Topics of discussion at the Tuesday, Feb. 4 meeting of the Ravenswood City Council were the amending of the city charter/ordinance to change terms of elected municipal officials from two to four-years, and addressing the issue of a lease agreement between the city and Mountaineer Integrated Care.
In regards to amending the city charter, several members of the public voiced their concerns either for or against the change in terms from two to four-years.
Jim Ihle, candidate for city council, spoke on his concerns against the change.
“I object to the proposed amendment to the city charter and code ordinances changing terms of office for elective officers from two-years to four-years.” Ihle said. “In May 2016, the people of Ravenswood voted 1,001 to 389 to change the terms of elective office from four to two-years. It will not cost the city any money as the county clerk does it during county elections. If voters like the people in office, they can re-elect them, just as they did in 2018. If voters don’t like the people in office, they are stuck with them for only two years instead of four.”
Connie Dunlap, candidate for mayor, voiced her concerns against the change as well.
“The precedent has already been set for two-year terms by placing this issue on the ballot.” Dunlap said. “I object to the mayor and council voting on this ordinance to change the charter to four-year terms.”
Susan King shared her concerns regarding the change.
“I’m not for a four-year term, I’m for a two-year term,” King said. “Every decision you make effects a future outcome. My opinion right now is it’s just not a good time for a four-year term, maybe a couple of years down the road, but not just yet.”
Brandon Shinn, city council candidate, stated his opinion on why he feels the terms should remain at two-years versus a four-year term.
“I mean 1,001 to 389, that’s almost three to one in favor of two-years,” Shinn said. “It doesn’t cost us any extra money to have the elections every two years because the county does the elections, and if you’re appeasing the will of the voters, the people, you shouldn’t have any problem getting re-elected every two years. It keeps our officials honest, we’ve seen here in the last six months that council has been more on top of things and getting more things done that the people have requested. It didn’t happen so often in the first year they were elected. Just a perspective that I have.”
Erik Summers took a stand to voice his thoughts on the term change.
“I just wanted to go on record that I’m 100 percent for this (four-year term change),” Summers said. “In 2016, I was one of the 16 candidates that threw our names in hat to be elected for city council because the political climate in Ravenswood at that time was so horrible. In my honest opinion I think that’s why the majority of the town voted for the two-years, because of what happened the four years prior to that.”
Summers said after reviewing the budget last month, he saw that the city pays $2,000 each election. He feels the change will save the city money as well as give the government more continuity to be able to do more projects and see them trough to the end.
John McGinley, a member of the Ripley City Council, noted that Ripley has four-year terms. He explained why he felt a four-year term was the better option in his opinion.
“If you’re only elected two years, you’re constantly learning as a council member, as a mayor, as an administration,” McGinley said. “Two years is just enough to get your feet wet. If you’ve got four years, you advance on projects, and you get to know businesses and people better. You don’t come in as an experienced councilman in small towns, you have to learn. In these four years you can learn and if you do a good enough job, it’s up to the citizens to vote you in or out.”
Council Recorder Jared Bloxton said he has served in both two-year and four-year terms and feels that a four-year term is more beneficial to completing projects. He said from his experience a four-year term is the better option.
Mayor Josh Miller provided his insight on the issue.
“I believe in continuity and stability. I believe you should have four years to push your vision,” Miller said. “Everybody has a right to their opinion, but if you want stability and continuity in government, four-year term, I support that across the board even if I’m defeated.”
Councilwoman Dee Scritchfield added that major projects cannot be completed in two years.
“I’ve been in administration at some level for the last 23 years,” Scritchfield said. “You have five-year goals, you don’t have a one-year or two-year goal on any project you’re working on in any level of business. We have some major visions ahead of us. I’m the oldest one sitting on this Council, I do represent the senior citizens, I am one, so I have a major investment in making sure our community moves on, and you can’t do that in two years.”
After hearing the concerns and opinions of the public, as well as those of council members, Mayor Miller along with the rest of the council unanimously voted to adopt the motion to add the change in terms to the ballot. The citizens of Ravenswood will have the final word when the item is voted on during the May election.
In the second public hearing of the meeting; Mountaineer Integrated Care, a development stage company, formed to apply for a permit to grow, process, and dispense medical cannabis, presented the council and all in attendance with a presentation on why they are interested in leasing the old City Hall.
MIC representatives Thomas Perko, Chief Strategy Officer, and Russ Cersosimo, Jr., Director of Marketing, spoke about their success in Pennsylvania and how they would like to bring that to Ravenswood.
“When we approached the City of Ravenswood we talked about three things mainly; job creation, having a local impact, and the component of social responsibility,” Perko said.
