LAGRANGE — The Rural Lorain County Water Authority board will hold a special meeting Wednesday to revote on whether to remove Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell after questions were raised about the legality of the secret ballots used to oust McConnell this week.
“While the district believes the actions of the board were lawful and appropriate, the special meeting is being called to remove any and all accusations of inappropriate action,” a news release from Rural Water said.
The 26-member board voted 15 to 11 to use secret ballots rather than hold a roll call vote to remove McConnell and name his replacement, fellow Pittsfield Township Trustee Steve Magyar, as his replacement.
The board voted 17 to 9 to remove McConnell by checking boxes on purple paper ballots that had been prepared for that purpose by the board’s lawyers. Magyar was appointed to the board in a 15 to 10 vote using the same process.
Tim Smith, an attorney and professor emeritus of journalism at Kent State University, said Thursday that Ohio’s opening meeting laws bar the use of secret ballots. A 2011 legal opinion from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the same thing, calling secret ballots “the antithesis of the definition of ‘open.’ ”
Several board members and McConnell’s attorney also questioned whether the vote was valid because it was done in secret.
Board member Gary Burnett and attorney Dennis O’Toole both said that the decision to vote in secret was done to prevent intimidation.
Another board attorney, Matt Dooley, defended the legality of the process, saying that Rural Water’s bylaws allow for secret ballots in the selection of officers. Dooley also said there is nothing in Ohio law that prevents the use of secret ballots and a previous attorney general’s opinion from the 1980s defended the practice.
McConnell said Friday that the decision to hold a special meeting speaks for itself.
“Evidently they must have decided they did something wrong the other night,” he said. “… I guess people will have to own their vote now.”
The news release, however, stated that the allegations against McConnell — that he had lobbied various township officials not to reappointed board members he disagreed with — were presented in a public forum and both sides had an opportunity to present their cases.
The votes, while written on secret ballots, were announced in an open meeting as well, the release said.
“The district wishes to assure its customers that it intends to remove even the appearance of impropriety with respect to the trustee removal process, which has been charged because of the nature of the ballot process,” the news release said.
Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Rural Water’s officers at 42401 state Route 303 in LaGrange.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.