PERRYSBURG — City council has passed an amendment to the city’s administrative code which creates a code of conduct for council members.
Council passed the amendment at last week’s meeting on a 5-1 vote, with Councilwoman Deborah Born voting against.
The amendment was forwarded to council after being passed by the members of the personnel committee (3-0), which included Councilman Jim Matuszak. He could not vote on passage of the amendment by the full council because he resigned from council to assume his new duties as Wood County recorder.
The amendment was requested by council President Jonathan Smith in response to the proceedings which took place at the Sept. 8 recreation committee meeting. Numerous community members had reached out to Smith about the meeting’s proceedings, he said.
“As president of council, I would like to first offer an apology to Ryan Wichman, Wood County Plays, and the members of our community that had to experience and witness the events of that evening. I would also be remiss to point out that the actions of one council member are not a representation of the rest of council,” Smith said in a statement.
“It is due to the behavior of that night that I am going to task our personnel committee to hold discussions and bring forth a Professional Code of Conduct for City Council and Appointed Committees, with a goal of passing legislation by the end of this year,” Smith said. “It is unfortunate that we are at this point where we need to have a discussion on how to be professionals. I hope that once we can create a code, that we never have to point to it again.”
Born is the recreation committee chair.
Wichman is raising funds to create an inclusive playground. He was inspired by his son, who has physical disabilities that make it nearly impossible to use any of the current playgrounds in the city. At that meeting he reported that the organization he started, Wood County Plays, had already raised more than $600,000 of the estimated $750,000 needed.
All council members have said they are supportive of the park concept. The debate under question related to park signage relative to acknowledgement of donations.
Councilwoman Jan Materni, a recreation committee member, said that a regular citizen was allowed to inappropriately inject himself into the meeting. She did not approve of the content of the discussion that took place, but she was also unsure if the way it was allowed broke specific city charter rules and therefore she voted to approve the new code of conduct policy.
The code of conduct policy was based on examples of codes used in other municipalities and written by Perrysburg Law Director Kathryn Sandretto, along with personnel committee members Tim McCarthy and Cory Kuhlman, who are both lawyers.
Born read a statement at the Jan. 5 meeting with her objections to the code.
“As this ordinance creates a quasi-judicial hearing, this ordinance grants the accused councilperson due process rights,” Born said.
She claims the granting of due process would then result in financial costs to the city for creation of records which could then be appealed at further legal costs to the city in the potential form of hearings and any related actions, should the code be enforced and the individual under question bring a dispute to court.
Sandrettos said it would be a liability for the city.
“Primarily because the consequences of the hearing are not that of a quasi-judicial matter. So there is not the ability to put anybody in jail, the ability to fine anybody, there isn’t the ability to remove anybody from city council. This is simply for a censure. Which means that because it is a procedural matter for city council it is not quasi-judicial,” Sandretto said.
Both McCarthy and Kuhlman supported to Sandretto’s statement.
“There is no better way for me to put this. It is simply not a judicial action. There is no consequence other than to let legislative authority to disapprove of what a member has done on council,” Kuhlman said. “There is no removal. This is designed so that people who are put in this position, one, that the accusing party takes it seriously, and, two, that the accused has an outlet to tell their side of things.”
Prior to his election to council, Kuhlman worked as legal counsel for several smaller municipalities in Wood County, a comparable role to that of Sandretto.
Smith summed up by saying that he hopes the legislation “stays dusty.”
In addition to the new code of conduct, and related to the recreation meeting in question, there were several other actions that took place in prior meetings.
Council publicly held a special educational meeting covering Robert’s Rules of Order and any rules unique to Perrysburg City Council. Sandretto also spoke several times on clarification of the method by which meeting minutes must be reported and the method of amending them. The recreation committee meeting minutes were also modified and further clarified in the process.
Materni is also on the recreation committee with Smith and Born.
“Sometimes out of unfortunate events, good things can happen. That recreation committee meeting led us to further discussions about how we were doing business and reporting the minutes. As it turns out, we were not doing it right,” she said in a follow-up interview.
Materni said that a similar events to the recreation meeting took place at the previous full council meeting, which she called “a breakdown in community.”
In unrelated business, council also authorized a purchase agreement with Bergren Associates for $32,177 for a Mission Communications Telemetry System for the public utilities’ 11 sanitary sewer pump stations.