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Court Security Restored; Bennett Keeps Staff, Public Informed

August 26, 2012
Al Molnar , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

When Eastern Division Court Judge John Vavra rapped his gavel to open Thursday's session at the new courthouse in Bellaire, there was an armed man standing right next to him.

This time, however, it was a Belmont County sheriff's deputy assigned to provide security in the courtroom where just two days earlier a defendant appeared in court armed with a deadly weapon.

Belmont County officials reacted quickly to post a security guard in the courtroom after the incident. During Tuesday's court session, a defendant facing three misdemeanor charges walked into Judge Vavra's court using a walking stick to which were attached a knife about 13 inches in length and also a set of brass knuckles.

"Actually, there had been a sheriff's deputy stationed in the courtroom at all times," Judge Vavra told me the day after the incident. But he said the deputy got sick and was away from the courtroom. That happened a couple of months ago and Vavra said he had no idea why the deputy did not return for the court duty.

I ran into the judge as he entered the Belmont County courthouse on Thursday afternoon and asked him about the situation. He said he had discussed the matter with county officials and had renewed his request for a deputy to be assigned to the court.

He got immediate action. "We had security in court this (Thursday) morning."

Two hundred and sixty consecutive months without a miss and still counting ...

With widespread activity carried out by his road and bridge crews over a 534-square-mile area, Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett makes it a regular practice to keep each of his employees up to date on what their fellow workers are doing.

Twenty-one years ago "Fred's Desk" came into existence - the featured page of a monthly publication in which Bennett gives details of the various improvements that have been completed or are in the process of being completed, with a description of the work involved.

And he makes it a point in each case to spell out whether the improvement involves expenditure of federal, state or local funds. His staff of 41 employees are spread over 308 miles of county roads and 281 bridges that require constant attention.

"I started writing it in 1991," Bennett said. "It was a way to let the people and the all the employees know what is going on with this office." There were inquisitive people always wanting to know what the workers are doing. "This was a way to let everyone what is going on."

"Fred's Desk" is establishing an envious record with each monthly publication. "It's been published 260 consecutive times without missing a month."

Besides providing the nuts and bolts description of a county road repair job, a road slip being corrected or a bridge being reconstructed, Bennett makes it a point in each issue to provide some personal information on each and every employee that creates a closer-knit staff.

To wrap up the monthly issue, he strays into more personal items - listing those employees who will be celebrating wedding anniversaries the following month including the dates, those who will be observing their employment anniversaries along with information on how long they have been on the job, and also birthdays. If anyone receives a special award or is honored in some way, information on them appears inside and most times with a photo.

The newsletter is usually six pages but has at times been eight or even 10 pages. Included inside the publication are photos of road and bridge projects where the employees are at work as well tidbits of general interest.

Just how many people receive the publication varies. "I send it out to all of the other county engineers in the state," Bennett noted. That would account for 88 copies. There are a few county residents who get it by mail but most of the subscribers are those in the county courthouse who go to the engineer's office around the end of the month to pick up a copy. "Anyone can come in and get one," he added. "We usually print about 300 but we can print more if there is a demand."

Bennett is the ranking member of Belmont County's elected officials. He is completing his 36th year in office, having served as engineer since 1976 when he was elevated to the top spot on July 1, 1976 upon the retirement of former engineer Richard Boccabella of Bellaire. He has been unopposed in elections since that time and is assured of another four-year term since he is unopposed again in the Nov. 6 general election.

Recalling his 10 years service with the Ohio Department of Transportation as well as a brief stint with the Illinois DOT after his graduation from college, Bennett leaned back in his cushioned desk chair and smiled broadly as he uttered, "I've been out of college 50 years."

It didn't take long after it was licensed in 1971 as a solid waste landfill that the Buckeye Reclamation Landfill located four miles southwest of St. Clairsville was in the news almost daily because of clandestine dumping of industrial sludge, solid wastes, liquids and other illegal substances that eventually turned it into a nationally recognized superfund site requiring millions of dollars to clean it up.

One of the most visible problems was the leachate emanating from the landfill seeping into Kings Creek which runs through Neffs and empties into Little McMahon Creek. Residents of Neffs were constantly calling attention to the putrid smelling waste seeping from the dump into their community creating a constant health hazard.

On Wednesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting from 4-6 p.m. at the municipal building in St. Clairsville on the status of the 10-acre superfund site where extensive cleanup has taken over the past 20 years to cleanse both surface and groundwater coming off the landfill.

EPA personnel as well as state and local environmental experts and health officials, will be there for the open house type session to answer any questions from local residents. There will be no formal presentation, just a one-on-one with residents.

The first attempt at having a special event where food and adult beverages are served at St. Clairsville's new amphitheater at the same time as a concert is being held apparently turned out to be a successful venture.

On Tuesday the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce held a pre-concert VIP event at the amphitheater adjacent to the city's recreation center and chamber president Jennifer Woollard said it was a success. "About 100 people attended and everyone had a good time," Woollard exclaimed.

The event was held in a tent separate from where the concertgoers gathered to enjoy the musical program. "We're planning on having a similar event again next year," Woollard added. Proceeds from the special event went to the city's recreation department.

Most people become so attached to their pets they become part of the family - which leads to crushing heartache should the animal suddenly disappear. That's what happened with a Belmont County couple last Sunday. Given an opportunity to go outdoors, their old cat wandered off to the nearby Polish National Alliance Club in Maynard where an afternoon polka dance was being held.

When the cat failed to come home, the couple checked with the club managers and learned a little girl at the dance with her parents played with the cat and when they left the dance early, the cat followed them out. The managers told them the couple was complete strangers to them. The cat owners, who can be reached at 695-4857, had one simple request: "We would like to have her back."

Al Molnar can be reached via email at:

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