OPEN GOVERNMENT ??

SEVEN HILLS, OH  44131

March 25, 2013                               Committee and Caucus Meeting

Mostly consumed with conversation with outside counsel and discussion of Bentkowski’s  lawsuit.

 

Council President Mike Barth and Councilman Pete Draganic have a whispered conversation during the meeting. (NOTE: Sunshine Law specifies that all dialogue at Public Meetings is to be clearly audible to all in attendance. No whispering, rustling of papers that prevents hearing comments etc.)

March 11, 2013                                     Council Meeting

Council is questioned from the floor regarding the keeping of minutes at Charter Review Committee meetings. Ultimately, Councilman Draganic answers that the Charter Review Committee is not a decision making body so minutes are not required. Council President Mike Barth states that minutes are being kept. NOTE: Sunshine Law requires that minutes be kept at ALL Public Meetings with few exceptions. None of those exceptions apply to Charter Review Committee meetings.

 

Mike Barth is apprised from the floor that his membership on the Charter Review Committee doesn’t seem proper or ethical based on Seven Hills Charter specifications. He is further apprised that Councilman Bentkowski’s statements in the earlier Caucus meeting regarding the inappropriateness of Council input into the Charter Committee seems to support the statement from the floor.

April 1, 2013                              Committee and Caucus Meeting

 

“Executive Session for Trax Construction litigation” convened with no more information than the quoted words. This is in reference to the $47k overrun on the West Creek sewer project. Ohio Sunshine Law stipulates that pre-Executive Session discussion should have enough substance to enable the minutes to convey the gist of the matter to be discussed in Executive Session. State supplied guidelines for implementation of this law specifically states that simply saying “litigation” is not good enough.

 

March 11,  2013                                  Caucus Meeting

Council-at-large Matt Trafis questioned City Engineer Mark Papke on a $47k overrun on the West Creek sewer project. Council-at-large Bentkowski interrupts Papke’s reply to tell Trafis that this issue was previously discussed in Executive Session due to its sensitive nature and “potential” for litigation. Law Director Pignatiello stated litigation is “imminent”. A decision to go into executive session was made.

 

Council President Mike Barth requested that council members review the Seven Hills Charter and provide suggestions for Charter revision. Council-at-large Trafis stated that he believes that the Charter Review Committee is to be an independent body. Council-at-large Bentkowski stated “one of the worries in the past was that they (Charter Review Committee) would be a sham for whatever Council or the Mayor wanted on the ballot.”  Bentkowski said this despite the Bentkowski administration's failure to populate a Charter Review Committee (as required by law) during his eight (8) year tenure,.

 

Mayor Dell’Aquila commented regarding a councilperson’s requests for “voluminous” records. His contention is that many hours are being devoted to satisfying such requests. The Mayor suggested that Council should “appropriate money to do research” for such requests. He further states that he is not the “gatekeeper” for public records.  NOTE: If the request is for an established public record, nothing other than an “at cost” charge for copying requested records is allowed according to Sunshine Law.

March 18, 2013                            Committee and Caucus Meeting

Prompted by President of Council Mike Barth, Councilman Draganic tries to justify his false statement regarding minute-taking that he presented at a March 11, 2013 meeting.

Law Director Pignatiello tells him that he’s wrong. (NOTE: Minutes are required at all public meetings, with a few specific exceptions, per Sunshine Law.)

 

Barth presents work from the Charter Review Committee with the caveat that he’ll tell that Committee “not to spin its wheels” on presented items if Council doesn’t support them.  Council is polled for comments. (NOTE: The Seven Hills Charter, in its specifications for the Charter Review Committee, has NO provision for a Council review of their work in progress. SEE statements below (March 11th Caucus) from Trafis and Bentkowski regarding their interpretations that the Charter Review Committee is to be independent of Council.

 

Mike Barth is questioned from the floor about the existence of a Seven Hills Records Commission. He replies that none exists.

 

Mayor Dell’Aquila is addressed from the floor about his statements at the March 11 Caucus regarding records. He is apprised of the fact that Ohio Revised Code 149.39 requires a  Records Commission and that the Mayor or his appointee is to chair that Commission. (NOTE: That Law, in some form, has existed since 12-23-86. The  Mayor or his designee is to be the chairman of that commission.)

