April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Second challenge filed in trustee’s removal from water board

ELYRIA — Pittsfield Township trustees have filed a second challenge to the removal of Trustee Mark McConnell from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority board.

The complaint, filed Thursday in county Common Pleas Court, accuses the water board of overstepping its legal authority when it removed McConnell over allegations he had disparaged a fellow board member and lobbied to convince other appointing authorities to change who their Rural Water representatives are.

An administrative appeal was filed last month and is still pending in court.

Under the law, Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes wrote Thursday, the only entity that can remove a Rural Water board member is the political entity that appointed him, which, in McConnell’s case, is Pittsfield Township.

Attorneys for Rural Water have argued that the water district’s bylaws allow that board members also may be removed by the board itself or through a petition that would need to be filed by a Water Authority customer.

Innes also argued that McConnell had every right to try to change the makeup of the Rural Water board when he felt the board was acting contrary to the interests of Pittsfield Township.

He also has the right to free speech under both the Ohio and U.S. constitutions, Innes wrote.

“You can’t have a group of appointed people suspend the U.S. Constitution with a bylaw,” Innes said.

Rural Water lawyer Matt Dooley said while he disagrees with Innes’ interpretation of the law, he thinks the legal fight could help clarify the disputes between the two factions of the water board.

“This is a great opportunity to finally flush out the rumors and innuendo in a court of law,” Dooley said.

McConnell was first removed from the board by a vote of 17-9 on May 15 through a secret ballot process, the legality of which was questioned. A week later, the 26-member Rural Water board met again and voted 13-11 to remove McConnell.

Pittsfield Township Trustee Steve Magyar was appointed to replace McConnell by the water board, which rejected a suggestion last week that it reinstate McConnell.

In an affidavit, McConnell wrote that he received numerous complaints from his constituents expressing concern about Rural Water.

McConnell also wrote that he believed he was targeted because other board members took offense to his comments.

“My belief is that RLCWA simply does not wish to tolerate any dissent,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, several townships have voted to join a possible lawsuit challenging the way McConnell was removed in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else in the future.

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