On May 1st (a little over 30 days ago), the SCPR wrote in a blog commenting on Canton attorney Steve Okey's selection by the Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee/Alliance as Alliance City Council (Council) president as a replacement for recently deceased long term (since 1994) council president John Benincasa, The Report wrote:
There is no doubt to The Report that Okey as council president will try "to bend over backwards" to avoid open confrontations with organized Alliance Republicans.The Stark County Political Report in making the above statements was giving Okey "the benefit of a doubt" and did so largely on what Okey had to say in this SCPR video interview of April 30th (the date he was selected by SCDP-CC/Alliance to succeed Benincasa)
But does he have the self-discipline to pull it off?
Well, the SCPR was way off the mark on the first statement, to wit: "Okey, as council president will try 'to bend over backwards' to avoid open confrontations ... ."
But The Report was implicitly correct in suggesting that Steve Okey would not have the self-discipline to pull the "avoid open confrontations" off.
Moreover, the SCPR had this to say in the very same blog:
Steve Okey said all the right things last night with regard to his relationship with council going forward.
But the SCPR thinks that it will not take long for The Report to ramp up including in this blog's coverage of Stark County's politics and government (given the return of Steve Okey to council): Alliance City Council.
Up until now, Alliance has been the most mellow of all of Stark County's city/village councils in terms of controversies. In fact, more times than not, when the SCPR has blogged about Alliance council matters, guess who was at the center of the brouhaha? You've got it, one Steven Okey.
To say it one more time, with Okey back on the scene, it is likely that The Report will making more trips to Alliance, no?Monday night's Steve Okey performance was not an avoiding of anything. What he did on Monday was to make his presence felt to such an "over-the-top" degree (Council censured him) that the SCPR describes it in the introductory graphic to the blog as being HURRICANE STEVEN HITS ALLIANCE CITY COUNCIL.
Before the debacle of Monday night, Okey signaled in a letter written to council members on May 30th that his presidency is going to be an "imperial presidency" in saying in the opening:
"Dear Council Members: At the next meeting of City Council, we will (emphasis added) be making a transition on how certain Council votes are taken."
Then at the meeting itself he wrangled with council members (primarily Republicans Jakmides and Dordea) for some 45 minutes over their insistence (endorsed later by all of Council in a unanimous voice vote [not roll call]) that they be permitted to vote by voice vote on undisputed matters unless the outcome of the voice vote is unclear or a council member asks for a roll call vote.
Members Jakmides and Dordea constantly challenged Okey on debating his position from the presidency chair which they said was a violation of the rules of council by Okey himself.
Okey kept saying he wasn't debating. Well if he wasn't then the SCPR has no clue what a debate is.
Eventually, Council had its way by overruling Okey's ruling in making a motion to appeal it which motion is decided by guess who?
You've got it: Council itself.
And the "voice" vote on the motion was unanimous in sustaining the appeal.
Of course, that was about 45 minutes after the argument began.
Okey had difficulty explaining that he said in the May 30th letter that Council had done nothing illegal with its past voice vote procedures, to saying after the voice vote on the appeal (as Councilwoman Sheila Cherry pointed out) was illegal, to saying that he had not meant to say he thought the voice vote was illegal but that "it might be interpreted by some to be illegal."
Quite a dance, no?
- SCPR Note: The Report provided Okey with a "heads up" on today's blog and thereby providing him with an opportunity to weigh-in with his comments regarding matters likely to be broached. He did take advantage of the opportunity and the SCPR has published his e-mail immediately before the May 30th letter referred to in note 1.
And it is to be noted that Okey himself participated in the practices he now finds so odious.
Isn't that interesting? Maybe even hypocritical?
The SCPR thinks that the main reason that Steve Okey is back on the scene in Alliance (after having been defeated in his run for mayor in 2013) is to serve as an eastern Stark County (Alliance area) political front man for Stark County Democratic Party appointed sheriff George T. Maier in his November election bid.
As anybody who knows anything about Stark County politics is aware of, the Johnnie A. Maier, Jr Massillon-based political machine since January, 2013 has been bulldozing Johnnie's brother George through the Stark Dems' selection process (to replace Sheriff-elect Mike McDonald [November, 2012] who could not take office on January 7, 2013 due to an illness which claimed his life on February 22, 2013.
It took two tries (February 5, 2013 [undone by the Ohio Supreme Court on November 6, 2013] and December 11, 2013 [an appointment that has not been challenged to date, but might be at a future date], but so far it has worked.
Okey has been a "prime time player" in the "make George T. Maier" the Democratic Party appointed sheriff push.
