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YOUNGSTOWN Council members' fight escalates to accusations and police report



Published: Thu, February 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Earlier, council denied John Swierz's supporters their request to speak.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- City council's internal politics are heating up.

John R. Swierz, D-7th, filed a police report Wednesday night accusing the man who sits next to him -- James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th -- with threatening harm, which Fortune denies.

The two had words during a break in the regular council meeting.

Fortune suggested the two go outside and make their disagreement physical, Swierz said. Fortune then said he wasn't making a threat, but a promise to do harm, Swierz said.

"I was a little bit concerned at that point," he said.

Swierz said he isn't pressing any charges but wanted the matter on record.

Said it's not true: Fortune said he made no such threat. Swierz was badgering him and got in his face after he made it clear the discussion was over, Fortune said. Fortune called Swierz "sick." He will sue in civil court if Swierz keeps up such behavior, he said.

Fortune also called Swierz a liar and a racist. Fortune said Swierz brought a crowd of white residents to criticize council.

Swierz strongly denied he had anything to do with the crowd attending or that race is ever a consideration in his actions.

Earlier, about two dozen 7th ward residents came to the regular council meeting to protest how Swierz has been treated.

Duties taken away: In January, a council majority removed Swierz from his important finance committee seat and stripped him of his public safety committee chairmanship. Swierz has said the moves were made because of his outspoken support for the arena board's independence, which the council majority defeated.

Two Swierz supporters signed up a week beforehand to speak before council as required. Council, however, voted 4-3 not to let either of them talk.

Fortune, who moved to deny the speakers, was supported by Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, Richard Atkinson, R-3rd.

Ron Sefcik, D-4th, Michael Rapovy, D-5th, and Swierz opposed the move.

Fortune said the issue was internal and that any discussion didn't belong on the council floor.

"It's council's prerogative. It's an internal problem council dealt with," he said. "We're not going to air our dirty laundry."

"Certain people made it a public issue," Fortune said, accusing Swierz of creating the scene. "We're saying no."

Rule about speaking: Council, under its rules, can deny people their requests to speak, although the move is highly unusual. Usually, speakers are turned down if they want to talk about legal issues or if they haven't made the request a week in advance.

Nonetheless, the move is hardly unprecedented, said Charles P. Sammarone, city council president.

"It's a practice that's been followed," he said.

Shirley O'Hara, a 7th ward resident, said she would have asked council to reconsider its committee changes if she had been allowed to speak. She also wanted to ask about the "new direction" that councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, cited when council made the committee switches.

Council has become vindictive instead of just outvoting Swierz and leaving the issue there, O'Hara said, calling it "gutter politics."

"It always surprises me the games grown men play in the name of politics," she said.




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