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COLUMBIANA CO. Board lays off official in public



Published: Thu, May 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Ohio law requires that governing bodies taking an official action do so during open meetings.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- Columbiana County commissioners have laid off the county development director for a second time to ensure the move meets Ohio law.

Commissioners voted during their meeting Wednesday to lay off Mark Gardner, effective immediately.

Commissioner President Jim Hoppel initially laid off Gardner on Friday after consulting with fellow commissioners Sean Logan and Dave Cranmer.

The initial layoff occurred in private and not at a public meeting, prompting The Vindicator to question whether the act met the requirements of Ohio's Open Meetings Act.

The law requires public bodies to take official action in open meetings.

In response to the question, Hoppel said he was uncertain whether Friday's action satisfied that requirement.

Ensuring legality

To ensure the layoff is legal, Hoppel brought the matter before commissioners Wednesday and had them vote on it at the meeting.

County Prosecutor Robert Herron did not return a call from The Vindicator seeking comment on the manner in which the layoff was handled.

Gardner has declined to discuss his layoff.

He is being furloughed because there is no money available to pay his $47,000 annual salary.

Gardner generally is paid from the administrative fees that are attached to the state and federal grants he obtains for infrastructure upgrades and other improvements throughout the county.

That funding source has dwindled recently, forcing Gardner to ask for $10,000 per month from the county's general fund.

Refused request

Commissioners refused the request, saying the county is mired in a fiscal crisis and can't spare the money.

There is enough in the administrative fee account to continue paying two clerks in the development office.

Commissioners, county engineer Bert Dawson and Tracy Drake, county port authority director, will fill in for Gardner.

In other matters, commissioners approved a one-year renewal of the insurance that covers county buildings, their contents and county vehicles.

The policy cost has increased by 12.5 percent from last year, bringing the new premium to $232,800.

Changes in the insurance industry and an increase in the dollar value placed on county buildings are responsible for the higher premium, commissioners said.

The expense is paid from the county's general fund.

leigh@vindy.com




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