Ohio University’s decision to pay for a portion of the city’s new ladder truck has paved the way for more open communication over campus-city issues.
Leaders of OU and the city of Athens have agreed to form a “Memorandum of Understanding.” Both Mayor Paul Wiehl and OU President Roderick McDavis will appoint staff members to work on the MOU in order to develop established and easy communication between the city and OU.
“Mayor Wiehl and I have agreed to form a combined work group that will develop the MOU,” McDavis wrote in a letter to city council. “I will appoint Ohio University representatives to the work group, and Mayor Wiehl will appoint City of Athens representatives. We will call on the work group to complete its work prior to the end of the calendar year.”
Currently, issues that involve both the city and campus do not have any formal rules or regular meetings to guide how they are resolved. Before and after Halloween and the spring fests, for example, city and campus leaders agree to meet and discuss the events. But these “town-gown” issues do not specifically fall under any one group or person’s jurisdiction.
Becky Watts, chief of staff and special assistant to the president, said the group will be discussing “existing agreements that we have that aren’t formalized yet, and then we’re looking at new agreements we can have that benefit both the university and the community at the same time.”
Because there is no current formal agreement, most relationships that staff members of the university build with city officials dissolve when people leave their positions. Then, when someone else comes to fill that position they have to take the time to build up their own relationships, which can be inefficient.
“Our new director of sustainability is anxious to build on the foundations that her predecessor built, but because some of those were just very relationally built, they weren’t codified, she’s having to start over,” said Watts. “So as people leave we want to be able to not lose any momentum in moving forward.”
Wiehl said future projects covered by the MOU would probably include issues such as fixing the Richland Bridge and terms on buying gas. The city currently uses OU’s gas facilities, and the campus saves because they buy in bulk.
“I expect this memorandum will be consistently updating as issues come up,” said Wiehl.
McDavis and Wiehl are both developing their lists of members for the work group. Wiehl said he is not yet sure when the group will be developed.
“It’ll be a series of discussions with some council members and people in my administration who represent the need at that point in time,” he said.
Some people Wiehl said he would involve are the city Service Safety Director and the Public Works Director. The size of the group is yet to be determined.
There is already a formal MOU between the city of Athens and both the Ohio University Police Department and Athens Police Department. But when it comes to formal memorandums between OU and the city, this is the first of its kind.
“There are always things going on, the question is does anybody keep a score on them and does anybody even actually have a list historically on it,” said Wiehl. “And realize, we’ve been around for 200 years and [OU] has too, and it’s like wow, how do you keep track of that stuff?”
“Anything that builds communication is an improvement,” he concluded.
Talk about developing an MOU originated because of conversations between the city and the university about OU paying a quarter of the cost for a new ladder truck for the city.
OU agreed to pay $50,000 a year for five years towards a new ladder truck for the city of Athens. The truck is said to cost $1.03 million and should be delivered to the city sometime in December, said Wiehl.
Watts said the funds for the ladder truck would not come from student tuition or state funding, but from a real estate source that the university holds.Share