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YOUNGSTOWN Democratic group tries to stop council from choosing president



Published: Mon, April 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The new laws wouldn't take effect for a month, after precinct committee members are to make their pick.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Now, the squabble over who chooses the next city council president goes to court.

Democrats of the 17th District, a local political organization, sought a restraining order against council today in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The group wants to prevent council from giving itself the authority to appoint a new president. The organization also wants to prevent council from filling any vacant ward seat that an appointment may create.

The group asked for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction against council. No hearing had been scheduled as of late this morning.

State law is clear that political party precinct committee members from the city must fill the vacant seat, the organization said in a press release this morning.

Accusation: Council is getting around the city charter -- where changes can be made only by voters -- using local laws, the group said. The group called council's moves an attempt to disenfranchise voters and "a disturbing effort to circumvent the law."

The suit was filed under the names of Josephine Hulett and Michael O'Hara, second and seventh ward Democratic precinct committee members, respectively.

Mark Belinky, the president of the group who also is a lawyer, could not immediately be reached to comment this morning.

Tonight, council is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposed local laws. It's not clear how any injunctions would affect the legislation.

Presuming the legislation passes tonight, the laws still wouldn't take effect for 30 days.

That puts Democratic precinct committee members in front to make their pick. About 120 party committee members from the city are set to meet at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Saxon Club.

It's unclear what happens if the party makes its pick before any new local laws kick in.

Council took up the legislation last week after city Law Director Robert E. Bush Jr. said members had such authority. Bush's opinion followed one from county Prosecutor Paul Gains, who said the city's 123 Democratic precinct committee members should fill the council president vacancy.

The vacancy came when Charles P. Sammarone resigned last month to become city water commissioner.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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