Ever since word came down from the Ohio Supreme Court in May of this year that ballot language on Lake Issue 6 (proposed expansion of the Uniontown Police Department) was flawed to the point that an "apparent" election day victory had to be set aside by the high court, Lake trustees have been the target of considerable dissatisfaction on the part of some Lake residents.
Earlier this week speculation spread in Lake that the trustees were going to fire Uniontown Police Chief Harold Britt at last night's meeting.
Yesterday, the SCPR at 1:15 p.m. telephoned the township administrator and requested a copy of meeting agenda with a specific reference of wanting to know about the reputed executive session concerning Britt. Moreover, The Report telephoned Trustee John Arnold at 1:22 p.m. requesting that he call back.
The Report finds it very interesting that a copy of the agenda was not e-mailed to yours truly until 4:36 p.m., which is after township hall was closed for business.
And Arnold never called back (giving the lame excuse he knew The Report would be at the actual meeting). Really? How did he know? He assumed?
Why is the delay and the Arnold non-response significant?
On the agenda, under correspondence received, was a listing of a number of letters from apparent Britt supporters.
Had The Report known about the letters before the closing time, a request would have been made to receive copies of the letters. Even without copies of the letter, The Report endeavored to contact the letter writers. But because of the compress of time could only reach one.
As yours truly told Arnold last night, the SCPR covers many Stark County local governments. None run up to "after the close of business for the day" in making a copy of the agenda available.
This incident should suggest to the Lake public that the Arnold/Erb/Stoll administration of the township leaves a lot to be desired in terms of transparency and accessibility on a matter that is totally in their control.
It was clear from the many statements of support from a large number of inside/outside the Uniontown Police District Lake citizens that there was a great deal of confusion among them as to why the Lake trustees had called an executive session that nearly everybody seemed to be convinced was going to result in Britt's dismissal.
So, once again, as in the public discussions on the police expansion issue, the trustees were the recipients of a number of hostile, skeptical and cynical comments. One resident, Heather Sims, went so far as to announce that she was researching Ohio's recall law with an eye towards launching a petition drive to have the trustees removed from office.
Here is a composite video of Britt supporters and samplings of the consternation with the trustees calling an executive session concerning the employment of Chief Britt.
If the trustees started the evening with the intent to dismiss Britt, there was no way that was going to happen given the throng of Lake citizens (many of whom are Britt's friends going back to high school days) who showed up at Lake Township hall last evening in public outcry.
The SCPR sees citizen action as an effective way to reverse a course of action on the part of government officials who seemingly have made up their minds. Over the nearly five years that the SCPR has existed, yours truly has seen quite of few reversals on the part of elected officials overwhelmed by citizen response.
While the trustees extricated themselves from a difficult position last night, it could be that they have left the bad taste in the mouths of Lake voters with this episode on top of the ballot language screw up on the expansion of the Uniontown Police Department.
We will not know the full extent of the political damage sustained by the trustees until next year should Trustees Erb and Stoll run for re-election. Three years ago the two had relatively close elections. The debacles of 2012 could be the end of the political line for these two.
Here is a video of Lake Board of Trustee President John Arnold announcing that the result of the executive session that Britt is staying as Uniontown police chief and the chief's reaction.
Note that Arnold never gives a clue why the executive session was called in the first place. Nor would Britt provide any insight.
In The Report view it is not good for the trustees nor Britt that the public has no clue (beyond speculation) as to why the session was called in the first place.
The Lake trustees agenda item last night reads:
XIV. EXECUTIVE SESSION: The Lake Township Board of Trustees may convene an executive session pursuant to ORC 121.22 (G)(1) to consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of a public employee and to include the Trustees, Fiscal Officer and legal counsel.Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22 reads, in part:
Hmm?(G) Except as provided in division (J) of this section, the members of a public body may hold an executive session only after a majority of a quorum of the public body determines, by a roll call vote, to hold an executive session and only at a regular or special meeting for the sole purpose of the consideration of any of the following matters:(1) To consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of a public employee or official, or the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual, unless the public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual requests a public hearing. (emphasis added)
With all the outpouring of public support for Britt, one has to wonder why he didn't ask for a public hearing?
If Britt had any part in generating the outpouring of support (The Report has no information that he did), the SCPR is of the opinion he should have asked for a public hearing. For it would not be fair to the trustees and to the general public to insist on privacy on the one hand, while promoting a public outcry on the other.
Because he didn't ask for a public hearing, no one other than Britt (and those he chooses to tell privately) and the trustees will know specifically what all the furor was about.
You can bet that there has been and will continue to be speculation.
It is hard to see how ORC 121.22 advances transparency in government. And to the degree government is not transparent it generates distrust. And distrust generates skepticism and cynicism which leads the citizenry to eschew participation in government at all. And governing becomes troublesome.
Just taking in the statements, questions and puzzlement expressed by Lake citizens at Public Speaks, it is clear that the calling of an executive session in and of itself produce distrust of these trustees, justified or not.
It seems to The Report that the law needs to be refined to provide something more specific than is set forth in the statute.
If the Ohio Legislature keeps the law as it is, government itself deserves the distrust it gets as well as likely increasing difficulty in governing at all levels of Ohio government.
It is the experience of the SCPR that government officials (elected and unelected) bring many of the problems of governance on themselves.
And one really does not want to hear their whining!