April 19, 2014

Mostly sunny

Medina Schools: Open meetings lawsuit headed to federal court

A Medina resident who filed a lawsuit in common pleas court asking a judge to declare former Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp’s contract invalid is taking his case to federal court.

J.R. Russell filed a motion Monday to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Stepp in U.S. District Court, in Akron, against Medina Schools and the Board of Education on May 17, 2013.

Randy Stepp

Randy Stepp

Russell, who is a lawyer, is arguing that the school board violated Ohio’s open meetings law by failing to properly publicize a five-year contract for Stepp, which unanimously was approved at a “work session” on Jan. 7, 2013.

In Monday’s filing, Russell also is asking the court to find Stepp is not entitled to any bonuses or benefits already paid to him, including an $83,000 signing bonus.

“We feel strongly that this contract is void and that the money should be repaid to the school district,” said Russell’s attorney, Brian Kerns. “This is just a continuation of our efforts to ensure that happens.”

Stepp’s new contract, which provided for annual compensation of $186,000 in wages, bonuses and other fringe benefits in addition to the signing bonus, triggered an outcry — especially from teachers who were in the midst of contract negotiations.

Russell had filed a motion in November to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Stepp in Medina County Common Pleas Court against the school board and state Auditor David Yost, who did a special audit of Stepp’s spending.

The preliminary audit report, released in October, included findings for recovery against Stepp for $4,121 in illegal spending. The report also found nearly $1 million in spending authorized by Stepp that was not properly documented and a half-million dollars in spending “in which the item’s proper public purpose was unclear.”

Two days after the report was issued, the school board voted to fire Stepp.

But Russell’s efforts to intervene ran into a roadblock when visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny declined to issue a ruling and ordered a stay on both Stepp’s and Russell’s lawsuits, pending the outcome of the federal lawsuit.

Stepp filed the federal lawsuit after the school board rescinded his contract in April, saying it was approved without proper publicity and in violation of Ohio’s open meetings law.

In the motion filed Monday, Russell’s attorneys, Maryanne Chandler and Kerns, hope to intervene in Stepp’s federal lawsuit.

The attorneys argue that Russell, as a local resident and taxpayer in Medina, has the standing the court requires to intervene in the case and ask the federal judge to rule on the validity of Stepp’s contract.

“J.R. Russell and other residents of the Medina City School District would prefer the contract amendment be declared unlawful than some financial settlement in which the illegal contract and bonus get paid/retained by Stepp,” the motion states.

Citing case law, Russell argues that federal courts and the justice system have an interest in minimizing unnecessary litigation.

“As such, “federal cases have required intervention … where this would encourage the settlement of all disputes in one lawsuit,” Russell’s motion states.

Medina school board President Tom Cahalan referred questions to the board’s attorneys, who could not be reached for comment Monday.

Stepp’s attorney also could not be reached for comment Monday.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

  • Realistic

    It is funny to see Randy Stepp still out on the town enjoying Medina. He was at Romeos O.T. (he may be part owner in that place – never figured that one out… they say he did the tile work in the bathrooms) having a great time on Saturday night like nothing happened. Wow… just wow. He is quite confident in showing his face around Medina after all he thought he could get away with.
    I am sure that Randy was a nice guy and had some good intentions… he just overstepped his ground and got greedy… very greedy. I actually do not fault him. The folks that I DO fault are the now ousted board members who were too dumb to understand what was going on. I believe that the most fault lies at the Medina County ESC…. these were the folks that signed off on everything. These are the people that need questioned as well. The unecessary ESC was the ultimate say in what Stepp could get away with… and they let him get away with ALOT!!!!! Shame on them – especially William J. Koran! This guy must be stupid… why is nobody going after he and his office for what they let happen?

  • Advocate

    Totally agree with Realistic. The Board as well as the Medina ESC are just as much to blame. They created this situation. They provided no oversight and just let things go thinking no one would every know and no one would be caught. The ousted Board members and William J. Koran go on with their lives with no reprecussions for there actions and inactions. None of this would have happened if these people would have done their job.

  • NinetoFive

    Thank you J.R. Russell on behalf of all the taxpayers. Now if only the old Board and the ESC could be held accountable for their actions!

  • MedinaBorn

    Stepp is a master manipulator. I can see how this happened that being the case. Sure there are plenty of people that did the wrong thing, but I have seen this man through the years and I have watched him in action. From day one I have said to many to not trust this man. Of course there were so many people that didnt believe me. He could probably compete with David Miscavige and come out on top.

    Now is the time to move forward. The lynch mob mentality needs to go. Stay focused and involved. Pay attention to what all the new people are doing. There is now oversight. There is now new board members. There is now a new treasurer at the ESC and MCS offices. Yes there were many people in the wrong, BUT how many in the city of Medina let it go because this was Randy Stepp he would never do anything to hurt the children. Well you found out wrong, so now stay involved and invested. I know I did when my children were in the system. I fought for everything I could for them and butted heads with a lot of the admin throughout. And I was not blind to what he was doing and how he was manipulating.

  • mirandalee

    Perhaps Randy can seek work as a bathroom tile installer after all is said and done. His career and reputation has sure gone done the toilet.