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YOUNGSTOWN Council to let Dems fill post



Published: Tue, April 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Fortune said he won't campaign for the council presidency.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

and ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

YOUNGSTOWN -- Embroiled in controversy and then in court, city council has backed down from ordinances that would have given council the authority to appoint a council president or a council member in case of a midterm vacancy.

In a prepared statement, James E. Fortune Sr., council's president pro tem, said it would be in the best interests of the city and its residents to let state law govern the selection process, and that council will revisit the matter at a later date.

At Fortune's urging, all six councilmen present voted Monday before a standing-room-only crowd to defeat the ordinances, which council had put through two readings last week.

"We didn't feel that this warranted getting people all upset," Fortune explained.

Councilman Ron Sefcik, D-4th, was absent.

Legal opinion: Since the city charter is silent on midterm succession, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said state law calls for the city's 123 Democratic precinct committee members to choose a successor to Charles Sammarone, who recently resigned the council presidency to become water commissioner.

The committee members will vote on the selection at 7 p.m. April 17 at the Saxon Club.

After Monday's brief meeting, Fortune, D-6th, said he wouldn't campaign to be named council president but would consider the job if the Democratic committee members want him to take it.

"I'm glad that they're going to stop and take another look at this," said Bill Lawson, a member of the good government task force of ACTION, a faith-based community improvement advocacy organization, which had been protesting the ordinances.

Earlier Monday, the city was in court over whether council could vote at all.

Court action: Democrats of the 17th District, a political organization, asked for a temporary restraining order against council in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The group wanted to prevent council from voting on the two ordinances. During an afternoon hearing, Judge Maureen Cronin ordered the two sides to negotiate a settlement, giving them 30 minutes.

After 15 minutes, they agreed to continue the case until next Monday.

Mark Belinky, the group's president who also is a lawyer, at first argued against a continuance. He said any council action would do irreparable harm. He agreed to the delay because a council defeat of the new laws would have made a restraining order moot.

Belinky said after the hearing that he hoped court action would pressure council into dropping the issue. Going to court showed council that his group and others considered the matter serious and that it would be pursued indefinitely.

Belinky laid out a number of arguments in seeking the restraining order. Among them were that:

UState law -- which says political party precinct committee members must fill such vacant seats -- prevails.

UState law was in effect when the seat became open and any council action can't be applied retroactively.

UParty precinct committee members and voters would be denied their rights with council's proposed action.

UThe organization almost certainly will seek in court to remove anybody council appoints, forcing more litigation.

Law Director Robert E. Bush Jr. argued that any decision could be changed so there was no irreparable harm.

"You can't name a person who has been harmed," he said.

He also argued the law doesn't let the group stop council from voting. Any order must be limited to stopping council from implementing its decision, Bush said.




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