For instance he was one of the attorneys (Allen Schulman and Michael Thompson being two other local attorneys) referenced by Stark Dems' chairman Randy Gonzalez as being of the opinion on February 5th that George T. Maier was qualified under ORC 311.01 to be sheriff.
On November 6th, Stark Countians learned in the Ohio Supreme Court decision that they (Okey, Schulman and Thompson) were wrong in their opinion.
Moreover, Okey represented Chairman Gonzalez and the SCDP-CC (free of charge) in an effort by former sheriff Tim Swanson to stop the second appointment selection date (December 11th) in a mandamus action. The Ohio Supreme Court refused to derail the December selection date.
And Okey got involved representing a George Maier interest (in the form of defending then Democratic Stark County Board of Elections member Deametrious St. John) when suit was filed in the Fifth District Court of Appeals trying to prevent St. John from voting on Maier's qualifications for announcing before the vote that he felt Maier was qualified. The suit was dismissed for mootness which dismissal is currently under appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Maier had been challenged by a fellow Massillon Democrat as to his certification as a qualified (under Ohio Revised Code Section 311.01) candidate.
It took an Ohio Supreme Court decision for Maier to be on the upcoming November 4th ballot.
Maier's November opponent is Alliance councilman and, of course, Republican Larry Dordea.
Dordea is a former Alliance police chief (nine  years) and is currently Hartville's police chief.
The SCPR thinks that the Maier folks are bringing the November fight right to Dordea's doorstep in what appears to have been an all out fight between Okey (who The Report sees as the Maier proxy candidate) and Democratic Councilwoman Sue Ryan over the Council presidency.
The Report believes that the first announced pro-Maier candidate Derrick Loy (who has worked for the sheriff's office since September, 2013) was deemed to be unelectable in the context of the SCDP-CC/Alliance group. Though having political baggage of his own (in terms of generating controversies during his six (6) years as a Alliance City Council member), Okey apparently was deemed to be more viable than Loy.
And, as it turned out, he was. But by the slimmest of margins.
Just to go back a bit.
When Okey filed his lawsuit against Alliance City Council (February 4, 2014), he - in the opinion of the SCPR - took advantage of the pleader's prerogative of naming a group of defendants with a single name.
Now just guess what name Okey tagged the group with?
You've got it.
Okey had to know that on Monday night with his proposal he was going to generate a fight with Dordea and the other Republicans on Council. As can be seen in his e-mail to the SCPR set forth at the end of this blog, Okey can see the Republicans as being political but not himself.
The SCPR sees politics being a play on both ends of the dispute but Okey is the one who started the fight.
So the political game seems to be that Okey as a George T. Maier advance man is trying to paint Larry Dordea as being against what some interpret as being the "rule of law" (his words on Monday) and anti-sunshine (the lawsuit) in terms of the transparency of Alliance City Council votes.
One more thing about the Okey lawsuit.
Guess who the central figure was in the dispute about a particular vote by Alliance City Council on whether or not he was to continue to be a member of the Alliance Water Sewer Advisory Board?
None other than Derrick Loy.
To say it again, the SCPR would like to believe Okey's protestations that his lawsuit and his Monday night proposal and the May 30th letter is about strengthening Alliance City Council democratic procedures.
But The Report's assessment of Okey (as an elected official and a public figure) as being one of the most political persons in all of Stark County does not permit the SCPR to think that such is his primary motivation.
Time will tell, but the SCPR expects Okey to work feverishly between now and November to find bases within the context of Alliance City Council proceedings to embarrass Larry Dordea.
Sue Ryan incurred, in running for the presidency of Council, a realpoltik lesson in coming up against the Maier political machine alliance with Okey.
Three incidents occurred at the May 14, 2014 11th Annual Democratic Recognition Dinner (Dinner) that were brutal political eye openers to Councilwoman Ryan that she (from the Maier perspective) made one huge political mistake in not bowing out of the "succeed John Benincasa" process.
First, she says that at the Dinner she encountered Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. Usually, she says, Maier, Jr is all smiles and even is known to give her a friendly hug.
What did she get on the 14th?
A cold stare and a cryptic: Hi!
Why would that be?
Answer: The SCPR thinks that she was supposed to have gotten the message (at the very least when Steve Okey got into the presidency quest), DROP OUT!
Loy apparently had spread the word that Ryan would not sign a George T. Maier loyalty pledge (back during the Maier/Lou Darrow fight over the sheriff appointment) and therefore was not a person to be trusted.
