A hearing date has been set in the wake of petitions filed in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas by an organization of Liberty Township residents to have two township trustees removed from office.
The case will be heard by visiting judge Guy Reece on Tuesday, July 23, according to court administrator Kristin Schultz.
The residents group, Save Our Services, filed removal-for-cause petitions July 2 against trustees Michael Gemperline and Melanie Leneghan.
The petition against Gemperline alleges five claims of misconduct in office; the petition against Leneghan lists nine such allegations.
A motion filed on behalf of Save Our Services that the two cases be combined was granted by Reece.
Ohio Revised Code provides that the hearing must take place within 30 days of the complaint being filed. The same chapter states that at least one claim must be proven to spur removal from office.
At press time, neither Gemperline nor Leneghan had provided comment on the proceedings. The third Liberty Township trustee, Shyra Eichhorn, also offered no comment.
At the center of the effort is alleged intent by the two trustees to eliminate the township's fire department-based emergency-medical services and replace them with Delaware County EMS.
SOS spokesman Nico Franano said that would be a downgrade in the quality of service that is not worth any savings that might be achieved.
"This resource affects lives directly, and people in Liberty Township are willing to pay a premium for premium service," Franano said, referencing a 2017 township fire and EMS levy that was approved 75% to 25%.
The township's fire and EMS department has 56 full- and part-time firefighters and serves both the township and city of Powell. SOS has claimed 32 cross-trained staff risk losing their jobs if the county takes over EMS functions.
The proposal from Delaware County officials to take over EMS services in the township, replacing the township personnel with EMS-trained-only crews, surfaced late in 2018.
In well-attended public meetings dating back through late fall 2018, Leneghan and Gemperline have consistently supported the idea of exploring that change, while Eichhorn has opposed any changes. Powell leaders also unanimously spoke against changes in a December meeting.
In February, Delaware County commissioners voted to pull the proposal, but resolutions requesting additional payments from the county or forcing the county to assume EMS services in the township were added to the agenda of a subsequent meeting of the trustees, triggering the petition process by SOS.
"We weren't sure why trustee Leneghan was taking on this issue," Franano said. "(Members of SOS) kept coming to meetings, trying to have a dialogue. When that wasn't working, and since recall is not available in township government, we pursued removal from office."
Circumstances surrounding the unrenewed contract of longtime township medical director Michael Yamarick, as well as other issues, are reflected in the complaints.
"This is a citizen effort by unpaid community members. It speaks to the level of engagement by the community," Franano said. "There is a high bar (to prove misconduct), as there should be. These are duly elected officials in the middle of their term. That shows the seriousness with which the community takes this issue."