By Jordyn Grzelewski
Although his term doesn’t begin until January, council member-elect Sam Moffie is already making waves in village government.
Moffie, who was elected in November to a seat on village council, is raising questions about a decision by village officials to allow appointed council member Marc Cossette to finish his term despite the fact he no longer lives in the village.
Moffie, pointing to a section of Ohio law that spells out requirements for local governing bodies and their members, contends Cossette’s continued service on the board is improper.
Village officials disagree, however.
Cossette previously served on council for more than a decade. Council members in May appointed him to fill the unexpired term of Robert Limmer, who died in April. The term runs through the end of the year.
While serving the term, however, Cossette moved out of the village. His house on Edna Street transferred to another owner Oct. 16, according to Mahoning County Auditor records.
Section 731.12 of the Ohio Revised Code, which stipulates the qualifications required of members of a “village legislative authority,” states any member “... who removes from the village shall forfeit the member’s office.”
In response to Moffie’s citation of this law, village Solicitor Jay Macejko told The Vindicator, “I have no reason to believe that Marc is not in compliance with the requirements to be on council.”
He said the statute “talks about qualifications to become an elected member, so I don’t think we’re dealing with that statute at all.”
Another statute, section 3.15 of ORC, spells out the residency requirements for public officials.
A subsection of 3.15 states: “Each person holding an elective office of a political subdivision shall be a resident of that political subdivision.” It goes on to specify the section “applies to persons who have been either elected or appointed to an elective office.”
Asked about this statute, Macejko said, “Nothing about this changes my opinion.”
When asked by The Vindicator on Wednesday, Cossette said he is committed to completing his term.
“I stepped away from council, and when Mr. Limmer passed away, I was asked by council to come back and finish his term. I did that out of respect for Mr. Limmer, and I have every intention of following through on that,” he said.
He added: “I just wish Mr. Moffie would back off and let me do this. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’ve got council’s blessing, and I intend to finish.”
Cossette said he immediately notified Mayor Tim Sicafuse when he was prepared to close on his house.
Sicafuse said, however, Cossette did not notify him, but he found out from another source and sought Macejko’s opinion on it.
“[Moffie] wants to make a big issue of it, but in my opinion, based on Jay, it’s a nonissue,” Sicafuse said. “If I, for one second, thought it was unethical or illegal, I would get rid of [Cossette], or he would step down.”
For his part, Moffie said the issue is about government accountability and public trust.
“Whether I’m an elected official or a citizen, wrong is wrong, right is right. I feel it is my duty as a council member to follow through on this,” he said. “We should be held to a higher standard. In this case, something happened to the standard.”
Moffie said he thinks Cossette should resign and give back the salary he was paid since moving.
Joyce Kale-Pesta, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, said unless the village has its own rules on this issue, Cossette likely should have stepped down.
“You have to live in the district. That’s if they have no set rules,” she said. “He probably shouldn’t be serving,” she added when informed he had moved by Oct. 16.
One action that could be taken is a petition called a quo warranto, which would have to be filed with the court of appeals by the county prosecutor.
“I have filed them before, and I’ll file them again,” Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said.