And, even if the Loy claim is bogus (Ryan says she cannot remember being asked to sign any such pledge), how in God's little green acre of the inner circle Stark County Democratic Party politics could Ryan ever, ever think she could match up with all things Democratic Party true-believer Steve Okey?
Second, it was a real "ear" opener to Ryan to hear Derrick Loy boo Alliance Area Democratic Party president Brian Simeone as he was recognized as the AllianceArea Democratic Club Democrat of the Year.
Simeone tells the SCPR that as far as he knows the Loy boo likely came from a comment he made about Steve Okey in a May 5, 2014 article about Simeone in The Alliance Review.
"I challenge (our new council president) to put aside his partisan politics to continue Benincasa's legacy of bipartisan cooperation."
Third, at the Dinner, Kathleen Purdy, was getting signatures for petitions to run for the state board of education and she approached the Steve Okey table only to be refused by one of those seated because she - Purdy - was for Larry Dordea.
Purdy emphatically denied that such was the case.
None of the three incidents cited above surprises the SCPR.
The Report has known Johnnie A. Maier, Jr for many, many years.
It took awhile, but in time it dawned on The Report that Maier, Jr is a "my way or the highway" sort of guy whose political hero is Vern Riffe.
Vern Riffe, served as Speaker of the Ohio House (1975 - 1995), and whom, during his time in state government, was the undisputed boss of the Ohio Democratic Party.
Maier served a rather undistinguished career (in terms of substantive legislative achievements) in the 56th (now the 50th) Ohio House District from January 3, 1991 through December 31, 1999s.
The SCPR takes Steve Okey as being very tight with the Maiers and seemingly is embarked on a quest to advance the cause of George T. Maier across eastern Stark County with an emphasis on Alliance itself.
But for him to bring that mission onto the floor of Council - as The Report thinks he is - in trying to make Dordea in particular (under the guise of getting Council straightened out) to appear to be against the rule of law (i.e. the roll call vote issue) and transparency (i.e, the unsigned ballots) is quite another.
Remember these are practices Okey engaged in as a councilman. Where was his devotion to democracy fostering procedures then?
That he is heavily involved in the George T. Maier campaign against Dordea makes his championing of these matters now suspect in terms of his real motivation.
If he did not have the Maier connection, then the SCPR would be much more impressed with his advocacy.
Neither Ryan nor Simeone would say that she/he would be supporting Larry Dordea over George T. Maier come November as they assess the race today.
The Stark County Political Report thinks that if Steve Okey does much more of what he did on Monday night, it will not only be Ryan and Simeone as Democrats supporting the Republican Dordea in November.
Could Hurricane Steven prove to be a political disaster for George T. Maier?
OKEY MAKES HIS OWN CASE
Jun 4 at 5:43 PM
To: Martin Olson
Thanks for the opportunity to provide information regarding the Council meeting on Monday.
As the President of City Council, I have the responsibility to make sure that City Council meetings follow the law of Ohio and the rules of City Council. Council rule 2.01 states that the President "shall . . . decide all questions of order." I take these responsibilities very seriously, especially because I have devoted the past 27 years of my life to the practice of law. Following the law is part of the public trust for every public official. It’s especially important that Council members who make the law also follow the law.
Every organization needs to take a fresh look from time to time at how it operates. Just because “we’ve always done it that way” does not mean that past practice is still the best way. People in the business world know this. Government should do the same. That’s why after I became Council President, I took a fresh look at Council rules and the law. And I saw that the Ohio Revised Code and Council rules don’t need to be changed. They simply need to be applied and followed more consistently. Again, this is part of my job as President of Council.
As part of my effort to fairly apply and follow the law and rules, I tried to hold a roll call vote at Monday night’s meeting of Alliance City Council. This was not changing the rules, but simply applying the rules that are already there.
Ohio Revised Code section 731.17(A)(3) states very clearly: “The following procedures shall apply to the passage of ordinances and resolutions of a municipal corporation: . . . (3) The vote on the passage of each ordinance or resolution shall be taken by yeas and nays and entered upon the journal.” This statute is mandatory.
Council Rule 5.02 is similar to the statute: “All ordinances, resolutions and rules for the government of Council shall require for their passage or adoption the concurrence of a majority of all members elected, and the votes on their passage or adoption shall be taken by yeas and nays and recorded on the journal.” Council rules require the “yeas and nays” for other votes, too.
The phrase “yeas and nays” means a roll call vote. A roll call vote is when the clerk calls each individual member’s name, and that member then orally states his or her vote.
