September 17, 2014

Elyria
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Water board member ousted

In a secret vote, the Rural Lorain County Water Authority board voted 17 to 9 Wednesday night to remove Pittsfield Township representative Mark McConnell after four other board members brought charges that McConnell had tried to get some members removed from the board.

McConnell, who remains a Pittsfield Township trustee, said afterwards he was proud of his 7½ years of service on the board, which included proposing that longevity payments for board members be eliminated.

The longevity payments, which cost $27,221 for the 26 board members in 2012, were eliminated by the board but are still being paid until board members complete their terms.

McConnell said he also prevailed when he lobbied against the purchase of a $26,000 video screen sign for the water authority for its headquarters on state Route 303. Instead, a replacement sign costing $3,000 to $4,000 was purchased, he said.

“It’s the customers’ and citizens’ money and not the water authority’s money,” McConnell said.

McConnell, who was accompanied by attorney Jeff Weir, said he did not know what his next step might be.

In a second vote, also taken anonymously, the board voted 15 to 10 to appoint Pittsfield trustee Steve Magyar as McConnell’s replacement.

The written charges against Mark McConnell were brought by members Dennis Abraham, Dale McAvena, Gary Burnett and Rol Angersbach.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Abraham, who represents Amherst Township, and Wellington Township representative McAvena read letters they had submitted to the board on April 17 to support their allegations that McConnell had tried to persuade public officials not to reappoint certain members to the board.

The letter from Abraham stated that McConnell lobbied trustees not to re-appoint Angersbach.

Abraham said things started to “heat up” at a March 6 policy committee meeting after Abraham proposed an amendment to authority bylaws to give the board final say on who is appointed to the board, an amendment which has never been brought to a vote.

Mark McConnell opposed the amendment and said it targeted “people that the board does not want on it,” according to Abraham. He said Angersbach of Henrietta Township, the policy committee chair, confronted McConnell and said, “You targeted me for removal from this board.”

Abraham said he questioned McConnell and quoted him as replying, “I felt the board needed some fresh blood on it.”

McAvena read his letter that stated he spoke to Grafton Township trustee Tom Geise, who said Mark McConnell and board member Amy Szamania of Rochester Township approached him and tried to discourage him from reappointing Tony Ferritto to the water authority board.

Mark McConnell also read a letter stating he wanted to continue serving his township’s residents and that he regretted it had reached this stage.

McConnell said allegations he tried to remove any board members “are untrue.”

McConnell also said that his opposition to the longevity policy was “opposed by many of you.”

Before taking the actual vote on McConnell’s dismissal, the 26-member board voted 15 to 11 to keep the vote secret and not disclose how each member had voted.

Several members objected to the secret vote.

Rochester Mayor Kathy Frombaugh also addressed the board, saying she wants to hear from people about whether individuals should be re-appointed to boards or commissions.

“I’m concerned I cannot have people talk to me if they want to about a board member,” Frombaugh said.

Dennis O’Toole, the attorney for the rural water board, said before the meeting that board members could be removed by a majority vote of the board “for any reason or no reason.”

Water users also may present charges to remove board members if they collect signatures on a petition from 10 percent of its 20,500 water users, O’Toole said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.