ATTORNEY STEVE OKEY
ALLIANCE CITY COUNCIL
UPDATE: 11:00 AM
Partial comments from a reader of the Stark County Political Report received at 10:48 a.m. today.
Okey's explanation for not including Benincasa is silly. The Chair called for the vote, and initiated the secret ballot vote..
the [sic] fact that no member made a point of order regarding the breach or violation means only that they agreed with the POC [president of council] that it was a valid method of voting.
The POC is responsible for how the vote is taken.
Appointments to an "advisory board" which has no authority whatsoever, and has members appointed by "the three largest water users" is hardly a public office.
Anyway you cut it, citizens of Alliance stand to benefit from former councilman (2006 - 2011) and mayoral candidate (2011) Steve Okey's "Sunshine Law" case against the City of Alliance.
The core of the complaint is centered as follows: (an extract from the complaint itself)
Specifically, the defendants Dordea held illegal secret ballot votes as follows:
a. On February 6,2012, the defendants Dordea held an illegal secret ballot vote to appoint two members of the Water/Sewer Advisory Board;
b. On January 13,2014, the defendants Dordea again held an illegal secret ballot vote to appoint two members of the Water/Sewer Advisory Board.
12. The defendants Dordea (emphasis here and above added by SCPR; an expression used throughout the pleading) and City of Alliance took the above official actions in secret and under a design to hide these decisions from the knowledge of the plaintiff and other members of the public, and to deny the plaintiff and the public their right to view and evaluate the workings of their government, in violation of R.C. 121.22. No legal exceptions found in R.C. 121.22 apply to the violations of the defendants.
The lawsuit ruffled more than a few feathers in "the Carnation City," for a number of reasons including:
- a claim that Okey himself had participated in at least once such alleged illegal vote during the time he was was an Alliance councilman-at-large,
- that he did not object to the procedure while on council,
- that Okey political protege and now Stark County Sheriff Department employee Derrick Loy was the "real object" of Okey's discontent,
- that Okey had "cherry picked" the defendants so as not to antagonize certain key Democrats (council president John Benincasa and Ward 2 councilperson Phyllis Phillips and
- that Okey (with political and legal connections Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee appointed Sheriff George T. Maier) was using the lawsuit to "embarrass" Republican Councilman Larry Dordea who may be facing off against Maier in the November general election.
- NOTE: Steve Okey represented the Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee (SCDP-CC) and SCDP chairman Randy Gonzalez in a mandamus legal action before the Ohio Supreme Court filed by interim Sheriff Tim Swanson and candidate for a December 11th SCDP appointment Louis Darrow to require the Dems to appoint Darrow ant not consider the application of George T. Maier)
The Report's conclusion(s)?
First, the SCPR fully supports Okey having filed the lawsuit.
As readers of The Report know, the SCPR had to fight a battle against the Stark County Board of Elections ("BOE," "Board" in 2010) when the BOE denied me the right to videotape its proceedings.
With what I believe to have been the intervention of the Ohio secretary of state's office (Republican Jon Husted), the ban did not last long. The 2010 Board members were Republicans William S. Cline (president), Curt Braden and Democrats Sam Ferruccio, Jr and Johnnie A. Maier, Jr.
Interesting enough, The Repository reporter who was present at the "ban the SCPR from videotaping meeting" sat by and uttered nary a word in protest as the Board shut the SCPR down.
Secondly, after talking with the "key" principals in the matter, The Report thinks there may something to the suspicion that Okey's motivation may include more than a zeal for sunshine in government.
In a thoroughgoing videotaped interview (see in its entirely at the end of this blog) with Attorney Okey at his offices located on 3rd Street, NE, Okey took any and all questions the SCPR wanted to pose and, did, in fact, deny that he had any political motivation at all in filing his lawsuit.
As indicated above, the SCPR is skeptical of his claim.
Alliance ill-advisedly has had a procedure in place whereby on certain "sensitive" votes which appear to rarely occur, the council president (who is not a member of council itself) passes out blank sheets of paper for members to record their votes upon without signing their names.
Dordea tells The Report that procedure to be put to an end at council's next meeting scheduled for February 18th.
And, to his credit, Dordea owns up to having "made a mistake" in participating in and not challenging the ongoing use of the procedure.
It appears to the SCPR that there were two "triggers" that prompted Okey's lawsuit at this time (less than nine months before Republican Dordea might be facing off against Democrat Maier):
- the 2012 claim is about to expire by operation of Ohio's Statute of Limitations, and
- the occurrence of a second incident on January 13, 2014 which involved Okey political ally and Alliance Democratic Party activist Derrick Loy (when Okey ran for mayor in 2011) in which Loy was denied a requested re-appointment to the Alliance Sewer and Water Advisory Board (AS&WAB).
The Report has not been provided with "chapter and verse" by those councilpersons who are suggesting that "the reason for Loy not receiving a re-appointment and so the SCPR suggests that the vaguely alluded to "attendance problem" may also be imbued with political discontent on the part of perhaps Councilpersons Dordea and Julie Jakmides (who the SCPR views as the "most into party politics" Republicans on Alliance City Council.
Here is how Loy responded to a SCPR email on the matter:
(Note: to his credit that Loy does not ascribe a political motive to his not being re-appointed; which the SCPR thinks probably was a factor; however, readers need to know that Loy advocated for the campaign of Mike McDonald who defeated Dordea for Stark County sheriff in November, 2012 including writing several emails in support of McDonald to the SCPR)
The SCPR questions:
On the matter of your not being reappointed to the Alliance Water and Sewer Board (AW&SB).