We don’t have to look any further than Council’s own rules to know what “yeas and nays” means. Council rule 5.01 states: “In taking the yeas and nays, the Clerk shall call the names of the members in alphabetical order.” That rule sounds pretty clear to me.
But if that’s not enough authority, we can look to the decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court and to Robert’s Rules of Order (which Council has adopted by its own rule 7.05). They also say that “yeas and nays” means a roll call vote.
“Yeas and nays” does not mean a voice vote, which is what Council has mostly done in the past. A voice vote is when members of Council say “aye” as a group at the same time. Then the members voting no, if any, all say “no” at the same time. The trouble with group voice votes is that they do not always clearly identify whether all members actually voted. The Alliance Review has stated that it sometimes has been difficult to tell whether members of Council even bothered to vote. After all, no individual member of Council is called upon to state his or her vote.
Again, in order to transition from voice votes to roll call votes, I was not changing any rules, but simply following the law and rules already in place. Before I took this action, I sent a carefully researched, four page letter to every member of City Council and to other city officials, including the law director. (A copy of that letter is attached to this email.) I explained my reasons and shared all of the legal authority. That way everyone could be on the same page and there would be no surprises.
In reply to my letter, I received no emails and no phone calls (even though they all have my cell number). I received no legal authority from the law director suggesting that my application of the law and rules would be incorrect -- and indeed, have received nothing from her to this day. The only response I received was an insulting text message that one member of Council sent. That kind of childish behavior is disappointing.
Having heard nothing of substance, I then attempted to follow Ohio law and Council rules and hold a roll call vote at the Council meeting on Monday. Unfortunately, Council refused to follow the correct procedure and demanded instead that only group voice votes be used, regardless of what the law and rules say.
Council’s behavior seems particularly silly, since it takes only about 10 seconds to hold a roll call vote of the seven members.
Sometimes there are disagreements about what procedure should be followed. If a Council member disagrees with the President on a question of order, then Council rule 2.01 permits any two members to appeal the President’s decision to the whole Council. Council members should know this because it’s right in their own rules.
On several occasions, I asked Council member Jakmides if she was making an appeal of my decision to hold a roll call vote. Over and over again, she said “no.” Even though I gave Ms. Jakmides numerous opportunities to make an appeal, she refused. It was only after the law director told her what to say that the meeting could finally move forward. Yet again, Council members are unfamiliar with their own rules.
Instead of appealing my decision to hold a roll call, Ms. Jakmides first made a motion to “censure” me. If I am to be “censured” for trying to follow Ohio law and Council rules, then I will consider that a badge of honor. But it is a sad day when members of a city council ignore their own rules and state law, and refuse to give their individual votes on the record. Censuring the Council President simply because he calls for a roll call vote? It sounds Orwellian. Just what are they afraid of?
Holding elective office is a privilege. Casting a vote on behalf of the people you represent is an honor, and we should be deeply concerned that members of Council are trying to hide in a group voice vote, rather than take 10 seconds to follow the law and their own rules. We should also be concerned about the city law director’s advice to Council regarding their votes, both now and in the recent past.
Some might ask, “What difference does all this make?”
It might make a huge difference. If Council fails to scrupulously follow the law in passing an ordinance, someone could dispute whether the ordinance is valid. A criminal defendant could seek the dismissal of charges because the charging ordinance was not adopted according to law. A person could dispute a tax obligation because the tax ordinance was not adopted according to law.
Why take chances? Consistently following the law helps us to avoid these and other problems. Also, a roll call vote as required by the statute and rules avoids any uncertainty and keeps the public better informed of the decisions of their representatives. I can't think of a single downside to holding a roll call vote.
I am a realist. I understand that some members of Council might refuse to follow my lead because they are motivated by party politics. But partisan politics has nothing to do with this. Good government is not a Republican or a Democratic goal. It is an American goal. Council members from both parties need to be aware of the correct path to follow. In that manner, I am following the example set by our late Council President John Benincasa.
Others might be motivated by bitterness because of their disappointed aspirations or because I previously filed a court action over other votes of Council that were legally improper. It is unfortunate if public officials let hurt feelings get in the way of following the law and rules.
My job and my motivation are clear: follow the law, apply the law, and clean up this voting process so that the law and rules are followed consistently. It's the same process I started in fighting for open meetings and against illegal secret ballot votes.
But I would prefer to work with the members of Council, rather than have them attack me for the sin of asking for a roll call vote. Perhaps they will be more willing to put their individual votes on the record if the people of Alliance remind them that a roll call vote is a virtue, not a vice. Again, what are they afraid of?