August 20, 2014

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Attempt to reinstate ousted water board member falls short

LaGRANGE — An effort to return Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell to the board of the Rural Lorain County Water Authority failed Wednesday after the board voted, 13 to 9, to table the motion.

The vote was the latest round in a battle that has divided the 26-member board and led to McConnell’s removal from the board in May in a controversial secret ballot. A week later, the board held a second vote and narrowly removed McConnell after the legality of the secret vote was questioned.

The continuing fight drew criticism from board member James “Pete” Riley, who represents Sullivan Township. Riley said he wants the board to restore McConnell to put an end to the bad blood that has spilled out of the board and is now impacting Rural Water employees and their families and leading to continuing bad publicity.

“We need a way out of this,” Riley said. “If we done it, we can fix it.”

Riley’s comments came during the debate over Penfield Township Trustee Rick Conrad’s motion to restore McConnell to the board, something board attorney Matt Dooley said couldn’t be done unless Pittsfield Township Trustee Steve Magyar, who replaced McConnell, either resigned or was removed from the board.

Magyar said after the meeting that he didn’t resign because he wants Pittsfield Township’s appeal of McConnell’s ouster to move through the court system so that the removal process can be eliminated.

Both Riley and Conrad voted against McConnell’s removal.

In addition to Pittsfield’s appeal, trustees in Huntington and Rochester townships have voted to join a possible lawsuit against Rural Water over the legality of the bylaws used to remove McConnell. Several other townships are also considering whether to do the same.

Conrad said he fears the same process could be used against him, “because if I say something, I’m the next one out.”

McConnell was removed after allegedly leveling unfounded allegations at a fellow board member, an accusation he denied. Riley said Wednesday that although McConnell presented a witness in his defense, his accusers never brought in anyone to verify what he was accused of saying.

Board President Stanley Wares, who voted to remove McConnell, said he is doing his best to restore unity to the board and get to “the truth.”

Wares relented Wednesday to a request that the Rural Water bylaws be examined by a committee he plans to form and name Conrad to lead by next month. Wares successfully convinced a majority of the board to table a similar suggestion to review the bylaws that Conrad put forward in June.

“I want to get something where we’re moving in a positive direction,” Wares said.

Riley said he is strongly opposed to a part of the bylaws that requires members of the public wishing to speak at meetings to ask to do so 72 hours before meetings. Wares began enforcing that particular rule in June.

Riley also said that key questions about McConnell’s removal have yet to be addressed, including whether the use of the secret ballot was actually illegal. Dooley, who has previously defended the move, said he would conduct a thorough legal review on the use of secret ballots, something that the board also uses when it votes on its officers.

Dooley also convinced Riley to withdraw a motion that would have seen McConnell appointed to the board in addition to Magyar. Dooley said that by law each township is only allowed one member on the Rural Water board.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

  • Don Grantzki

    This is indicative of the kind of back biting you can hope to have when you let members of the “team” run the show and appoint or dismiss at will.
    This entity should have been peopled through the election process by the people who are stuck paying the bill.