ELYRIA — The Pittsfield Township trustees on Tuesday filed an administrative appeal in Lorain County Common Pleas Court challenging the removal of Trustee Mark McConnell from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority board.
The court filing states that the Rural Water board lacked the authority to remove McConnell under the section of the Ohio Revised Code that governs water authorities across the state. It also stated that McConnell’s removal wasn’t for just cause.
The 26-member Rural Water board first voted 17-9 to remove McConnell on May 15 through a secret ballot over allegations he disparaged fellow board members and had lobbied not to have them reappointed to the board.
After questions were raised about the legality of the secret voting process, the board voted again on May 22 to remove McConnell. The second vote was 13 to 11 in favor of removing McConnell, with two members being absent.
Pittsfield Township Trustee Steve Magyar, who was appointed by the Rural Water board to replace McConnell, said the township has a right to name its own representative and the trustees decided they wanted McConnell to fulfill that duty.
“We appoint somebody there, and we should be the ones who remove him, not anybody else,” Magyar said.
He said removing McConnell was akin to voters electing a township trustee and the other two trustees voting to kick the third trustee out of office.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes, who serves as Pittsfield Township’s lawyer, said that the Ohio Revised Code only allows one way for a water board member to be removed, and it has to originate with the appointing authority.
“I think there’s a statute that supersedes their bylaws,” Innes said.
But Rural Water attorney Matt Dooley disagreed with Innes’ interpretation.
“It doesn’t say it’s the only way to remove a board member,” he said.
Dooley argued that since the law doesn’t specifically state that water board members can only be removed by those who appoint them, it leaves a path open for other forms of removal. The board’s bylaws allow for it to remove a member or for a water district customer to initiate a process that also could result in a board member being removed.
Innes said he sent a letter to the board urging it to rescind the removal of McConnell. Dooley said the board’s attorneys have yet to discuss the issue with the board, something he expected to happen during an executive session at tonight’s board meeting.
Innes also said the administrative appeal may not be the right way legally to challenge the removal, but he wanted to preserve that method in case it is.
He said the township may end up having to ask a judge to declare that McConnell was improperly removed through another form of legal action known as a writ of mandamus, which, if granted, would compel the water board to return McConnell to his position.
McConnell declined to comment on the appeal Tuesday, but he did say he abstained from voting on whether the township should pursue legal action to restore him to the board.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.