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COLUMBIANA CO. Officials to cover vacancy



Published: Tue, April 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The layoff may have been imposed in violation of the law.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- Columbiana County commissioners and other officials will fill in for the county development director, who was furloughed last week.

Commissioner President Jim Hoppel laid off Mark Gardner on Friday, after privately consulting with commissioners Dave Cranmer and Sean Logan regarding the move.

Gardner's nearly $47,000 annual salary came from administrative fees attached to state and federal grants it was his job to procure for infrastructure improvements throughout the county.

That source of money has been down in recent months, leaving the department short of cash, Hoppel explained today.

Requested funds

Gardner asked commissioners recently to appropriate about $10,000 monthly to help pay him and to meet departmental expenses.

But Hoppel said the county's severe financial straits make that impossible.

More administrative fees could become available by October, which may allow Gardner to return to work, Hoppel said.

There's some money left in the administrative fee account to continue salaries for two clerks in the development office.

While Gardner is laid off, commissioners, county Engineer Bert Dawson and Tracy Drake, county port authority director, will try to fill in, Hoppel said.

Gardner has been development director for about 12 years. He could not be reached to comment.

Possible violation

Because Gardner was furloughed privately and not at a public meeting, his layoff may have violated Ohio's Open Meetings Act, state officials said.

Information provided by the state attorney general's office states that the law requires public bodies to "take official action and to conduct deliberations upon official business in open meetings."

Hoppel said he's uncertain whether Gardner's layoff violated the law.

Hoppel said he didn't want to wait to take the action until the commissioners' regular weekly meeting, held Wednesdays, because this week started a new pay period for Gardner.

Hoppel acknowledged he probably could have called an emergency meeting of commissioners Friday.

"The other guys weren't around," he said of Cranmer and Logan. "I just went ahead and did it," Hoppel added.

The attorney general's office states that "formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting."




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