According to Perko, state programs that implement medical cannabis often have a reduction in opioid deaths.
“Are there regulations, yes, because the state of West Virginia is going to want to know where each unit of measured medicine is at all times,” Perko said. “Security and diversion are very important parts.”
One thing that attracted MIC to the old City Hall building, was the fact it used to be an old bank and the safes are still there for security.
Shinn questioned Perko on the condition of the building, noting that a reason for moving the to the new City Hall building was due to the amount of work needed to bring the old building up to code.
“A bad building isn’t necessarily a show stopper in our world, it’s also not the finish line,” Perko said.
The amount of work to bring the building to working conditions is far less than what it would cost to build new, according to Perko. This with the amount of parking and location, were things that MIC feels make it a worthwhile investment.
MIC wants the public to know that not everyone will qualify for their services. There are certain conditions that a person must meet to be able to obtain a medical card for medicinal marijuana, such as cancer, epilepsy, or sickle cell anemia. (A full list of qualifying conditions for West Virginia may be found on leafly.com.)
Perko said a dispensary looks like a pharmacy but better, he describes them as “pretty nice places.”
At this point, they are in the first steps of the process. MIC has until Feb. 18 to submit their application for a permit. Perko said their objective is to be open for business and able to sell medical cannabis by the first quarter of 2021.
From an economic standpoint, MIC predicts that in the first three years of operation, a dispensary could bring at least 25 jobs to the area. He noted that with the size of the building, they would like to utilize the second floor for education and outreach.
Forms of cannabis that would be dispensed to qualifying candidates would be capsules, topicals, creams, tinctures, and concentrates. Cersosimo added that smokable flowers would not be available, noting nothing smokable would be dispensed.
“It’s not what you think,” Cersosimo said. “Lives are being saved.”
“In the news recently, highly concentrated liquids have been dangerous and deaths have been associated with these types of liquids, how can you be sure this wouldn’t happen?” Shinn asked.
“The deaths are 100 percent attributed to illegally made components, specifically vitamin E acetate,” MIC question and answer director Ron Fazio said. “Vitamin E acetate is very poisonous.”
Fazio said all of their products would have to be run through very thorough lab testing to insure the pure quality. They are required to follow state regulations.
Jackson County Sheriff Tony Boggs questioned the tracking process for the medication once dispensed.
Perko said that the patient would come in with their medical card and identifying information. They would receive their prescription which would have a barcode and dispensary information on the packaging. Once that leaves the facility, and it is removed from the package, that is when it becomes harder to track, if at all possible.
“I understand the analogy, if someone sold marijuana to a 17-year-old kid, I would expect the same repercussions as if someone gave them alcohol,” Miller said. “ We can go down all the rabbit holes we want, but at the end of the day, it’s personal responsibility.”
Misty Adkins with Hope House voiced her concerns for jobs being created locally.
Perko said that they are committed to hiring in Ravenswood and the local area to provide jobs for the local community.
“I’ve been through DEA classes and I agree that there are a lot of benefits to this,” Ravenswood Chief of Police Lance Morrison said. “The concern I have is this. We have seized THC in the past, not in a pill or a cream, but a clear glass tube. My concern is that we are going to draw people to our community from the outside, that are going to come in with cards they have received, and sell it to people on our streets. This marijuana THC isn’t the marijuana that you smoked 60 years ago, some of it has a very high percentage of THC. If you take that high percentage of THC and put it in pill form, and it’s sold out here on the street and our kids are walking around with it thinking it’s marijuana, we’ve got a problem. My concern is for the safety of our community and our kids.”
Miller reiterated that it all comes down to personal responsibility.
“This is an opportunity for Ravenswood, this is a legal business,” Miller said.
“Are we retail only or would a processing piece be included with this locally?” Renee DeLong questioned.
Perko said at this time they are here to discuss the lease for the dispensary. In the future, they are looking toward adding a cultivation facility in the area as well.
Miller noted that the lease agreement would bring in around $46,000 per year to the city.
Following a lengthy discussion on the objectives of MIC, the mayor and council voted to approve the lease agreement with the City of Ravenswood and MIC. The lease is contingent on the approval of the permit for MIC to begin operations. Also stated in the lease is the condition of the building, outlining that MIC will be responsible for the renovations and upgrades needed to operate their business.
Council also approved a lease agreement between the City of Ravenswood and Robert J. Winebrenner at 200 Walnut Street for additional parking to be used by MIC, if their permit for the dispensary is approved.
The next scheduled meeting of the Ravenswood City Council will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 1 Wall Street, third floor.