 

Mike Barth is questioned from the floor regarding his continued membership in the Charter Review Committee. Barth confirms his membership and offers additional information to the questioner. In increasingly loud voice (NOTE: One has to wonder if this is a sign of Barth’s being irritated or an attempt at intimidation of the questioner) he refers to the questioner’s opinion (offered at the March 11th meeting) that Barth shouldn’t be a member of the Charter Review Committee. Barth defends his membership through his interpretation of Charter specifications and additionally refers to a “meeting” where Law Director Pignatiello was to have declared Barth’s Charter Review Committee membership to be allowed under Charter specifications. He tells the questioner that he (questioner) might not have been at that meeting where Mr. Pignatiello’s opinion was given. Where are the minutes for that meeting ?

 

 

 

Text Box: April 8, 2013                                     Council Meeting

Tom Jaros partially read the following to all attending the meeting. He was stopped at the end of the 3 minutes allowed for statements from the floor. The entire written statement was presented to Council. It was included in Council minutes in its entirety.
                                            *************************************
Delivered from the floor to Council – April 8, 2013

It has long been a lament of Seven Hills City Hall that outside influences have eroded the taxpayer trust in City government and management. In view of recent observations and developments, I would submit that City Hall could improve its image through the implementation of some basic tenets of Open Government.

A quote from the 2nd President of the United States - John Adams:
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people who have a right and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”

I’m sure we all wholeheartedly agree with President Adams.

In theory, everyone here who swore an oath of office should be familiar with that quote. It appears on the 4th page of the Ohio Sunshine Laws publication. Mike Barth recently stated that Council has satisfied State training requirements relative to Sunshine Law. Sunshine Law speaks to the extremely important concept of Open Government. It is partially excerpted in the Seven Hills Charter. Seven Hills City Hall violations of that law put taxpayers at risk for monetary repercussions for those violations.

Based on observed recent City Hall practice that is, or should be on record, it would seem that Mr. Barth either misspoke or that a refresher course in Sunshine Law and City Charter specifications is sorely needed. Justification for that statement stems from the following:
1) Mr. Draganic’s false statements offered on 2 separate occasions to the effect that minute-taking is not required at Public meetings. 
2) The 1st meeting of the Charter Review Committee where, in the presence of Review Committee member Mike Barth, it was decided that minute taking wasn’t necessary. Also present were former Seven Hills Councilman Tom Littlepage, Seven Hills Magistrate Eric Moore, and Ohio deputy treasurer and director of economic development and former Seven Hills Councilman Bill Bishilany. There doesn’t seem to be minutes available for that meeting.
3) The 2nd meeting of the Charter Review Committee that convened at 6PM on March 11th and adjourned at approximately 6:30PM doesn’t appear to have had minutes taken. Members present at that meeting included Mike Barth, Bill Bishilany, former County Prosecutor Bill Mason, Ed Foley, Tom Littlepage, Jeff Bryda, John Predina, Eric Moore and Joe O’Donnell.
4) The 3rd meeting of the Charter Review Committee was illegally convened on March 11th at sometime soon after the adjournment of the 2nd meeting. All members present at the second meeting attended. Mike Barth left early. All members present were complicit in the illegal convening of a Public meeting without the prior Public notice required by the Seven Hills Charter.
5) At the March 11th Caucus Mayor Dell’Aquila suggested that Council appropriate money for responses to voluminous record requests of an unnamed councilperson. Any charge beyond actual copy costs of Public records is a violation of Sunshine Law. Threatened violations are also actionable in Common Pleas Court. In my opinion, any charge for documents to a Councilperson acting in the best interest of taxpayers is questionable.
6) At the March 18th Caucus, all present were apprised of the Ohio Revised Code 149.39 requirement for a Records Commission. During an April 4th, 2013  conversation with the State of Ohio Auditor’s office, it was confirmed that a Records Commission is integral to the proper implementation of Sunshine Law.
7) On March 22nd, 2013 Mike Barth inadvertently broadcasted an email documenting activities of the Charter Review Committee. Based on information seen in the email, Mike Barth was blind-copied on this email from Eric Moore to Bill Bishilany, former County Prosecutor Bill Mason, Ed Foley, Tom Littlepage, Jeff Bryda, John Predina, and Joe O’Donnell. It referred to minutes of the illegally held 2nd Charter Review Committee meeting that occurred on March 11th, 2013. It had proposed Charter Amendments, apparently composed by Eric Moore attached. Blind-copying Mike Barth prevented other Charter Review Committee members from being aware of Mr. Barth’s participation in the dissemination of a Public record. Minutes of the illegally held March 11th, 2013 Meeting have no indication of an instruction to Mr. Moore to prepare the attached proposed amendments. As such, those same minutes are deficient in properly representing activity at the illegally held March 11th, 2013 meeting of the Charter Review Committee.

