I had never met an Inspector General before and honestly before the meeting I had to research what the role’s responsibilities included. His office was at least 30 stories up the Rhodes State Office building and outside the windows I could make out the finer details of the LeVeque Tower. Roman fasces and art deco figures set in glazed white terra-cotta tiles lined its walls. It was designed to be a foot taller than the Washington Monument. During my travels around Columbus the building had served as my landmark and it was remarkable to be at the same height as it now.
My meeting with Randy Meyer, Ohio’s Inspector General and Carl Enslen, the Deputy Director was one of a number of high level meetings that I enjoyed during my resource tour which was organized by the International Visitors Council (IVC) of Columbus, Ohio. IVC is one of the partner organizations which coordinate U.S. Department of State exchange programs as part of the Global Ties U.S. network. With the Presidential campaign season in full swing and Ohio’s governor John Kasich in the race, it’s important for Meridian to have a sense of the resources in the capital of a key battleground state. Our politics and election programs often travel to Columbus and we expect 2016 to be no different.
In traveling to Columbus I experienced the city as an international visitor would. I was greeted at the airport by Palmer McNeal, IVC’s Executive Director and his wife Barcy. The couple also welcomed me into their home for the duration of my trip in the same way that a visitor would experience a home stay. IVC prides itself on the number of volunteers that are willing to house and entertain guests. And as any traveler can tell you, a corporate downtown hotel is nothing like staying with a friend. Palmer noted that when visitors write they ask about Palmer and Barcy and they never forget to inquire about Mac their miniature dachshund. The impact of homestays is enduring. During the official Chinese government’s visit in 2012 Xi Jingping visited the White House first and then Muscatine, Iowa to see the family that he had stayed with in 1985.
My meetings in Columbus centered around one of IVC’s strengths: transparency and accountability in local government. In addition to my visit at the Inspector General’s office, I was privileged to meet with the Honorable Edmund Sargus, Presiding Judge of the U.S. District Court of Ohio, State Senator Frank LaRose and State Representative Mike Curtin. During my visit to the Franklin County Board of Elections, I was truly impressed by the integrity and all-encompassing management of the voting process in a key county of a key battleground state. Adam Slane, a dynamic director in the office of U.S. Congressman Steve Stivers taught me about the importance of constituent affairs and its breadth of roles in the representative’s district. My discussions with Andrew Smith and Terry Donelon, two senior staffers from the Ohio State House, helped inform my understanding of state politics. The proposed Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment in particular opened a fascinating window for me into current Ohioan issues. With the 2016 presidential campaign season only getting more intense, I’m sure that international visitors to Columbus will be in for a treat.
During their travels around the US our international visitors also get the chance to partake in cultural activities. While in Columbus I visited The Wilds! which is the largest nature preserve in the United States. Its 12,000 acres is home to thirty kinds of wildlife that are part of the organization’s strategic plan to stem the decline of species. I saw zebra, bison, Bactrian camels, cheetahs, ostriches, takins, rhinos, Vietnamese sika deer and more. Seeing the animals I couldn’t believe I was in Ohio! But the park wasn’t always like this. In its former life it had been a massive coal strip mining facility. Through the efforts and political pressure of common citizens the owner, American Electric Power gifted the property to the state of Ohio. Since then it has become a major regional tourist attraction and educational school stop.
My other cultural activity was the Tecumseh! outdoor drama in Chillicothe, Ohio. The play followed the life of Shawnee leader Tecumseh and the battle for Ohio. The enormous outdoor stage featured a deep water portion in the upstage that the actors crossed riding horses. As the night went on and the battles grew more intense with booming canon fire and rifle shots, a waning gibbous moon rose over the stage in spectacular fashion. In the end I was so impressed I bought a Tecumseh t-shirt.
Although I only spent three days in Columbus, through the jam packed programming and cultural activities I got a sense of the city that would have taken years to develop. For international visitors nothing can compare to coordinated professional exchange programs in getting to know a city, a state and the United States at large.