MIDDLEPORT — A lively discussion about an ordinance passed as an emergency measure by Middleport Village Council at its March 24 meeting to establish a grant writing position, and also to hire Fred Hoffman as a grant writer for the village, resulted in a vote at Monday night’s meeting to rescind both actions and introduce new legislation.
At that earlier meeting, Councilman Roger Manley claimed emergency status for the ordinance to create the position so that all three readings could be handled in one meeting, and Hoffman could be hired as grant writer without further delay. While the emergency status was questioned at the time by Mayor Michael Gerlach and Susan Baker, clerk/financial officer, Manley insisted on moving forward because of past delays on both passing the ordinance and hiring Hoffman. The mayor contended that the right way to hire someone into a management position was to open up the job to applicants through newspaper advertising.
At that March meeting, both the ordinance establishing the position and the legislation claiming the emergency status to create the position by giving it all three required readings, and hiring Hoffman into the position, passed by a vote of four to one. Doug Dixon, Sharon Older and Richard Vaughan joined Manley in favor, while Emerson Heighton voted “no” on both issues. Penny Burge was absent.
When questioned about the legality of the action, Manley gave as his authority Steve Smith, a Columbus attorney, who was conducting a training session for new council members. Manley, who has been on Middleport Council for several years, accompanied Dixon, Older and Vaughan to Columbus for the session. All four were emphatic at the March 24 meeting of Middleport Council that that they were told by Smith that “everything they wanted to do could all be handled as an emergency measure in one session.”
Smith reacted in a letter and in a telephone call to the mayor. He said that the information given by the council was not accurate, that he never gives legal advice to anyone on a specific legal issue unless retained — and that was not the situation with Middleport — and that only the village’s attorney, who is paid a fee, is in a position to do that.
In Smith’s conversation with the mayor, he asked for a retraction and requested that the inaccurate information as provided by Manley, Dixon, Older and Vaughan at the council meeting which had been reported in this newspaper be clarified.
At that point, Manley acknowledged that specific information on the Middleport issue had not been given.
The mayor gave extensive information, some of which was taken from a state poster, regarding the handling of ordinances, including the legal aspect of claiming emergency status and time for reaction from the public. It was also noted that council did not have the right vote count to take it to the emergency status or to eliminate it from the status since five of the six council members must be in agreement. Burge was not present when the vote was taken.
With that, council voted to make void the ordinance passed by emergency measure on March 24.
Manley, who voted for rescinding the ordinance, claimed there were errors in the original ordinance — including the number of hours to be worked, saying it should have been 20 hours a week, not a month, and that the job title should have been economic development director, not grants administrator. He had presented his recommendations for the job to the mayor and clerk to be included in the new ordinance prepared by the clerk. It was given a first reading and passed by the required majority.
Included in the economic development director’s job listed in the ordinance is “to research into ways and means of benefiting the village in a positive monetary manner; to report on the results of this research and request permission from village council to pursue matters that will result in thee economic improvement of the village, and shall be required to show how the performance of his or her duties financially beneficial the village.”
To be in compliance with the law, Burge made a motion that the position be advertised so that everyone has an opportunity to apply for the job.
To speed things up, Manley suggested a special meeting for giving a second reading, although he did not make a motion to that effect. Therefore, the second and third readings of the proposed ordinance will be held at the next two regular meetings after which council can move on hiring an economic development person.
During the meeting, reports were heard from each of the department heads on activities, problems and solutions. Chief of Police Bruce Swift reported receipts of $9,265 in March with 27 cases going through mayor’s court. He also noted training programs taken by officers on handling meth lab containers, crisis intervention and sovereign citizen training.
Also giving reports were Mony Wood in regard to the jail operation, Faymon Roberts, village administrator, reported on water leaks and the work being done to solve those problems, and Mike Hendrickson, building inspect and floor plane administrator, had a report.
It was announced that Don Vaughan, and Cass and Hank Cleland will be at the next meeting to discuss FEMA’s changes in the flood insurance program and the village’s role in the process.