Hilliard City Council has a new president, vice president and seventh member.
Albert Iosue, council's senior-most member, was selected as president in a 6-0 vote during an emergency special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Kelly McGivern was approved 6-0 as vice president and Iosue appointed Pete Marsh to replace Joe Erb, who resigned in December because he was moving out of Hilliard.
The action was part of a "deal" reached to resolve the legal action three council members took in an effort to prevent Nathan Painter, the council president in 2016 and 2017, from appointing a new member, said council member Les Carrier.
Carrier, one of the trio who filed the lawsuit, told ThisWeek the details of the agreement Jan. 29, saying the selections of Iosue, McGivern and Marsh put to rest a deadlock issue over council leadership that has gone on the entire month of January.
“I think everyone is happy or as happy as we can be," Carrier said Jan. 29. "(The agreement) shows we can reach a compromise.”
Ohio’s open-meetings law requires that any decisions by members of a municipal government body be made at a public meeting.
Council members have offered few details about how they reached an agreement to hold a meeting and who would be elected as officers, but Carrier, who acknowledged the open-meetings mandate, said a compromise was reached by City Council members conferring individually.
Iosue said the same thing.
"There was a lot of discussion between (Councilman) Andy (Teater) and I in the past few days," Iosue said. "It was not beneficial for us to continue with this disagreement, from a cost standpoint, and was certainly not in the best interest of our citizens."
Teater said he was “happy with the results” of discussions with Iosue and other members of council.
The Ohio Attorney General's Sunshine Laws manual addresses the concept of "round-robin or serial 'meetings'" that could have come into play:
“Unless two members constitutes a majority, isolated one-on-one conversations between individual members of a public body regarding its business, either in person or by telephone, do not violate the Open Meetings Act. However, a public body may not ‘circumvent the requirements of the statute by setting up back-to-back meetings of less than a majority of its members, with the same topics of public business discussed at each.’ Such conversations may be considered multiple parts of the same, improperly private, ‘meeting.’ The Ohio Supreme Court recently held that improper serial meetings may also occur over the telephone or through electronic communications, like email.”
The deal comes after a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to challenge law director Tracy Bradford’s legal opinion that Painter remained president and to block him from acting in that capacity was filed the morning of Jan. 25 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of council members Tom Baker, Carrier and Teater.
That afternoon, Judge Mark Serrott issued a stay and scheduled a mediation session Jan. 30. That session was not held, according to Bradford and Teater. Bradford also said no mediation was held Jan. 29, when details of the deal emerged.
The lawsuit was spurred by council’s six members failing at three consecutive meetings to name officers for 2018, deadlocking 3-3 in every vote. They deadlocked along the same lines – Baker, Carrier and Teater against Iosue, McGivern and Painter – when trying to name a replacement for Erb on five nominations from a field of 14 applicants.
After more than 45 days passed since Erb left, the decision on his successor was the council president’s hands, per the city charter, Bradford said.
Bradford's legal opinion was that Painter and McGivern – elected to two-year terms as president and vice president at the organizational meeting in January 2016 – remained in those offices until new leaders are selected.
The opposing legal opinion of Darren McNair, the attorney retained by Baker, Carrier and Teater, was that per the city charter and the operating rules of council, the terms of Painter and McGivern ended when the organizational meeting was convened Jan. 4.
Bradford said she was unaware of a council member ever filing a lawsuit against other council members or the city.
Both sides they were awaiting the total costs for the legal proceedings.
Meanwhile, Marsh, 37, is a landscape designer who owns Blue Oak Patio and Landscape and chairman of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.
"I'm excited for the opportunity council has provided me," he said. "I'm happy as anyone that the six existing members could reach an agreement in leadership and an appointment.
"I hope to be a catalyst in improving collaboration on City Council. There is a perception things aren't going well but I hope I can be a component to change that perception."
Marsh was among five new-member nominations that met deadlock votes Jan. 22. The others were Scott Brown, Johnny Dawson, Michael-lynn Evans and Kurt Gearhiser.