Baby box debate resurfaces after April 9 deadline

by Judy Stringer

April 16 city council meeting

Just one week after Hudson City Council voted 4-2 (with one abstention) to temporarily table an agreement that would contribute city funds to the purchase and installation of a “baby box” at Akron Children’s Hospital, the issue was front and center again.  

Placed at designated locations, such as fire stations, hospitals and police stations, baby boxes provide a safe way to surrender a newborn without legal consequences. Last fall, council member Nicole Kowalski approached council about adding one to the Hudson Fire Station, as there were no such boxes in Northeast Ohio. Council decided, at the time, that helping to place one at an alternative location would be a better option because the city’s fire station is not manned around the clock. They also discussed the possibility of providing up to $10,000 for such a project.

At the April 9 city council meeting, Kowalski presented a resolution that would commit up to $10,000 in city funds toward a baby box at Akron Children’s Hospital, saying she and Hudson Communications Manager Jody Roberts had reached out to several area hospitals and Akron Children’s was “very receptive to the idea” of having one in its ambulance bay area. She also noted that the overall cost would be roughly $30,000, that two private donors had offered $5,000 each and that the city of Akron was allocating $10,000 for the box.

Mayor Jeffrey Anzevino and most of the council publicly stated, at that April 9 meeting, their support of a baby box installation in the area. Several council members, however, also expressed concerns about the legislation and whether city money should be allocated.

“Private donors, to my understanding, are very welcome to help fund that activity. But, it doesn’t necessarily need to be from the city of Hudson’s budget,” said council member Chris Banweg.

Council member Chris Foster added, “I’m one of the donors. I’m going to make a personal donation to installing this at Akron Children’s Hospital. That doesn’t necessarily mean the city of Hudson is on the hook. That’s a personal commitment for me.”

Council member Karen Heater said she expected the baby box conversation to be “about funding” and not legislation or a specific agreement. She and Banweg both alluded to a speaker on the workshop agenda later that evening who was expected to provide more information about funding these types of projects.   

That speaker, Denise Leipold, was identified as “a representative from Right to Life of Northeast Ohio” on the workshop agenda. During the workshop, Leipold told council she was there to talk about the baby box process, not to represent Right to Life. According to Leipold, who collaborates with the Safe Haven Baby Box nonprofit on fundraising for these placements, the organization prefers not to install baby boxes at busy hospital locations where potential users might be afraid of being seen. She also said Safe Haven typically has a contract with the owner of the installation location before fundraising begins and was unable to confirm a pending contract with Akron Children’s.

It was Heater who first broached the baby box topic at the April 16 meeting, responding to what she called “misinformation” about why council had sidelined its support. She explained that the April 9 council discussion, workshop speaker and further research on her own about Safe Haven convinced her that “the resolution was a little premature.”  

“They have a very specific process for fundraising, and our donation to Akron Children’s goes against these policies,” Heater said.

Banweg later read a letter from Pam Stenzel, development director for Safe Haven. Stenzel’s letter, as read by Banweg, stated that the organization does not “take government funding at a federal, state or local level” and that she was not aware that “any city or state funds were being solicited” for the installation of a baby box at Akron Children’s “even if it were determined that there was a secluded place accessible to a surrendering parent.”

In response, Kowalski asserted the information Leipold shared at the April 9 workshop was not new, as she and Roberts had previously provided council with details about Safe Haven’s process. She also noted that council tabled the baby box legislation before hearing from Leipold.

“I am upset that this project has taken such a negative turn because, for me at least, it has never been about PR, it has never been … I don’t even know what this council is trying to make it out to be,” she said. “It has always simply just been about saving lives.”

Other meeting news

The legislative docket included a motion to waive a hearing before the Ohio Division of Liquor Control related to a permit application for Barrio, which is moving into the former Comida space, and a three-year contract with the union representing Hudson dispatchers. Both measures passed. Under the new contract, dispatchers will see a 4% salary increase in 2024, 3% in 2025 and 2% in 2026. They also will receive a one-time, $1,500 COVID bonus. ∞