LAGRANGE — The Rural Lorain County Water Authority board on Wednesday rejected a suggestion by one of their own that they forgo pay for the meeting in which they voted a second time to remove Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell from the water board.
Huntington Township Trustee Mary Beth Derikito suggested the move because she said the board only had to meet a second time last month because it had acted improperly when the board voted 17 to 9 to remove McConnell using a secret ballot May 15.
That drew a comment from board attorney Dennis O’Toole, who insisted that the secret ballots were legal under the board’s bylaws. Public meeting expert Tim Smith has said that secret ballots are illegal under Ohio law, a view supported by an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Rural Water President Stanley Wares also defended the secret ballot process and his decision to have a revote, something he said was done not because the first vote was illegal but to avoid the perception of that something inappropriate had taken place.
“I tried to take the politics out of it,” Wares said. “I tried to take the intimidation out of it.”
The board voted 19 to 5 to pay themselves $85.60 for both the May 15 meeting and a second meeting May 22 in which the board removed McConnell through a roll call vote of 13 to 11 with two members being absent. McConnell and the Pittsfield Township trustees sued the water board Tuesday saying his removal was illegal.
Among those voting in favor of skipping pay for the second meeting was Rochester Township Trustee Amy Szmania.
“The reason I voted the way I did is because I think $85 for a 12-minute meeting is excessive,” she said.
It wasn’t the only clash of the night between Wares and those like Derikito and Szmania, who had voted to keep McConnell on the board.
When Derikito brought up that Wares had skipped the “Audience Recognition” portion of the agenda, he replied that no one had signed up to make a public comment.
He was referring to a section of the Rural Water bylaws that states: “Any person requesting to have business placed upon the agenda shall submit the same to the Secretary-Treasurer at least seventy-two hours prior to the regular scheduled meeting. Any person desiring to address the Board shall first secure the permission of the Presiding Officer, however, preference shall be given to those persons who have requested business to be placed upon the agenda.”
Derikito said up until last month she’s never seen that provision of the bylaws enforced. She said the move troubled her and would likely alienate the public.
“I think when the public is gagged they get awfully unpleasant,” she said.
Wares said after the meeting that given the public scrutiny the Rural Water board is now under, he wanted to follow the bylaws as closely as possible.
Penfield Township Trustee Rick Conrad suggested that the board’s Policy Committee review the bylaws to see if they complied with state law, particularly the section that deals with removing a board member.
Wares immediately moved to table the motion because he said O’Toole was already reviewing the legality of how McConnell was removed as part of Rural Water’s response to the Pittsfield lawsuit.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes, who represents the township, has argued that under the Ohio Revised Code only an appointing authority has the power to remove a water board member.
Matt Dooley, another water board lawyer, has said that’s only one way for a board member to be removed. The Rural Water bylaws allow the board itself to remove a board member or for a water customer to initiate a process that could result in a member’s removal, he said.
Wares said he wants the legal system to decide whether the board had acted properly. Once that happens, he said he hoped it would end the “split board” currently running Rural Water.
“We’ve got to bring the board back together,” he said.
The vote was 16 to 9 in favor of tabling a review of the bylaws.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.