The latest lawsuit was filed by 10 townships that are members of Rural Water, including three, LaGrange Township, Eaton Township and Henrietta Township, whose representatives to the water board voted to oust McConnell.
LaGrange Township Trustee Rita Canfield said that she and fellow Trustee Doug Gardner voted in favor of joining the lawsuit even though the third trustee, Gary Burnett, who represents the township at Rural Water, voted to remove McConnell. She said she worries that if McConnell’s removal is allowed to stand it could lead to other Rural Water members, including LaGrange Township’s representative, being removed in the future.
It should be up to the individual Rural Water member communities to decide who represents them, Canfield said.
“If they remove them, then we don’t really have a voice at all,” she said.
Burnett wasn’t at the meeting when his fellow township trustees voted to join the lawsuit, but he said he would have opposed the move. He said Tuesday that he believes removing McConnell was the right call.
“I’m not backing down from the way I voted,” Burnett said. “Sometimes you’ve got to stand for what you believe in.”
McConnell was first voted out in a secret ballot process at a May 15 Rural Water meeting over allegations that he had made unfounded allegations against a fellow board member and lobbied appointing authorities to replace certain board members. McConnell has denied wrongdoing.
After questions arose about the legality of the secret ballot, the water board reconvened a week later and held a roll call vote in which McConnell was voted out by a 13-11 margin.
But Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Gerald Innes, who represents the townships, wrote in the newest lawsuit that even the second vote isn’t legal because there wasn’t technically a motion on the floor when the vote to expel McConnell took place.
The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to prevent the removal of any other board members, also renews arguments from previous legal action that the board didn’t have the authority to vote McConnell off the board.
Innes has said that under state law only the appointing authority can remove a board member, but Rural Water’s attorneys have argued that the organization’s bylaws allow for members to be removed by the board itself.
Eaton Township Trustee Linda Morrison, who voted to join the lawsuit, said she doesn’t buy the argument that the water board can remove anyone it wants to. She said Eaton Township trustees appointed Gene Szczepanski, who voted to remove McConnell, to the board to represent the township’s interests.
She said the issue for Eaton Township isn’t about McConnell so much as the township’s right to choose its own representative.
“We can’t control how Gene votes with that board, but we can control who we put on the board, and they shouldn’t be able to remove him,” Morrison said.
Matt Dooley, an attorney representing Rural Water, said he couldn’t comment on the arguments presented in the lawsuit because he had not reviewed it Tuesday.
“We are immensely disappointed that despite the formation of the ad hoc committe to review the bylaws and the complete absence of an effort to remove another board member that this action has been taken,” Dooley said.
Board President Stanley Wares, who was named along with general manager Tim Mahoney as a defendant in the lawsuit, named Penfield Township Trustee Rick Conrad, who voted to keep McConnell on the board, to lead a review of the Rural Water bylaws at a meeting earlier this month.
Wares, who voted to remove McConnell, has repeatedly said he wants to resolve the feud that has consumed the board.
Also joining the lawsuit are Pittsfield Township, Rochester Township, Huntington Township, Carlisle Township, Columbia Township, Grafton Township and Penfield Township.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.