The county I am exploring is Belmont County. It is located in eastern Ohio in America. The county seat of Belmont County is St. Clairsville that has a nickname of “Paradise on the Hill”. The meaning of Belmont is “beautiful mountain” in French. Thus, before digging into the exploration of Belmont County on Google Earth, I was expected to see lots of hills and mountains. This county has a population of 68,673 and the population density is 129 people per square mile. About 93% of the population is White and only 4% is Black. The number of males is only 1% more than the number of females. The median household income is $48,220 and the average household income is $48,712. The mean travel time for people to work is 22.5 minutes and 86% of the people drive alone to work. This demographic information indicates that there is a good balance between male and female in this county. Moreover, this country is White dominated. Black people only take a very small percentage of the population. I assume this county is more rural because most people should drive to work and take more than 22 minutes.
In this county, there are two higher education institutions: Belmont College and Ohio University Eastern Campus. I took a closer look at Belmont College first. From a bird’s eye view of the campus, there are several landmarks next to the college, such as Belmont Career Center, Belmont County 911 Center, Belmont County Sanitary Sewer District, and the like. Highway 70 is located at the south side of the college. When I tried to select a specific location to take a closer look at the campus, the Google Earth showed me that there is no street view date available. This also holds true for the Ohio University Eastern Campus. Thus, I turned to explore the capital city of Belmont County, St. Clairsville. There are several landmarks in this city, including Belmont County Courthouse, St. Clairsville Public library, and so forth. Because both of these landmarks are close to each and located at West Main Street in St. Clairsville. I started to explore this area instead.
The first building I looked at is the courthouse. The building is magnificent, majestic, and gorgeous. It is built with rusticated sandstone blocks and it is almost perfectly symmetrical in designs. It has an ivory tint. I can see more than ten huge clear windows on the front side of the building, allowing a great amount of sunlight shining into. There is also a number, 1886, shown in the middle of the center building. On the east side of the courthouse, there is a red clock showing one/two o’clock in the afternoon and there is an American flag that is flown at half-mast. On its west side, there are many black metallic tables and chairs and there are two women looking for a place to sit. Because both of them wear T-shirts, one is in light blue and the other is in dark blue, and the trees outside the courthouse are very green and brilliant, I assume it is summer or springtime when this image is captured. These two women are both in their middle age and a little overweight. I assume they are hanging out as good friends. There are other retail stores and business companies nearby such as The American Eagle, WesBanco Banking Center, Law Office, Thornburg & Bean, Jeff’s, and so on. Comparing the architectural style of the courthouse with these nearby buildings, these retail stores and business companies are more contemporary, but less solemn.
Walking down the E Main St., I can see there are some people who are walking on the sidewalk. They are walking either in pairs or singular, but most of them are walking in singular. I did not see many young students or people walking or shopping on this street. Most of the pedestrians are middle-aged people. I only see one old man who is sitting leisurely outside a bar/restaurant by himself, enjoying some drinks and looking at his cell phone. He is a middle age guy who wears a white shirt and a pair of dark shorts. There are several water cups on the table; therefore, I assume he has finished talking with his friends. Also, there is maybe a couple who just stepped out of a building. They both wear blue jeans. The lady wears a dark color T-shirt and the male wears a white T-shirt with black sleeves. There are some papers and a navy color jacket in the man’s hand. Seems like they are talking to each other when walking. There are many people driving on the street, but the street is not too busy or crowded. Trucks seem very popular in this area because of lots of trucks parking near the street. Most of them are in white, black, red, or gray. I even saw a gray truck parking outside a barbershop has lots of stones in the trunk. Not very far from the east side of the courthouse, there is a gas station, Marathon. Two trucks are getting gas at this station. Apart from cars, I saw a red motorcycle parking near the street. I did not see any people biking or riding a scooter, but I saw a “Bicycle ONLY” sign and a bicycle lane on the road. Thus, I assume, the main transportation for the citizens of Belmont County includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles. I can tell Belmont is pretty hilly because some of the streets are not straight or flat. There are many uphill and downhill streets and some of the slopes are pretty steep. I also noticed many electrical wires hanging all over the streets near the residential area, which gives this place a more rustic and rural look. Some of the alleys are cracked and a little damaged too.
