December 18, 2014

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Rural water board hopes meeting marks dawn of a calmer era

LAGRANGE — The Rural Lorain County Water Authority has spent the past year locked in a divisive battle that has led to lawsuits, hard feelings and harsh words.

On Wednesday, most of the board came together for a meeting board President Dale Rundle said he hopes is the start of an era of cooperation.

“You might say we’ve had a troubled past the past year or so, and I know we all want to eliminate it,” Rundle said at the start of the meeting.

At the heart of the dispute was the removal of Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell from the board last May, first by a secret vote and later by a second public vote. McConnell, along with Pittsfield Township and nine other townships, launched a legal battle to restore him to the board.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge ruled last year the rural water board didn’t have the authority to remove McConnell over allegations he had disparaged a fellow board member and lobbied against other board members. Burge concluded that only Pittsfield Township trustees had the power to kick McConnell off the board.

At a meeting last week, in which McConnell was narrowly voted vice president of Rural Water, the board voted not to appeal Burge’s decision.

The board didn’t take any action during Wednesday’s meeting, which was described as an unpaid work session for members, but they did agree to move forward on several points of contention.

For instance, Rundle and several others said they wanted to immediately do away with a bylaw that requires members of the public who want to speak at Rural Water meetings to request to do so three days before the meeting is held.

“Somebody shouldn’t have to contact this board ahead of time to speak their piece,” Rochester Village Councilwoman Cindy Kurpely, a new board member, said.

She also suggested that public comments should come at the end of the meeting rather than at the beginning. Kurpely also said she’d like to see executive sessions held at the end of meetings.

Board members also seemed inclined to create more complete meeting minutes. James “Pete” Riley, who represents Sullivan Township, has repeatedly complained in recent months that the minutes didn’t reflect the disagreements between board members or even legal advice given by the board’s attorneys.

Rochester Township Trustee Amy Szmania, who began taking minutes last week after being named secretary-treasurer, said she intends to keep minutes that better reflect what happens in meetings rather than just what the votes were on various matters before the board.

The board is also considering recording the meetings and is separately gathering bids for a system that would allow the meetings to be broadcast online.

Although the issue wasn’t brought up at the meeting, the question of who will represent Wellington Township on the board appears to have been settled.

Wellington Township Trustee Nancy Fisher said former board member Bernie Nirode will represent her township.

Nirode’s appointment had been in doubt because the trustees had appointed the township’s fiscal officer, Louise Grosse, to the board at the end of 2013.

But she said the township’s new board of trustees — former Trustee Dale McAvena lost his re-election bid in November — decided to make a change after realizing they had violated a township rule that requires appointments to boards to be made at the first meeting of the year.

Nirode wasn’t at Wednesday’s meeting, but a plaque with his name on it was waiting for him.

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