Solid Waste Closed-Door Meeting
A committee of the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste District held a closed-door meeting Tuesday related to the selection of a new executive director that may have violated the Ohio Sunshine Law. Greg O’Brien, of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, the attorney for the district, had an exchange with reporter Ed Runyan about why The Vindicator could not cover the meeting.
By Ed Runyan
The attorney for the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District gave various explanations Tuesday morning as to why a Vindicator reporter was not permitted to enter a meeting related to the selection of a new district director, but none of them apparently is supported by law.
Atty. Greg O’Brien was one of three members of a committee that agreed to recommend two people to the county commissioners from Geauga and Trumbull counties to replace the retiring Bob Villers.
After Trumbull Commissioner Dan Polivka objected to the makeup of the committee and the requirement that the director have a bachelor’s degree, and argued that he had not been notified of the committee’s meetings, a new committee was formed.
The committee had its first meeting Tuesday morning at the district’s offices on Enterprise Drive to cull the 24 resumes it received and set up strategy for interviews to take place next Wednesday.
O’Brien at first told The Vindicator there would be no meeting because not enough members had come.
A short time later, another member arrived, and O’Brien was asked if there were enough now for a meeting. This time he said the gathering was not a public meeting.
The third time he was asked, O’Brien said: “It’s not an open meeting under Ohio law. I’m asking you to please leave and go to the lobby.” A reporter could see committee members sitting down in the room with O’Brien.
He added later, “I don’t even have the whole board or quorum of the board here to go into a meeting to go into executive session.”
Executive session is a segment of a public meeting that takes place in private amid certain Ohio Sunshine Law qualifications. To go into executive session, a body must take a vote in front of the public indicating the reason for the private meeting.
But David Marburger, a public-records and open-meetings attorney who represents The Vindicator, said O’Brien is incorrect in saying Tuesday’s meeting was not a public meeting. As long as a majority of a board of this type is present, the meeting is a public meeting.
Of the seven members of the committee, four were present at the time – Polivka, Geauga County Commissioner Skip Claypool, Warren businessman Sterling Williams and O’Brien.
A fifth person also was present, Geauga Commissioner Timothy Lennon, but his role on the committee was described by Polivka as “nonvoting.”
If Lennon was counted as a committee member, then five of eight members were present, which is still a majority.
When asked for comment late Tuesday on Marburger’s remarks, O’Brien asked The Vindicator to provide its questions in writing, which the newspaper did. O’Brien did not reply to the email.
Fred Bobovnyk, who was part of the original hiring committee and was named as a member of the new committee, told The Vindicator he attended Tuesday’s meeting briefly but announced that he was quitting the committee because of the politicized nature of the committee since Polivka got involved.
“I was tired of the political bull ...,” said Bobovnyk, who is Weathersfield Township fiscal officer and represented the Trumbull County Township Association on the solid waste district’s policy committee for about six years.
Bobovnyk said he’s ending his association with the solid waste district altogether, including the policy committee.
“I don’t like what’s going on, and I left,” he said.
Bobovnyk said O’Brien, who lives in Geauga County, was fully involved in the hiring committee the first time. The three-member committee did not vote on its recommendations, but all three agreed on whom they would recommend, he said. The three recommended one person from Portage County and one from Mahoning County.
Also not in attendance was Villers, who retired at the end of the year but was expected to remain on the hiring committee. Bobovnyk said Claypool advised him the committee no longer wanted Villers to be involved, which added to his frustration with the process, Bobovnyk said.
Polivka initially denied that he was the person who wanted the college-degree requirement to be removed, but Villers and Bobovnyk insisted that he was.
Then Polivka countered that he believed the process needed to be changed because it appeared to him that Villers was trying to “handpick his successor.”
Others have suggested that Polivka was trying to steer the job to Terry Nicopolis, a Champion man who ran Warren’s Environmental Services Department from 1995 to 2003 but who has no college degree.