The trustee said she just wanted to observe negotiations, not participate in them.
BOARDMAN -- An individual trustee cannot attend negotiation sessions for employee contracts, an opinion from the Mahoning County prosecutor's office says.
Township Administrator Curt B. Seditz requested an opinion from the prosecutor's office in December after learning of a conversation Trustee Kathy Miller had with a negotiator for the firefighters and dispatchers unions. He later denied her request to sit in on the negotiations.
Miller contends the conservation amounted to nothing more than greeting the negotiator. She says she didn't even know who he was when she saw him and merely spoke to him like she would anyone else she encountered in township hall.
Seditz also asked what authority an individual trustee has in directing township administrative personnel.
Paul Gains, county prosecutor, issued the opinion Jan. 10, and trustees released it to the public earlier this month.
"It is the official opinion of this office that a member of a board of township trustees may not directly participate in the negotiations process by attending negotiation sessions and retain the right to reject the proposed tentative agreement," Gains wrote.
In a township, the trustees board acts as both public employer and legislative body for the township, and the role of the legislative body in collective bargaining is to either accept or reject the contract when negotiations conclude, the opinion says.
"Thus it is clear that township trustees cannot themselves become involved in the negotiation process," Gains wrote.
Miller said she merely asked to observe negotiations. She didn't plan to participate.
"I didn't think I was going to start World War III," she said. "You would have thought I'd set off a cannon.
"Miller said she's surprised by the prosecutor's opinion, and if her fellow trustees are in agreement, she'd like to challenge it.
Her opposition is philosophical, she said.
"I just don't think it's the job of the officials elected by the people to completely abdicate their duties to administrative staff," she said.
For the second question, Gains wrote that since Boardman has an administrator, it is the administrator's role to act as administrative head of the township.
"An individual member of the board of trustees may not act independently by directing administrative personnel in the administration, decision-making and implementation of township services and affairs where the board of trustees has appointed a township administrator," the opinion says.
Miller argues that she didn't direct any staff to perform a task. She said she asked a secretary once if she had time to fax something to her and another time offered to take calls from residents complaining about flooding.
"I'm not there to tell people how to do their job," Miller said.