Portage County looks back at the year that was 2020

While COVID-19 has dominated news cycles for most of the year, there was plenty of other news happening in Portage County.

As we prepare to end this year, the Record-Courier looks back at some of the top stories across the county in 2020. 

ELECTION 2020

A banner announcing “Vote Here Today” hangs outside the Portage County Board of Elections offices in Ravenna.

The year started with officials elected in 2019 taking office, including recently re-elected mayors Frank Seman in Ravenna and Glenn Broska in Streetsboro. Ravenna had its first new finance director in decades, with recently elected Brian Huff succeeding Kim Cecora in the spring. 

By November, voters turned Portage County red politically, electing a Republican sheriff, giving the GOP a majority on the Board of Commissioners, and electing a Republican to represent Ohio’s 75th District for the first time in decades. The only seats won by Democrats county-wide were races, including the treasurer and county prosecutor, where incumbents were running unopposed.

Although Portage County voters, and voters statewide, voted to reelect President Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden was the winner in the presidential race.

PORTAGE COUNTY JAIL

One of the general population units in the new pod at the Portage County Jail.

A long awaited addition to the Portage County jail finally opened at the end of 2019, and attention turned to the renovation of the old jail in the early part of 2020. That addition, county officials say, came just as the COVID-19 pandemic complicated operations at the jail. As 2020 came to a close, the county was dealing with a virus outbreak at the jail, and the expanded space still has not been fully used.

The jail also made news for an investigation into complaints by 23 inmates alleging abuse.  An investigation by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Portage County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, into complaints of abuse at the Portage County jail between 2012 and 2019 found that none of the complaints, except one, had any merit. 

Sheriff David Doak at the Portage County Justice Center, in Ravenna, will retire early 2021, after being elected in 2008 and sworn into office in 2009.

Also in 2020, Sheriff David Doak announced he wouldn’t seek reelection and would retire when his term is up in January 2021. Bruce Zuchowski was elected to replace him. Doak spent more than a half century in law enforcement — 12 years as sheriff.

50th ANNIVERSARY OF MAY 4, 1970, SHOOTINGS AT KENT STATE

A hooded woman mourns at the May 4 memorial for William Schroeder during a candlelight vigil at Kent State, May 4, 2020.

The commemoration took place virtually, but Kent State University still observed the 50th anniversary of the shootings on the campus on May 4, 1970. However. some events, including a planned appearance by Jane Fonda, were canceled. The milestone was marked with a virtual candlelight vigil, recorded messages and reflections from students wounded in 1970 and a host of other online tributes.

CENSUS 2020

It was time for the United States 2020 Census once again, which determines how and where money ends up in Portage County.

Despite orders to stay home, Portage County residents stood up to be counted, with officials urging them to complete their census forms. A “complete count committee” urged people to fill out their forms, saying the county could lose out on millions in funding based on population if the census got overlooked.

RACIAL PROTESTS

Gabrielle Blake, a Black United Students member at Kent State University, speaks passionately about the injustice of Breonna Taylor's shooting following a march to the Kent Police Department.

Numerous protests took place following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police during his arrest in Minneapolis in May. Protests and marches for justice took place around the country, including in Kent, Ravenna and Garrettsville.

The incident also brought up local questions of racial equity. In Rootstown, a football coach stepped down after his decision to suspend players over racial slurs was overturned. Ravenna set up an Equity and Inclusion Task Force involving parents and staff, and a Black Lives Matter group was being established at Ravenna High School.

STREETSBORO NAMES FIRST FEMALE POLICE CHIEF

Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska swore police Lt. Patricia Wain into the role of chief of police on Monday, September 28. The ceremony was performed during a Streetsboro City Council meeting.

In late September, Streetsboro Police Chief Patricia Wain was officially sworn in to her new role as head of the city’s police department. Wain joined the Streetsboro Police Department in 1995 and is the first female to make rank.

In 2010, she was promoted to sergeant and became a lieutenant in 2015. Wain is a graduate of Kent State University, the Department of Homeland Security Leadership Academy, the Police Executive Leadership College and the FBI National Academy. She replaced Chief Darin Powers who retired in late July.

As Streetsboro welcomed a female police chief, Kent bid farewell to its first. Kent Police Chief Nicholas Shearer assumed his current role in the summer, following the retirement of Chief Michelle Lee. Shearer is one of the department’s youngest chiefs and was hired by the Kent Police Department in 2009.

NEW STREETSBORO FIRE STATION

Streetsboro Fire Chief Robert Reinholz and Mayor Glenn Broska at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Streetsboro Fire Station.

In April, fire department employees watched from the edge of the current Streetsboro Fire Station driveway as crews moved brush from the new fire station site next door. The project will take about a year to complete.

Although construction on the station officially began in late April, a traditional groundbreaking was held in June. The delay was due to restrictions on gatherings implemented because of COVID-19. When the project is completed in April 2021, Streetsboro Fire Chief Robert Reinholz previously assured a grand opening will be held.

In May 2019, Streetsboro citizens approved the levy that is funding the station. Streetsboro City Council has set the building’s gross maximum cost at $5.43 million.

REAL ESTATE BOOM

John and Kelly Penza look over a bedroom with their daughter Harper.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate agents and homeowners selling were among those to see a boom. 

Fueled by low interest rates and scant existing inventory, the area real estate market has heated up.

Average prices in Portage County for October 2020 were $223,880, up from $181,124 in 2019. Prices were up every month in 2020 compared with 2019, according to the MLS data.