Struthers council rescinds punishments for Patrick, OKs pay raises
By Graig Graziosi
Struthers City Council voted at Wednesday’s caucus to rescind the punishments they levied against Councilman-at-large Michael Patrick.
Patrick was accused of insulting and harassing council clerk Megan Shorthouse after the March 28 council meeting.
During a special council meeting April 18, the lawmakers imposed a trio of penalties on Patrick, including a public apology to Shorthouse, a stint in anger- management counseling and a demand that Patrick permanently abstain from any vote involving any issue relating to Shorthouse.
Patrick’s lawyer, Brian Macala, sent council a letter May 3 questioning the rulings and calling the legality of the penalties into question. Macala gave council until May 18 to rescind the punishments or face potential legal action from Patrick.
City Law Director John Zomoida issued a letter to council Monday regarding Macala’s letter, and while Zomoida said he disagreed with some of Macala’s assertions, he agreed that council’s actions regarding Patrick’s voting rights and anger-management counseling were likely an overreach of their authority.
During Wednesday night’s caucus, after rescinding the punishments, the lawmakers then voted for him only to apologize to Shorthouse.
While Councilman-at-large Dallas Bigley made a motion that the apology should be public, his motion was voted down with a tie-breaking no vote from Council President Hank Franceschelli.
Third Ward Councilman Robert Burnside, 4th Ward Councilman Richard Bayus and Councilman-at-large Joseph Rudzik led the argument against a public apology, arguing that Shorthouse had previously stated she desired the apology to be handled privately and that her wishes should be the priority.
Patrick did not immediately offer an apology during the caucus, saying he had “nothing prepared at this time” when prompted.
Zomoida said the combination of Macala’s letter and his urging ultimately led to council’s reconsideration of the punishments.
“My understanding after talking with Attorney Macala is that Mr. Patrick is willing to apologize and that he preferred to do it in private,” Zomoida said. “I hope there will be an apology and that this will be the end of the situation.”
In other business, the lawmakers discussed an ordinance changing city water rates beginning June 1.
Currently, the first 2,500 cubic feet of water used in a month costs a Struthers resident $6.54 per hundred cubic feet and $5.48 for every 100 cubic feet after that. The new rates will return Aqua customers in Struthers to their 2017 rates of $6.27 per first 2,500 cubic feet and $5.26 for every 100 cubic feet after that.
The monthly rate based on meter size also will decrease. For those with 5/8-inch to 3/4-inch meters – the standard meter size for homes – the rate will go from $12.65 back to the 2017 rate of $12.14.
Mayor Terry Stocker said the new rates would last between May and December and were a result of Aqua Ohio saving money as a result of cuts to the corporate tax rate taken earlier this year.
Stocker said customers of Aqua Ohio in Struthers will save an average $2 per month.
The lawmakers also approved salary increases for department heads; nonelected, nonunion employees; part-time employees; and elected officials, including themselves.
However, Bigley said he felt uncomfortable with council raising its own salaries as it acts as the financial arm of the city and said he would donate his raise to a city organization.
First Ward Councilman Anthony Fire explained that the increases for council weren’t technically raises as the council took a $500 pay cut a decade ago to help the city during the financial crisis.
Patrick voted no on the salary increase ordinance for department heads, arguing that the city didn’t have a fire chief at the moment and therefore a raise for whoever fills the position should be withheld until they’ve proven themselves.
He also argued against giving a raise to Safety Service Director Ed Wildes, whom he has frequently clashed with, questioning whether the position needs to exist at all.
Fire argued that removing the position might hobble a future city administration. He added that he believes Wildes is doing a fine job.
The ordinance passed with a 6-1 vote.