May 8, 2020

City Council condemns hate speech and discrimination

Oxford City Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning hate speech and discrimination in the City of Oxford as a result of COVID-19.

Council members met for their regularly scheduled meeting virtually Tuesday, May 5. The first item on the agenda after public participation was the resolution condemning hate speech.

Oxford City Council conducted a virtual meeting from remote locations on Tuesday, May 5. Top row, left to right: Councilor William Snavely, Mayor Mike Smith, City Manager Doug Elliott, Clerk Mary Ann Eaton. Second row, left to right: Councilors Glenn Ellerbe, Jason Bracken, Edna Southard and David Prytherch. Bottom row, left to right: Law Director Chris Conard, Police Chief John Jones and Councilor Chantel Raghu.

“I think this a great resolution, and I thank you all for putting it together,” Mayor Mike Smith said to the council.

Members of the city council expressed concerns at past meetings over reports they heard about xenophobic and racist behavior being directed at Asian members of the community, as a result of COVID-19.

Because the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, many Chinese, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, and people of Asian descent have seen an increase in discriminatory behavior all over the country, according to the official resolution. Along with that, the resolution notes that African-American people are six times more likely to die from COVID-19 and are contracting the virus at higher rates.

“People of color are really taking a hard hit,” council member Chantel Raghu said. “We have the ability to look at the policy we are putting forward and making sure that we are leading with equality, and making sure that we are trying to always push towards progress to make things as fair as possible.”

The resolution not only condemns hate speech, and asks the local public health department as well as the Ohio Department of Health to include anti-racism messaging and outreach to communities. It also calls upon the Ohio Legislature to pass a state senate resolution that would denounce any form of racism, discrimination and stigmatization that occurs as a result of COVID-19. The resolution also calls upon the legislature to pass Senate Bill 98 to establish and fund the Ohio Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs Commission. The resolution will be sent to Gov. Mike DeWine, all members of the Ohio Legislature, the Ohio Department of Health, and the Butler County Board of Health, according to the document.

In other action Tuesday, council authorized City Manager Doug Elliott to enter into an agreement with Energy Harbor LLC for the procurement of electricity generation through the City’s Electric Aggregation Program. According to Elliott, Oxford voters approved the creation of the Electric Aggregation Program in 2014.

The program gives electricity customers in the community the opportunity to buy renewable energy. The program gives the community buying power, Elliott said at the meeting. Community members have three choices for their electric services in the city: Duke Energy (standard service offer), they can select their own service provider and the aggregation program. According to Elliott, the aggregation program is an opt-out program for residents, meaning eligible customers are automatically included unless they choose to opt-out.

AEP is currently the city’s contracted energy provider, and it is responsible for purchasing 100% renewable power equivalent to the city’s aggregation needs, according to Elliott. The city’s contract ends with AEP with the December 2020 billing cycle. The city reached out to five different companies, including AEP, for proposals. Four companies responded.  

“The pricing from Energy Harbor LLC was the lowest and best pricing,” Elliott told the council.

The city approved the resolution unanimously which allows for Elliott to enter into a three-year contract with Energy Harbor LLC for the program.

This change will bring lower rates to residents as the past rate was 5.156 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The new rate with Energy Harbor LLC is 4.71 cents per kWh.

“The annual savings to an electric consumer using 9,000 kWh per year is $40.14 compared to the city’s present renewable rate,” Elliott said. The full report can be found in the City Council Agenda. City council placed a big emphasis on sustainability at its strategic retreat earlier this year, and council member David Prytherch said he felt by maintaining this program, they are taking steps in that direction.

“As scary as the COVID-19 crisis is, our climate challenge is a challenge of greater magnitude both in terms of the planet and human life,” Prytherch said. “This transition (to the aggregate program) was really important, and we need to stick with it.”

On Tuesday, the city also voted to approve eight tree ordinances, amending existing regulations. The ordinances were talked about at length at the city council meeting April 21. The city’s Environmental Commission has been working to make these additions for about three years, according to the report submitted at the last meeting. The ordinances have a goal to incorporate more requirements for the preservation and planting of trees on new major developments as well as any major changes that would be made to an existing site. The ordinances were split into eight pieces because they affect different sections, according to Elliott. A full list of the ordinances can be found on the agenda for this week’s meeting.

Also Tuesday, Elliott addressed concerns brought to him by members of council and members of the community about violations of the state’s guidelines on safe-distancing regarding the coronavirus. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and businesses that reopen are supposed to limit customers to half of the capacity of occupants set by the fire marshal.

According to Elliott, the police made one arrest related to a violation of social distancing orders. If the community has any concerns regarding parties of more than 10 people, or people not following social distancing mandates recommended by the state, they should call the Oxford Police Department’s non-emergency number. If community members have concerns about a business not following public health guidelines, they should reach out to the Butler County General Health District, Police Chief John Jones said.

“While we are all in this together and we’re all trying to protect each other, there is an individual responsibility for your own personal safety,” Jones said. “If you see something that you feel is endangering you then I would suggest leaving that area and not visiting that business and moving on.”

According to Jones, communication has occurred between the city and Miami University about preventing students from violating social distancing orders and communicating with them about the consequences if they do violate the orders.

“They (the university) might be able to address it in a different way than we are,” Jones said.

With the slow opening of the city, city staff were allowed to return to work Monday. However, city council meetings will remain in a virtual format through the end of May. Tuesday’s meeting and other past city council meetings are available to view online.