Community Information Needs
- The search engine I use on my computer is Bing. Right after typing the words Belmont County Ohio, the first link shown on the website is Belmont County, Ohio-Official Site (http://www.belmontcountyohio.org/). This site offers information about the local court system, departments, and elected officials. After clicking on the page, there are four links: Elected Officials, County Courts, County Departments, and Common Pleas Court. The government officials’ contact information is clearly shown on the web page, including their name, job title, office address, and telephone number. Residents’ tax information can be found easily on the official website for the office of auditor of Belmont County, Ohio (http://www.belmontcountyohio.org/auditor/). Andrew L. Sutak is the Deputy Auditor, Administrative Assistant, and Chief Deputy Auditor in the Auditor’s office. The website shows his email address, cell phone numbers, and office numbers. Users also can find information about dog license, online real estate, and annual financial report. Comprehensive annual financial reports from 2007 to 2016 are available for users to download. The official Ohio BMV website offers detailed information about vehicle registration, driver license, locations in different cities and towns, and the like (http://www.bmv.ohio.gov/07.aspx). There are lots of social services in Belmont, such as Belmont County Health Service Inc, Lutheran Social services, Belmont County of Job & Service, etc. These services cover different facets of human life such as jobs, healthcare, housing, etc., which can be beneficial to residents.
- There are some degrees of transparency of the government in Belmont. First, as mentioned above, the official site of Belmont County provides ample information about departments, courts, auditor, officials, recorders, etc. All of this information is made public, such as the annual financial reports. Citizens can obtain and download these documents easily and promptly. Moreover, the information on the website is easy for citizens to read and understand. Thus, I conclude that the government in Belmont is operating in the sunshine.
- Searching for local newspaper, television, and radio stations online is quite challenging. After typing in local newspapers in Belmont in the search engine, the first a few links are news aggregators like Topix. There is no official local newspaper webpage shown on the website. Users only can obtain news from websites such as Topix, The Times Leader, and the like. After searching for a long time, I found the only weekly newspaper in Belmont County, Barnesville Enterprise (http://www.barnesville-enterprise.com/). It covers news, sports, life, obituaries, schools, government, etc., which is high in diversity. This newspaper also has Facebook and Twitter account, allowing readers to participate and cooperate.
- On the official page of the Board of Commissioners (http://belmontcountycommissioners.com/), the time for public meetings of the Board is published online, which allows citizens to have a greater access to the Board of Commissioners. I believe this offers citizens a way to comment on proposed policies and expenditures. Moreover, citizens are also allowed to call the office directly to express their concerns or ask questions. There is also a Facebook page of Belmont County Commissioners (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Belmont-County-Commissioners/161912170505278), providing a portal for citizens to express their concerns and views.
- The Belmont County District Library is one of the well-known public libraries in Belmont County. This library offers a variety of services such as children’s programs, bookmobile, etc. On this official library website, there is a digital library section where users are provided with different apps to read magazines and books on their portable devices. Users also can check out books, magazines, newspapers, etc. in the library.
- There are many social services in Belmont. For instance, Belmont County Department of Family Services St. Clairsville (https://www.financialhelpresources.com/details/belmont_county.html). This is the local county Social Services Department that handles family support social services. Another example is Lutheran Social Services, which mainly focuses on the issues of food, shelter, safety, and healing (http://www.lssnetworkofhope.org/services/). USBusStation.comBelmont County offers abundant information of the bus transit routs and station database in Belmont Ohio (http://www.usbusstation.com/ohio/belmont_county_bus_routes.htm). It is a great website for users to get public transit information of Belmont. Another powerful website is called Josh Mandel Treasurer of Ohio (http://ohiotreasurer.gov/Higher_Ed). It provides information about state salary, teacher salary, local salary, country investment records, and so on. People have easy access to all this information on finance. The website mentioned before, the Board of Commissioners (http://belmontcountycommissioners.com/personnel-policy-manual/), provides users with a Personnel Policy manual. This manual offers comprehensive content related to employment, classification and compensation, employee performance and the like. This information can be very useful for citizens.
- In this county, there are two higher education institutions, two elementary schools and more than five high schools. Taking St. Clairsville High School as an example, on its official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/St-Clairsville-High-School/106022422761667), I can see many kids in this school are posting their school activities such as attending a volleyball game, a soccer game, and so forth. There are some students also commented on the posts, stimulating an interactive and reciprocal communication. Thus, kids in this school definitely are trained to use digital tools to create content and to organize activities. For the second question, I could not find information online to support the statement that kids are trained to question the validity of online material or appreciate the dictates of journalistic integrity.
- According to the statistics published on May 26, 2017 on the website, Connect Ohio (http://connectohio.org/connectednationftp/ohio/County_Maps/County_Broadband3M/Broadband3M_Belmont.pdf), a majority of towns and cities in Belmont County have access to cable broadband, which is the most widely adopted broadband. DSL broadband and fixed wireless broadband are also available for citizens to use. As the picture shows, the areas in yellows are the areas without broadband service, but the majority of the areas do have broadband service. Another website named BROADBANDNOW shows all the service providers in Belmont County (https://broadbandnow.com/Ohio/Belmont). The website not only provides information about different wired providers and fixed wireless providers, but also shows the customer rating, availability, fastest speed, pricing for different MBPS and telephone numbers. Citizens of this county have plenty of choices in terms of service providers. I could not find any information on local and state government promoting the development of and access to a telecommunications infrastructure to citizens.