LAGRANGE — Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell was again removed from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority board Wednesday after questions were raised about the legality of a secret ballot process used to vote him off the board last week.
The revote was closer than the first vote last week, when the 26-member board voted 17 to 9 to remove McConnell.
On Wednesday, the vote was 13 to 11 to oust McConnell. Two board members were absent.
“People had to own their vote in public, and apparently the secret vote made them more comfortable before,” McConnell said after the meeting. “But I was still voted out.”
In another split vote, the board voted 15 to 8 to name Steve Magyar, McConnell’s fellow township trustee, as Pittsfield Township’s new representative to the Rural Water board. The losing nominee was Jim McConnell, Mark McConnell’s brother.
Rural Water board President Stanley Wares said after the meeting that he thinks the original vote was proper and had been vetted by the board’s attorneys before it was done.
“The idea was to take the politics and intimidation factor out of the vote,” Wares, who voted to remove Mark McConnell, said.
Dale Rundle, who represents Columbia Township on the water board, said he didn’t think the first vote should have been carried out in secret.
“You don’t hold secret ballots at public meetings,” he said. “That’s it. You don’t.”
Tim Smith, an attorney and professor emeritus of journalism at Kent State University, has said that secret ballots are illegal under Ohio open meetings laws, a view backed up by a 2011 opinion written by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Wares said the allegations against McConnell, who was accused of disparaging some of his fellow board members and trying to convince officials in some communities not to reappoint some board members, were discussed in a public meeting before the vote was taken last week.
Although McConnell has denied wrongdoing, Wares said he believes the accusations are true.
Rundle said there was no proof that McConnell had broken any board policies and that’s why he voted against removing him.
“I saw no difference in what the accused was accused of doing and what the accusers were doing,” Rundle said. “They did the same thing in my opinion.”
Huntington Township Trustee Mary Beth Derikito, who voted to keep McConnell on the board, agreed with that assessment.
“I don’t think it was justified. I don’t think Mark McConnell did anything that hasn’t been done by other board members,” Derikito said. “I think the action taken was disgraceful.”
Dora Miller, who represents Rochester Village, voted to remove McConnell from the board, but said after the meeting that she didn’t want to discuss her reasons for doing so because of the possibility of a lawsuit.
Jeff Weir, McConnell’s lawyer, said his client is reviewing his legal options, but hasn’t decided what, if any, action he will take.
Miller also defended a visit she and some other board members made to a Penfield Township trustees meeting on March 6, 2012. Penfield Township officials said Tuesday that the Rural Water contingent was upset that negative comments about Rural Water had appeared in the minutes of a previous trustees meeting that were published in newspapers.
The reason for the visit from Miller and her fellow Rural Water members was to press the township to allow Rural Water to review the minutes in the future before they were published, Penfield Township officials have said.
But Miller said that wasn’t the case. The idea behind the visit was to respond to the criticism.
“We just wanted to state our position,” she said.
Wares said the board has been the subject of unfair negative publicity because of the situation with McConnell.
“This is a bunch of good people who try really hard to give good, potable water to our customers,” he said.
Rundle said that while the fight over McConnell has brought additional scrutiny in some ways it’s deserved.
“It’s sort of a black mark against Rural Water,” he said. “They’ve done too many good things to be tarnished like this.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.