From what I can tell in looking at the video of the January 13th meeting of the Alliance City Council, it appears that the reason some members did not vote for you had to do with their perception of your attendance record at AW&SB meetings.
How long (the exact dates), did you serve on the AW&SB?
How many meetings did you miss during your term on the Board and, if you know, how did your attendance record compare with other members of the Board?
Do you agree with the suggestion that your attendance record was the "real" reason for not being reappointed?
If not, what do you think the "real" reason was?
Had you submitted a written request to be reappointed? If so, provide me a copy of the document you submitted.
Do you know which council members voted for you on the unsigned ballot voted in the meeting of January 13th? If so, name them?
Stark County Political Report
I was originally appointed to the Alliance WSAB in early 2010 for a two-year term ending January 1, 2012.
I then submitted a letter of interest in remaining on the Alliance WSAB and was re-appointed February 6, 2012 for a second two-year term ending January 2014. I then submitted a letter of interest in serving a third two-year term, and on January 13, 2014 council choose not to re-appoint me to the WSAB.
During my tenure on the WSAB, there were 41 meetings held. On one occasion, I was out of state for my employer. On five occasions, I was deployed by the American Red Cross to serve in disaster relief operations in New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois. On six other occasions, family obligations prevented me from attending. I believe only Chairman Don Kline had perfect attendance, and during my four years serving the WSAB I recall two members who routinely missed due to schedule conflicts.
I disagree with the suggestion that my attendence [sic] record is the "real" reason for not being re-appointed by Council.
I strongly suspect that the "real" reasons for me not being re-appointed are the following:
1) I routinely questioned why the City of Alliance wasn't making it a top priority to definitively quantify the millions of gallons of finished water that leave the plant each month and don't get billed for. Reported figures have indicated that approximately 24% of the finished water that is pumped from the plant is unbilled for. That's one out of every four gallons produced, which costs the consumers a significant amount every year. It is unfair for the families of Alliance to be forced to subsidize that much volume. I have insisted that the City should make it a top priority to accurately quantify the unbilled water, identify the points of consumption or loss, and agressively work to reduce this enormous problem.
2) I opposed numerous efforts by the most recent Administration to implement significant water rate increases.
I have submitted a letter of interest at the start of each two-year term sought. Attached is my most recent submission.
Because the vote was by secret ballot, I do not have any way of knowing which members of Alliance City Council voted for which candidates.
WSAB Chairman Don Kline advocated in support of me being nominated for a third term to the WSAB.
In addition, Council President John Benincasa and Councilwoman Sue Ryan advocated for the open slate nomination of all three interested parties for consideration of appointment to the WSAB.
Thanks for the pointed questions,
Because of the "thinness" (or perhaps, the non-existence) of the insinuated "absence" problem, the SCPR is also skeptical that Loy's rejection as a re-appointed member of the ASW&AB was without political tinges.
Also relevant to the filing of the lawsuit is the history (some of which was witnessed by the SCPR first-hand in covering Alliance City Council meetings) of Dordea and Okey as the primary antagonists along R & D lines during the time that the two served on council together.
The discord ranged over a number of issues and while each undoubtedly believed in the cause each was espousing, it is evident to the SCPR that "there is a 'partisan divide' between Okey and Dordea.
It would be inexcusably naive for the SCPR to see things otherwise.
Okey says that he named Dordea first as defendant in his ORC 121.22 lawsuit because he is "president pro tem" of council.
Okay, sounds reasonable enough, no?
But why not take the added measure of referring the defendants in toto with some other grouping shortcut of "obvious who I am referring to" (a common, universal practice of attorneys in legal pleadings) with a label which does not keep dragging the name "Dordea" through the public eye?
Okey had to know (the very intelligent man he is) that, intended or not, some would see the reference as being a political downer on Dordea in light of his running for county sheriff.
The SCPR penultimate (next to last) conclusions are that The Report does believe:
- that there is "a political factor" in the lawsuit being filed, and
- that Loy was denied a re-appointment primarily because of his association with Okey and connections with George T. Maier.
- that Okey is being somewhat hypocritical in claiming that admitted "secret ballot vote" during his terms on council are different "in effect" than the incidents he complains of (2012 and January 13, 2014) in terms of being anti-democratic, and
- all of us should be displeased that neither Okey, Dordea nor any other councilperson has objected to and refused to participate in "the secret ballot process," and
- if there is a "worse," that "worse" is that the media covering Alliance city council meetings apparently did nothing to stop this illegal and anti-democratic procedure.
Here is extract from Okey's complaint on the OAG opinion:
On October 18,2011, the Ohio Attorney General issued Opinion 2011-038, which states that "a meeting is not 'open' to the public where members of a public body vote by way of secret ballot. * * *
Voting by secret ballot prevents the public from knowing how each of the members of a public body votes on a particular matter. * * *
Members of the public are prevented from knowing a critical part of a public body's decision-making process.
Voting by secret ballot is inimical to R.C. 121.22's goals of enabling the public to know the actions of its appointed and elected representatives."
In The Report's final analysis, the lawsuit needed filing in order to make it clear "once and for all time" that in 2014 democratic-republican (principles of government; not a reference to the political parties) America, Ohio and Stark County, there is no place for "secret ballots" on the part of public officials in the discharge of public business!
The Steve Okey interview: