Marengo Village Council members were at odds over a new member’s quailifications at their January 9, 2014 meeting.
The first order of business was to swear in re-elected council member Earl Bennett and elected members Cherri Burwell and Ross Porter (re-elected member John Brent was not present).
There were protests from some on the board to the swearing in of Ross Porter.
Jay Nixon, legal counsel for Marengo, advised Porter that some council members had an objection to Porter’s claim of residing in the village limits for one year prior to the election - a required factor to be a council member.
Porter said a hearing was held at the Board of Elections regarding that matter and the BOE ruled he was eligible to run. Nixon explained that in spite of the BOE’s ruling, Marengo Village Council members have the power to decide whether Porter has met the requirements to be a council member. If they do not believe he does, they can remove Porter from council by a 75% vote.
“If that occurs,” Nixon advised, “You could be removed, and anything you voted on would have to be re-done. You would technically never have been a part of council. The council has the power, as a legislative body, to declare you ineligible to sit on council by a three-quarters vote. That is beyond the election committee.”
Nixon said they would need an affidavit from Porter stating he resides in the village (the same affidavit the other elected members signed).
“As far as I’m concerned, if you’re willing to state your address, that you’ve lived in the village for the last year - a requirement to be on council - I don’t see how you can deny a man who’s willing to sign his name and have it notarized,” said Council President Mike Baker, addressing council.
“That’s Mike’s opinion and he has one vote,” Nixon said. “We can have a hearing at the next council meeting and you will have to provide evidence that you were indeed a residence of the village.”
Porter made mention of the Board of Elections hearing, where council members had an opportunity to oppose his eligibility. Marengo Mayor Robert Gale and council member Earl Bennet did attend that hearing, but Porter said other council members did not.
Baker said the BOE did not require Porter to actually prove he resides in the village; they only requested utility bills (to show he was connected to the former Highland West Elementary address). Baker said people in the village mentioned they did not believe Porter actually resided in the building.
“I think I’ve done more than enough to prove that’s my building and I live there,” Porter said. “My office is there and I live there.”
Council members objected, saying it was not Porter’s residence.
“I’m going to sign this paper,” Porter said of the affidavit, “because the people of Marengo thought enough of me to put me on the ballot and to vote me in: I’m in here! I do live there - I’m there every day, I proved that fully - I submitted the documents they said I needed to submit.”
“The Board of Elections is not the council,” Earl Bennett countered. “They are radically different entities.”
Nixon explained that Porter met the requirements of the Board of Elections and was elected to be a part of the village council. Under the Ohio Revised Code, Nixon continued, when new members come on, the council has the ability to determine whether or not the new member meets all the requirements to sit on council.
“I think I went above and beyond here,” said Porter. “I don’t know what everybody’s problem with it is. I’ve been voted in; I went out and got the signatures and did the legwork and everything I was supposed to do. Now I’m sitting here at a meeting where I’m supposed to be sworn in and officially on board so we can move forward and I can serve my village. That’s what I’m here to do. I don’t know what everyone else here is on the board to do, but I’m here to help.”
Baker said council members had to right to challenge Porter’s residency, and he has to be able to prove he lives in a legal residence in the village.
When asking what ‘proof’ was needed, Nixon advised Porter to bring in the same paperwork that he offered to the Board of Elections, to a hearing in February - plus witnesses to speak in his behalf, if he wished. When Porter asked council members who was contesting his claim of residency, all but Baker raised their hands.
Council voted to have a hearing at the next meeting in February.
“What grounds can they (council) just disagree and say no, after I’ve proven everything and put my signature on the paper?” Porter asked.
“There is nothing in the Ohio Revised Code that specifically states what a resident of a village is,” Nixon replied. “The council is given very broad discretion to give their own meaning to that definition. There’s really no basis other than what the council votes.”
One council member said their idea of what a residence is, is where a person sleeps, eats, and bathes.
“You can have an office anywhere,” the council member said, “but that doesn’t mean you live there.”
Porter said a person can have an office in their home as well, and some residents in town live in the same building above businesses that are zoned business areas, not residential.
Since some council members protested swearing in Porter, no members were sworn in orally. All affidavits were signed and turned in, making the electors legitimate council members.
The debate went on 23 of the 28 minutes the meeting lasted.
In other business, bills were paid. Discussion of a trash dumpster that could be used for the community to dispose of unwanted items for bi-annual ‘clean up’ days was continued to Spring.
There were no serious weather-related issues during the severe cold snap, said Mayor Gale, except for a culvert that needs replaced at Bennett’s Distributing on Seymour Street.
The next regular council meeting will be February 13, 2014 at 7 p.m. at the wastewater treatment plant on SR 229.