseph Bukowski, president of Belmont Technical College; Dom DeFelice, owner of DeFelice Brothers Pizza; Bellaire Mayor Vince DiFabrizio; Belmont County Director of Development Sue Douglass; Mead Township Trustee Ed Good; Rich Greelee, interim dean at Ohio University Eastern; Dave Humphreys of Mountaineer Industries and Lion Industries; Tim Johnson, executive director of Belmont Senior Services; Doug Longenette of United Dairy; Cindy Maupin, director of Belmont County Veterans Services; Gary Obloy, director of Belmont County Community Action; Pam Soltis, housing officer for Community Action; Susan Worl of Barnesville Hospital; and the Rev. William Webster of Grace Presbyterian Church.