June 29, 2016

Partly cloudy

Medina school board backs suit to overturn contract

MEDINA — The Medina school board and a city resident have filed a joint motion to jumpstart a lawsuit challenging the superintendent’s contract awarded to Randy Stepp last January.

The move is unusual because the school board is the defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in July by J.R. Russell Jr., a local attorney.

In the suit, Russell argues that Stepp’s contract — which included an $83,000 signing bonus and a variety of lucrative fringe benefits — is invalid because the board violated the state’s open meetings law.

The contract was approved during a work session and the initial draft of the minutes didn’t include the contract approval.

The board has agreed that the way the contract was approved violated Ohio Sunshine Laws and voted to rescind the contract in April. Stepp responded with a federal lawsuit in May claiming breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.

He asked for damages equal to the “full value” of his five-year contract — about $1.2 million — and additional compensation for damage to his reputation.

Stepp also challenged Russell’s lawsuit, which was put on hold in November by visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny. Pokorny, who was appointed to hear the case after both Medina County judges recused themselves, ruled the case covered the same ground as the federal lawsuit and should be “stayed” — postponed — until the federal lawsuit is decided.

The joint motion filed Tuesday by Russell and the school board urges Pokorny to reconsider his ruling.

“Whether in fact there has been a violation of the Open Meetings Act will probably never be decided in federal court,” the motion states. “In effect, this stay improperly denies Mr. Russell (and by extension, all Medina School District residents) his day in court regarding whether there was a violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act.”

Stepp, who’s been on administrative leave from the school district since April, was found by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost to have illegally spent at least $4,121 as well as $1.5 million that either was not properly documented or had an “unclear” purpose.

The board cited the audit in October when it voted to begin the process of firing Stepp and stopped paying him.

Stepp has maintained that his spending was lawful and proper. He filed another lawsuit in common pleas court against Yost and the school board in November asking the county court to declare the audit void and to stay his firing until his court cases are complete.

Nick Glunt About Nick Glunt

Nick Glunt primarily covers courts and crime in Medina County. He served The Gazette from September 2012 to December 2015. Contact him at (330) 721-4048 or via email at nglunt@medina-gazette.com.