Larry Di Giovanni/News With Gambier Village Council members Morgan Giles (left) and Betsy Heer watching, Kenyon College student Ben Nutter is sworn in Monday night as the newest member of Gambier Village Council.

GAMBIER — Dominating the Gambier Village Council agenda Monday evening was a reorganizational meeting to elect new Gambier Village Council officers. It was followed by presentations from a 2020 US Census representative, a College Township Fire Department presentation, and a Gambier Strategic Plan breakdown from MS Consultants.

With much to weigh in on during a meeting that lasted well over two hours, Gambier councilmembers did something that has never happened before: They appointed a Kenyon College student to council. Ben Nutter, 21, a Kenyon junior majoring in religious studies and with a minor in philosophy, was selected to fill the remaining council term of Mayor Leeman Kessler. It is the first time a Kenyon student has served on the council in its history.

Kessler, who ran unopposed for mayor, had served part of one term that was not set to expire until Dec. 31, 2021, about two years hence. Two audience members expressed interest in the unexpired seat, Nutter and another audience member. After Nutter was asked to introduce himself, the other interested person removed herself from consideration.

“I wanted to run for this position because I think it’s important that students have more representation here in the local community, and hopefully as a way of getting students more involved with the community,” said Nutter, who is from Los Angeles and previously worked as a writer and photographer for the Kenyon Collegian newspaper.

Two other new council members elected to four-year terms in November also participated in their first council meeting — Barbara Kakiris and Morgan Giles. Kakiris is Kenyon’s associate director of campus events and summer conferences, while Giles is a local attorney.

The council also selected councilmember Betsy Heer to once again serve as council president, while also voting to give her a seat on the planning and zoning commission. Heer took the opportunity to ask Nutter a few questions before the vote to select him to council was made, followed by Kessler swearing him in. Heer asked Nutter if he would be able to attend all monthly council meetings, because missing three in a year could result in removal from council. Nutter said he would attend all meetings. She also informed him that council members serve on committees such as police and personnel, streets and utilities, and planning and zoning, with council attendance at those meetings important toward advancing council business.
Nutter said he will fulfill his council committee assignments, and plans to remain in Gambier through the summer to fulfill his council obligations. He added that although he is a Kenyon junior and has three semesters left before graduating, he would remain in Gambier the extra time it would take to fulfill his term through the end of 2021.

Councilmember Liz Forman asked Nutter if he has served in Kenyon student government. Nutter said he has not but has developed close ties to the student body through working for the Collegian, and by attending student council meetings involving the housing and dining committees, in order to promote healthy food choices for students.

During the regular village council session, Gambier councilmembers heard three presentations, the first from Travis Resell, a 2020 US Census partnership specialist who resides in Knox County.

“We’re pushing forward to get self-response,” Ressler said, adding they can respond to the nine-question short form using the Internet for the first time.

By March 12, the Census will be reaching out to individuals via mail to complete the 2020 Census and its nine questions, which asks “innocuous” questions such as age, birthday, gender, and whether if one is of Hispanic origin, Ressler said. Respondents will be able to complete the form online using their computer, using their smartphone or by calling in their responses. If those asked to respond do not do so by April, paper forms will be mailed to them, followed in May by Census workers doing “door knocker” work from residence to residence, which was the previous way of gathering Census data.

The Census is critical for establishing reapportionment in Congress, which allots the number of congressional representatives for each state, Ressler said. There is $675 billion that comes back to communities through Census data that examines populations and other demographic information, so it is important that residents complete the Census to receive the amount of federal grant revenue they are eligible for. That federal money often provides funds to help communities build projects ranging from water and wastewater projects to roads.

In 2010, more than 10 million children ages 5 or younger were missed on the Census due to incomplete forms, he said. That cost America’s schools millions of dollars. 2020 Census numbers will be locked in for a period of 10 years so getting data collected, and with correctly filled out forms, is critical to a community’s well being.

A presentation on the creation of a fire district which would unite College Township and the Village of Gambier was provided by College Township Trustee Doug McLarnan. He said the township’s trustees have already voted they are in favor of creating a fire district in partnership with the village, which he said will ensure the long-term status of the College Township Fire Department. New sources of revenue must be identified as currently a 6.25 mil levy, supported by a match of $140,000 per year from Kenyon College, are the revenue sources for the fire department. One mil in Gambier raises just $25,000 from property owners.

Presently, McLarnan said the CTFD is still able to provide around-the-clock fire and EMS service. But that may change in the future without new revenue identified. For the fire district to move forward, Gambier councilmembers would need to pass a resolution in the near future, approving a representative for the village to work with a fellow fire district representative from the township to decide on all matters such as administration and personnel.

Councilmember Betsy Heer told McLarnan that he was “dancing around, demanding that we make this (fire district) happen,” while offering that she would refuse to do so until councilmembers have more information about what the village would be getting itself into. McLarnan said that he appreciated Heer’s critique, offering that both sides need to sit down and agree on a process of creating a fire district before it can happen. It would be followed by a public notice period. Councilmembers took no action on the item.

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Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or larry@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews