Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Man challenges council action
City officials say no laws were violated.
YOUNGSTOWN The city's effort to overhaul the park and recreation commission via an amendment on the November ballot is facing a court challenge from a local activist.
Terrence P. Esarco of East Midlothian Boulevard, though his attorney, Brian P. Kish, filed action Monday with the state's highest court questioning the legality of city council's Sept. 5 vote in favor of the amendments.
"Zero tolerance applies to everyone, regardless of occupation," Kish said. "My client's position is that city council and the mayor didn't follow the laws of Ohio or the city charter when [the] ordinance was passed concerning the charter amendment. There are consequences when laws aren't followed."
If the Supreme Court agrees the legal action has merit, Kish said he and city attorneys would argue the case before the Nov. 6 election.
During a Sept. 5 meeting, council went into executive session for the stated purpose of pending litigation. After emerging from the meeting, among the legislation approved by council was one impacting park and recreation operations.
That late item was unanimously approved by council without discussion. Earlier in the meeting, council had agreed to withdraw the original park and recreation charter amendments proposal. It was only after a reporter asked about the late item that its contents became known.
Cites open meetings law
In the court documents, Kish argues that council "unlawfully conducted deliberations not open to the public" regarding the park and recreation issue.
"Council's consideration of the ordinance only could have occurred while in executive session," which would violate the state open meetings law, according to Kish.
But council President Charles Sammarone, council Finance Chairman Mark Memmer and Mayor Jay Williams, who all attended the Sept. 5 executive session, said the charter amendments were ironed out between Sept. 5 meetings of the finance committee and the full council.
Council "didn't make an exceptional effort to let all members of the audience have a copy of the amended law, but we followed rules of council," Memmer said.
Council can introduce legislation during a meeting without any previous discussion, Memmer said.
"I'm not an attorney, but as a council member, I believe procedure was followed and what we did was adequate," he said.
Sammarone and Williams agreed.
"You can add something from the floor," Sammarone said. "It doesn't mean anything was done wrong."
The legal complaint also states council improperly characterized the ordinance as an emergency measure, a label attached to nearly every piece of legislation considered by council. It also contends that the Ohio Constitution requires charter amendments be proposed by a charter committee and not city council.
The Mahoning County Board of Elections, also listed in the complaint as a respondent, said the council could put the amendments on the ballot.
The park and recreation commission asked permission from the city administration to spend up to $3,500 of city money for legal work to potentially sue the city over the amendments. Two commissioners voted in favor of hiring Kish for the case, but that proposal failed.
If approved by city voters, the commission's contracts and purchases would have to be approved by city council and the board of control, Also, the mayor, and not the commission, would appoint all permanent park and recreation employees, except the director.