Enforcement of Sunshine Law can only be done through action taken in the Court of Common Pleas. If the alleged infractions are deemed valid, the complainant will be awarded attorney’s fees and the amount of $500 per infraction.

As the taxpayers of Seven Hills are already under siege from the lawsuit filed by Councilman Bentkowski, one has to hope that no other action is initiated as a result of the current missteps of City Hall in the implementation of Sunshine Law and violations of the City Charter. After reading Mr. Bentkowski’s allegations in his suit, it appears that the City, win or lose, may undergo some expensive education in the intricacies of Sunshine Law. 

In the best interest of the taxpayers, and in the avoidance of more potentially expensive litigation relative to non-compliance with the tenets of Open Government and Sunshine Law, it would seem prudent that all Seven Hills City officials act in the best interest of taxpayers and the fulfillment of their oaths of office. The avoidance of potentially budget-crushing litigation costs should be adequate motivation for education in, and proper implementation of, Sunshine Law. Personally, I would like to immediately see Public Meetings scheduled so as to not overlap other Public Meetings as has occurred with Charter Review Committee meetings.
Thank you for your time.
Text Box: NOTE: FOR ADDITIONAL, GENERAL INFORMATION AND THE OPINIONS OF MANY ON THE WORKINGS OF SEVEN HILLS CITY HALL VISIT: The Seven Hills Reporter here.
Text Box:  May 12, 2013  
In the spirit of decreased government transparency and elimination of direct taxpayer input into the Rec Center, the Council Meeting on 5/13/13 will find the 2nd reading of Ordinance 50-2013 that will eliminate the Recreation Board. The message to voters (mushrooms) from supporters of this measure should be clear: Those supporters feel that MUSHROOMS are best if left in the dark !

QUESTION: Who initiated 50-2013 ?

Former Mayor David Bentkowski and his appointed Rec Center Director (best man in his wedding) saw no need for the oversight of a taxpayer populated Recreation Board. Then Mayor Bentkowski violated Seven Hills Charter Law through his failure to establish a Rec Board. Approx $2,000,000.00 in Rec Center losses followed under the sole oversight of Mayor Bentkowski? The Rec Board was and is currently required by Law (Seven Hills Charter). It costs taxpayers NOTHING. Why should the Rec Center, free of direct taxpayer oversight, be the personal playtoy of ANY Mayor? The Charter Review Committee is recommending the removal of the stipulation for a Rec Board from the Charter. (It is a matter of record that this Charter Review Committee violated Seven Hills and State of Ohio Laws in the course of its deliberations.) Until the removal of that stipulation from the Charter, Mayor Dell’Aquila is violating Seven Hills Law through his failure to appoint members to a Recreation Board. In the best interest of taxpayers, Mayor Dell'Aquila and City Hall in general, need to adhere to ALL applicable Laws.


Text Box: May 14, 2013
This morning the following was sent by email to all Council Members and the Seven Hills Law Dept.:
Subject line: 50-2013: Cart before the horse
Hello all,
It would appear that the Rec Board stipulation needs to be removed from the Charter before 50-2013 could be legally considered.
From the Charter:
SECTION 9. RECREATION BOARD.
The Council shall, by ordinance, establish and provide for the organization, duties and powers of the Recreation Board except as follows:
(a) Organization.
(1) The Recreation Board shall consist of five (5) members appointed by the Mayor subject to approval by the majority of Council in accordance with Article III, Section 9(c) of the Charter of the City of Seven Hills. No members shall hold any other Municipal office or appointment in the City.
 
As things stand - Where is the Rec Board ? Council duty to provide for one and Mayor's duty to populate it according to the Charter.

NOTE: It is my experience that Council members and Law do not respond to emails.