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Solon police officer praised for efforts to help young man replace stolen bicycle

SOLON, Ohio – Patrolman William DiGiovanni, a Solon police officer since 2002, has earned a reputation over the years for going out of his way to help residents, especially young people.

Several City Council members praised DiGiovanni at the council meeting Monday (July 20) for his efforts to assist a young man whose bicycle was stolen.

The 18-year-old man reported his bicycle stolen to police on July 13. Police Chief Richard Tonelli said DiGiovanni responded to the report and learned that the young man used his bike to get to and from work.

“Being the compassionate person that he is, (DiGiovanni) put something out on social media to see if anyone had a bike they could donate,” Tonelli said in an interview Tuesday (June 21). “As I understand it, his plan was if a bike could not be found to donate, he would purchase the bike himself.”

A resident contacted the police department and expressed an interest in donating a bicycle to the young man, Tonelli said.

“Bill got in touch with the family who wanted to donate the bike, and he picked it up and gave it to the young man, and he was overjoyed,” Tonelli said. “I imagine it might have been a better one than the one that was stolen, but I don’t know that for sure as I didn’t see it.

“It was a feel-good story all around.”

Ward 7 Councilman Bill Russo said he wanted to thank DiGiovanni for “stepping up and doing the right thing.”

“I think this is one of the things we should recognize that our officers do on an ongoing basis,” Russo said. “All of our safety forces make sure that they do what they can to serve our residents, and in certain situations, they go above and beyond.”

Ward 3 Councilman Jeremy Zelwin said he learned there were many offers from residents to donate bicycles so the young man “could get back on his feet.”

“So the whole city really came together to help out the young man,” Zelwin said. “Thank you to the police force and the resident who donated the bicycle.”

Zelwin noted that students in the Solon Schools often refer to DiGiovanni as “Billy D” and that he’s active in the community.

“I think a lot of the students around town know and recognize Billy D,” he said. 

“There are many, many instances like this where our police force does something for residents in the community that goes unacknowledged. I’m sure Officer DiGiovanni doesn’t need the acknowledgement, but I do appreciate everything he’s done.”

Tonelli said DiGiovanni is often involved in community relations functions in the city and “cares about people.”

“Specifically, he cares about children and young people,” he said. “He’s always walking through the schools or playgrounds, and he actively uses social media to keep tabs on them.

“In the past, he has paid out of his own pocket for gifts or ice cream for kids in the neighborhood, and he really values those relationships he’s made with them.”

At the council meeting, Tonelli thanked Mayor Ed Kraus and council members for “the many times that they acknowledge the first responders for their hard work and dedication.”

“That really means a lot to us,” he said. “We have a great group of guys, not just in the police department but in the fire department.”

Sign ordinance under fire

Also at the July 20 meeting, Zelwin made a motion to have the city’s sign ordinance rescinded.

City Law Director Thomas Lobe said an ordinance would have to be drafted in order for council to vote on this matter, so Zelwin asked Clerk of Council Donna Letourneau to prepare such an ordinance.

“It’s unconstitutional for us to enforce the sign ordinance because of the First Amendment,” Zelwin said. “If we have an ordinance on the books that’s not legally enforceable, I think we should have it rescinded.”

In an interview July 21, Zelwin said the sign ordinance was passed around 2017. He noted it permits one “permanent non-commercial opinion sign,” expressing an opinion on any issue, year round.

Additional “temporary non-commercial opinion signs” are permitted for the purpose of promoting any candidate, party, issue levy, referendum or other matter that is eligible to be voted upon in any upcoming election, provided such signage is posted no sooner than 30 days before the election.

In the interview, Zelwin said the ordinance contradicts freedom of political speech, due to its restrictions, and is “usurping residents’ First Amendment rights.”

“Given the current political environment, where national politics is so adversarial, there have been a lot of complaints in the city from residents about political signs,” he said. “They have been calling council members, complaining about signs.

“As this is being talked about, my thought is we have an unenforceable ordinance. Why don’t we rescind it? Why even have it?”

Rescinding the ordinance would give residents more freedom regarding placement of signs and would remove risk from the city’s perspective on prospective lawsuits, Zelwin said.

Ward 1 Councilman Macke Bentley said he’s well aware of the ordinance and the complaints about it. He said he would like council to discuss it before voting on whether to rescind it.

Lobe said he believes having council look at the sign ordinance is “a great thing.”

“Legally, these enforcement matters are almost scary, not just challenging,” he said. “Free speech is given a very high priority as a matter of law.”

Lobe said in recent years, the city of Garfield Heights tried to enforce a political sign ordinance. The matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the city lost its case, and Lobe added, “There has been a consistency of decisions against the cities.”

“I would like to destruct the sign ordinance,” Lobe said. “I’m very skeptical of beginning to draft one that will be legally approved and could withstand a legal challenge, but I think it needs to be done.

“If we really can’t enforce it, it leads to a lot of confusion. I think the first thing you do is you do away with it, and let’s try to build it back up if we can.”

Council is expected to consider a measure to rescind the sign ordinance at its next meeting Aug. 3.

Anti-hate resolution coming

Bentley said he has been working on preparing a “resolution against hate” that he intends to discuss with council at the Aug. 3 meeting.

“I have been contacted about this by several residents, not only in my ward but all over the city,” said Bentley, the city’s lone Black council member. “I’ll bring it to the council and let everyone give their opinion on what they want to do.”

Zelwin told Bentley, “If there’s anything I can do to help you with that, I’m happy to sit down with you and provide any input.”

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