Claims of cover-ups, bias surface during Struthers council meeting
Clerk made harassment claims after recent council meeting
By Graig Graziosi
Struthers City Council passed a motion during a special meeting Wednesday requiring Councilman-at-large Michael Patrick to attend anger management counseling and apologize publicly to council Clerk Megan Shorthouse for harassing her after a council meeting last month.
He also will have to abstain from any vote involving Shorthouse.
Councilman-at-large Dallas Bigley introduced the motion, which was approved with a 4-2 vote.
Third Ward Councilman Robert Burnside and Councilman-at-large Joseph Rudzik voted against the motion, after Shorthouse made clear during the meeting that she would prefer a private apology and that all council members attend sensitivity training, rather than Patrick alone.
“We all came here to put on a shield for Megan, but we’re not listening to what she actually wants,” Rudzik said.
Patrick admitted that he did tell Shorthouse to “shut her mouth” and to “go ahead and roll your eyes” after she interjected into an argument that he and Bigley were having after council’s March 28 meeting.
“I did not ask her to participate. It was the wrong time for her to involve herself, but I did lose my composure,” Patrick said.
He also called for the entire council and administration to undergo training to improve their interactions, and for an outside agency to investigate the incident, but both suggestions were rejected by several council members.
“This is a political smear in progress, and the political alliances we have in city hall will not give me a fair review,” Patrick said.
Bigley insisted that council should handle the situation through the use of Robert’s Rules of Order as the city has no ordinances governing how the council adjudicates harassment issues.
Back-and-forths between the lawmakers rose in intensity as they deliberated how to punish Patrick. Council President Henry Franceschelli asked why he hadn’t been notified of the incident sooner and why members of the public and media knew about Shorthouse’s letter before he did.
“The first time I heard anything about this was April 4, a week after the incident happened. I have no respect down here for what I do,” Franceschelli said. “When there’s complaints, I handle them. I don’t understand why I was left out.”
Bigley claimed that whatever was being done wasn’t enough as Shorthouse’s letter claimed she’d been belittled by Patrick before. He then asked council if they knew of other incidents of hostility in city government, and both Rudzik and 1st Ward Councilman Anthony Fire said they did. Rudzik alleged that not all complaints get the same attention as the one aimed at Patrick.
“There’ve been several instances that’ve been swept under the rug, but as soon as there’s a complaint about Mike Patrick, it becomes a public thing and here we are,” he said.
Fire said he’d heard about previous incidents, but none that ever resulted in a publicized special council session.
“There’s a lot of animosity that goes on, and it should not be,” Fire said.
After the vote and the meeting’s end, Patrick said he would speak with city Law Director John Zomoida about how he would proceed.
Zomoida said Patrick does have legal recourse and could, if he chose, go to the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas with a complaint that council overstepped its authority with its ruling.