June 29, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Water board ousts member second time

LAGRANGE — Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell again was removed from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority board Wednesday after questions were raised about the legality of a secret ballot process used to vote him off the board last week.

The revote was closer than the first vote last week, when the 26-member board voted 17 to 9 to remove McConnell.

On Wednesday, the vote was 13 to 11 to oust McConnell. Two board members were absent.

“People had to own their vote in public, and apparently the secret vote made them more comfortable before,” McConnell said after the meeting. “But I was still voted out.”

In another split vote, the board voted 15 to 8 to name Steve Magyar, McConnell’s fellow township trustee, as Pittsfield Township’s new representative to the Rural Water board. The losing nominee was Jim McConnell, Mark McConnell’s brother.

Rural Water board President Stanley Wares said after the meeting that he thinks the original vote was proper and had been vetted by the board’s attorneys beforehand.
“The idea was to take the politics and intimidation factor out of the vote,” Wares, who voted to remove Mark McConnell, said.

Dale Rundle, who represents Columbia Township on the water board, said he didn’t think the first vote should have been carried out in secret.

“You don’t hold secret ballots at public meetings,” he said. “That’s it. You don’t.”

Tim Smith, an attorney and professor emeritus of journalism at Kent State University, has said secret ballots are illegal under Ohio open meetings laws, a view backed up by a 2011 opinion written by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Wares said the allegations against McConnell, who was accused of disparaging some of his fellow board members and trying to convince officials in some communities not to reappoint some board members, were discussed in a public meeting before the vote was taken last week.

Although McConnell has denied wrongdoing, Wares said he believes the accusations are true.

Rundle said there was no proof that McConnell had broken any board policies and that’s why he voted against removing him.

“I saw no difference in what the accused was accused of doing and what the accusers were doing,” Rundle said. “They did the same thing in my opinion.”

Jeff Weir, McConnell’s lawyer, said his client is reviewing his legal options, but hasn’t decided what, if any, action he will take.

Contact Brad Dicken at (440) 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.