YOUNGSTOWN Officials discuss vacancy

Council will meet at 7 tonight to consider the legislation.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It appears a legal showdown is forthcoming in the choice of a new city council president, a councilman says.
John R. Swierz, D-7th, who predicts the matter will end up in court, said he can envision city council making its choice for council president and the city's Democratic precinct committee people making a different choice.
The committee people are to meet at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Saxon Club to make their choice. "There has to be some remedy somewhere," Swierz added.
Council gave first reading Thursday evening to ordinances giving it the authority to choose a new council president or a new ward councilman to serve the balance of a term within 45 days after a midterm vacancy occurs.
If council fails to fill the vacancy with 45 days, the mayor would make the appointment, the ordinances say.
One vote short: These ordinances fell one vote short of the six votes needed to suspend the rules requiring three readings and enable an immediate vote on passage. Council will have another special meeting on these ordinances in the city law department conference room on city hall's fourth floor at 7 tonight.
The council president vacancy occurred when Charles P. Sammarone, whose term runs through Dec. 31, 2005, recently resigned to become city water commissioner.
Robert E. Bush Jr., law director, who also predicted the matter would end up in court, had said Wednesday that council has the authority to legislate the manner in which a midterm vacancy in the council presidency is to be filled.
Bush also told Councilman James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, council president pro tem, that council also has the authority to legislate the manner in which the midterm vacancy in the 6th Ward council seat is to be filled should Fortune become council president.
Swierz complained he didn't receive copies of the ordinances until the beginning of the meeting and didn't have time to study them before the vote. He cast the lone vote against suspension, and Ron Sefcik, D-4th, was absent.
In response to an inquiry from Swierz as to whether such legislation can be enacted after a vacancy already has occurred, Bush said he believes council has the authority to enact retroactive legislation.
Last week, Paul J. Gains, Mahoning County prosecutor, issued an opinion saying the choice of Sammarone's successor is to be made this month by the city's 123 Democratic precinct committee people, with an election to be held for the balance of Sammarone's term in 2003.
Short meeting: An audience of more than 40 people crowded into the law department conference room for Thursday's special meeting, which lasted five minutes. The ordinances were not read aloud and the councilmen did not explain the measures, debate them or seek public comment on them.
The Rev. Edward Noga, pastor of St. Patrick Church, a member of the faith-based ACTION -- Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods -- community improvement advocacy group, and Bill Lawson, a member of ACTION's good government task force, decried the lack of public input in the selection process.
"There's something wrong here with this atmosphere. It's terrible and people should be ashamed," Father Noga said.
Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, said he wishes the city charter had clearly stated a long time ago the method of filling midterm vacancies in council president and council member seats.

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