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Judge rules in favor of city officer

Said commission ‘violated its own rule’ in exam case

YOUNGSTOWN — A judge ruled the city’s civil service commission “violated its own rule” when it failed to notify police Detective Sgt. Michael R. Cox that it had issued a final decision on his appeal regarding a promotional exam for lieutenant.

Cox brought a case about the exam, which had its results certified by the commission on Aug. 15, 2018, all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. That court ruled 7-0 on Aug. 18, 2021, that Cox “did not file a timely appeal” and then rejected a request to reconsider its decision on Oct. 27.

But the Supreme Court didn’t address Cox’s complaint that the commission didn’t provide “a final and appealable order” to him about its decision so he could seek an administrative appeal from that order.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney ruled that the commission didn’t follow its own rules by not issuing that order and determined that must be provided.

“The question of whether Cox has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted is not one that can be fairly disputed or debated,” Sweeney wrote. “He has done so.”

City Law Director Jeff Limbian said: “We’ll have to analyze whether an appeal to the 7th District (Court of Appeals) is allowable. My guess is we’ll probably appeal to the 7th District.”

S. David Worhatch, Cox’s attorney, said: “We are pleased with the decision, and we look forward to presenting the issue to the commission. The commission’s decision was arbitrary. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am with the city of Youngstown that it took the commission this long and a court ruling to require them to follow their rules.”

THE ISSUE

The issue, Worhatch said, is the city commission failed to conduct a hearing on Cox’s Aug. 20, 2019, appeal that a written promotional test had “errors and improprieties.”

Cox and other detective sergeants took a lieutenant promotional exam in June 2018 with Cox objecting during the test that portions of it were based on an outdated examination book.

The commission certified the results of the test on Aug. 15, 2018, and put William Ward at the top of the list with Cox finishing third, two points behind Ward. Had four questions on the test been properly scored instead of each detective sergeant getting credit for all of them, Cox would have tied for first and based on time of service he would have been No. 1 on the test, Worhatch said.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown promoted Ward to lieutenant May 14, 2019, and Cox filed an appeal six days later.

The commission ruled June 19, 2019, that Cox wasn’t entitled to an appeal and approved the minutes of that meeting on July 17, 2019.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Cox had 30 days after the approval of the minutes, considered a “final order,” to file an appeal in court.

Cox appealed June 27, 2019, to the State Personnel Board of Review, which rejected his request Dec. 19, 2019, but he didn’t file with the Ohio Supreme Court until July 6, 2020, which was well past the 30-day deadline.

The Supreme Court ruling stated: “Cox should have raised any claim that the commission erred in administering his rights by appealing the commission’s approval of its minutes.”

RULES

While rejecting Cox’s appeal, the Supreme Court did not address whether the city commission followed its rules by providing the officer with its final decision.

In her ruling, Sweeney wrote the Supreme Court decision “did not strip all possible jurisdiction this court would have to adjudicate Cox’s administrative appeal and instead shifted to this court the burden of deciding issues left unresolved by the Supreme Court in respect to the specific question of whether the action already taken by the commission in disposing of Cox’s civil service appeal in fact constitutes a final and appealable order upon application of the commission’s own rules.”

Sweeney wrote the commission was required to give Cox notice of its decision under city law and it never did — so his 30 days to appeal hasn’t started.

Sweeney ordered the commission to notify Cox in writing that it has made a final decision on his appeal.

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