Hudson group wants to highlight progress, encourage civil discourse

Responds to criticism of municipal leaders

PHIL KEREN
Reporter
Joe Creehan is serving as president of a new citizens group called Hudson Forward Together. The group is working to highlight achievements of city government, promote "smart growth," encourage civil public discourse and to counter the claims made by a separate group that has been critical of city officials. Creehan is pictured at a forum regarding the Downtown Phase II project at Hudson High School in 2019. At that time, he was serving as the leader of Citizens For An Informed Hudson, which supported the Phase II project.

HUDSON — A second citizens group has formed to highlight achievements of city leadership, support smart growth, engage more residents in civil discourse and to counter the messages of another grass-roots organization that has been critical of city officials.

Joe Creehan and Jan Gusich are leading a new, non-partisan organization called Hudson Forward Together, which has launched a website (www.HudsonForwardTogether.org) and a Facebook page.

Hudson Forward Together is a nonprofit organization that is registering as a 501(c)(4) service organization. Creehan, who is serving as Hudson Forward Together’s president, said the group is not affiliated with the city, is not a political action committee, and does not support any candidates running for office.

The group said in its news release that it supports: smart-managed growth to keep Hudson vibrant and viable; positive contributions to the community by city leadership; honest, transparent and civil public discourse; and community engagement in local issues.

“Smart strategic growth is critical for Hudson to remain vibrant and viable,” said Creehan. “We must continue to evolve and develop to meet the growing and changing needs of our community. Hudson will thrive when a larger group of citizens provide input, take part in the decisions, and use civil discourse to discuss differences.”

The group was also established to respond to what its leaders feel is a “negative tone” that is becoming more common in the city, especially related to downtown development, according to Gusich, vice president of Hudson Forward Together.

“It’s understandable to have differences, but the negativity has made the rest of us — the silent majority — very uncomfortable,” Gusich said. “It’s not who we are as a community.”

Noting that 28% of residents voted in the advisory election on the Downtown Phase II project in May 2019, Gusich said, “It is clear to us that community engagement is a priority. A vocal minority should not be the only voices heard.”

Group formed in response to other citizens group

Creehan added the group was also launched to respond to claims made on The Hudson Files website (www.thehudsonfiles.com), which features public documents obtained from the city. The Hudson Files was started by the Hudson Community Coalition, a separate group of residents who said they wanted to show “how disconnected some of those in power at City Hall have become from the wants and needs of the majority of citizens.”

The Hudson Community Coalition includes members of Hudson Environmental Council LLC and Hudson’s Voice LLC. Hudson’s Voice campaigned against the passage of the May 2019 ballot issue pertaining to Downtown Phase II.

Creehan last year led a group called Citizens For An Informed Hudson that supported passage of the Phase II ballot measure.

Creehan said his new group, Hudson Forward Together, believes The Hudson Files website “is making claims that are not true, using emails that have been taken way out of context. I assume they believe their claims, and we acknowledge that the emails are valid, but the documents they post in no way support these claims.”

The Hudson Files’ postings include emails to and from City Council President Bill Wooldredge that Hudson Community Coalition members said “show a pattern of political campaigning using taxpayer-funded city resources, as well as misuse of these resources for personal purposes. The city … has a policy against such activities.”

Mayor Craig Shubert said the posts prompted him to submit a complaint to the auditor of state’s office alleging “unauthorized use of property” by Wooldredge, alleging some documents showed that Wooldredge may have committed “theft in office,” which he said could rise to the level of a “fifth-degree felony.” Wooldredge has said he has not done anything to warrant the state taking action against him. The auditor’s office has not weighed in yet on Shubert’s complaint.

There is a section of Hudson Forward Together’s website (www.HudsonForwardTogether.org) called “Hudson Files — Our Take” in which leaders respond to The Hudson Files’ posted emails, documents, and claims.

On the Wooldredge email issue, Hudson Forward Together includes a link to the city’s technology use policy and said the policy does not prohibit personal use of city email accounts. One sentence from the city’s policy that the website highlighted states: “While employees may make personal use of city technology during working hours, the amount of use is expected to be limited to incidental use or emergency situations.”

Regarding the content of Wooldredge’s emails posted by The Hudson Files, Hudson Forward Together leaders stated on their website: “There is absolutely nothing wrong or unethical about a member of council recruiting a candidate, endorsing candidates, donating to candidates, discussing election results or receiving an email from his church brothers.”

The site also goes into a deeper analysis of the Wooldrege emails publicized by The Hudson Files, as well as email issues involving City Manager Jane Howington and Economic Development Director Jim Stifler.

Gusich said she’s lived in Hudson for more than 30 years and is now retired from Akhia Public Relations (now Akhia Communications), a business that she owned. She said she wrote a letter to the editor in support of Wooldredge (with whom she served on the Hudson Community Foundation Board of Directors) after The Hudson Files raised concerns about Wooldredge’s use of his council email account.

After her letter was printed, Gusich said her phone and email “blew up” with messages from residents asking: “What is with this very aggressive tone, this sort of takedown of public officials? What’s going on and what can we do to get organized in a positive way and bring positive change?”

Gusich said the formation of the group “evolved very organically” with members agreeing that there was “a lot of good that’s going on this city that we never talk about because everything’s so negative.”

To that end, both Creehan and Gusich said their organization will focus on highlighting activities in the city such as more development at Hudson Crossings and the sale of property on Boston Mills Road for $1.1 million.

“There’s some really good things happening in this city,” Creehan stated.

He added city leadership has been criticized by some residents for making “bad spending decisions” on issues such as the recent city hall project, the YDC property, and Velocity Broadband.

“Spending is significantly different than investing,” Creehan said. “When you invest, you do something for a long-term return, and in all those situations, we will get long-term returns on that investment.”

He noted the group is planning to post “in-depth analysis” about those projects, as well as Hudson Crossings and Ellsworth Meadows Golf Course. Creehan said the approach will be to provide a “more full view and a more positive view” of city projects.

Gusich also commented on the financial health of Hudson.

“We happen to be one of the most fiscally sound cities in the state of Ohio,” Gusich added. “ … We have one of the highest reserves in the entire state.”

Creehan added the ultimate goals are to be truthful, respectful, and unifying, and to “show what’s true and what’s really happening.”

“We want to bring people together,” she said.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.