Council meeting gets heated over statement

By David J. Coehrs -

A discussion borne of a vote regarding the Wauseon Recreation Association became heated during a City Council meeting on Monday, leading a fellow council member to accuse Shane Chamberlin of an ethics violation.

The vote – to table a discussion about legislation drafted to transfer oversight of the city’s recreational programming from the WRA to the city’s Park Board – was passed 3-2. Councilors Jeff Stiriz and Chamberlin voted no, and Councilor Scott Stiriz abstained.

But a lengthy statement read by Chamberlin prior to the vote upset both Mayor Kathy Huner and Councilor Harold Stickley, who was targeted by Chamberlin’s negative comments.

What followed turned an agenda that suggested a fairly brief meeting, held through Zoom on the city’s Facebook page, into an hour-long, sometimes heated event.

Long a vocal proponent of transferring WRA oversight to the Park Board, Chamberlin began the statement by noting that in 2019 he brought the issue before Council, which voted 5-1 for Law Director Tom McWatters III to draft related legislation. Stickley cast the dissenting vote.

Chamberlin said in the statement he doesn’t know why Stickley voted against it. “I would never stand in the way of him working on an issue, understanding, in the end, I might not vote in favor of the outcome. But why keep another Council member from simply working on an issue?” he read.

In June of last year, McWatters completed the draft. In his statement, Chamberlin said in order to gain Council members’ support he let the legislation “marinate” while he chatted occasionally with them to gauge their opinions. Chamberlin then hosted a special Committee of the Whole meeting about the legislation earlier this summer.

He said he wanted to bring the matter to a vote on Monday, then learned last week that Councilor Patrick Griggs was against Chamberlin’s proposal and wanted to dissolve the drafted legislation. Griggs cited the inability of youth sports groups to fund-raise under the city umbrella, the cost to the city of paying employees benefits, and the city seemingly wanting control over recreational programming.

Chamberlin stated that, while the WRA appears to operate smoothly now, in the past the board was in disarray. Without providing detail, he said their inefficiency caused a $30,000 loss within the organization that ultimately led to the resignation of its president and treasurer. He also noted that money from the WRA’s softball board was used to buy batting cages that were installed in a private citizen’s barn.

Referring to Stickley’s prior negative vote, Chamberlin stated, “So instead of using Councilman Stickley’s approach of waiting for a fire to start and trying to extinguish it, I’d rather apply some fire prevention.”

He also advised Griggs that “committee work is prevalent throughout the city’s operation. The administration of recreational programming by the city would be no different.”

After completing his statement Chamberlin asked Council members to vote on the legislation at the next Council meeting.

However, Mayor Kathy Huner took issue that no other Council members were provided with a copy of the statement prior to Monday’s meeting. Later, after verbally tussling with him over the statement, Huner said that presenting it unexpectedly, then asking for a vote, was unfair of Chamberlain.

“That’s a lot to consume at a meeting first time,” she said.

Huner then said because the statement was made at a public meeting it was up for immediate rebuttal from involved Council and administration members.

Stung by Chamberlin’s criticism, Stickley at one point threatened to file a complaint against him with Tim Gates, advisory attorney for The Ohio Ethics Commission. Stickley requested a copy “of the 10 pages of slander that my fellow councilor gave towards me, and it sounds like I need to send it down to the Ethics…because I’m being accused of voting my conscience on an issue and not agreeing with fellow Councilor Chamberlin to vote his way. So maybe Councilor Chamberlin’s trying to buy my vote.”

He said that possibility disturbs him because it mirrors allegations made against four Toledo City Council members, who were recently arrested for similar offenses.

During a protracted discussion covering aspects of the proposed legislation, McWatters emphasized that it allows the Park Board to act only as an advisory board to assist the recreation director, and Council to only oversee the recreational programming budget. He said Council could not act as an arbiter when issues arose with the director.

Griggs used the discussion to explain his reasons for opposing the draft legislation. He said when he joined Council this year he was informed the city was facing financial hurdles.

“(The city has) had a 40-year working relationship with the WRA, and I just see that…making the change will definitely cost the city money,” he said.

Griggs said the WRA has put a checks-and-balances system in place and shared it with Council. “It looks pretty clean,” he said.

And with two Council members regularly attending WRA meetings, “we know what’s going on…Our presence is in the WRA,” Griggs said. He said over the past year the organization has made changes the Council suggested.

Huner said that, despite past problems within the WRA, “This (current) board is intact. I feel they’re doing a great job.”

Public Service Director Keith Torbet agreed, adding, “This is not the time to torpedo our present system.”

In other business Stickley, a Buildings and Grounds Committee member, said the panel met July 6 to discuss fish removal from the Rotary Park pond. He said committee members also suggested more signage around the pond.

Stickley said the city law department is working on legislation for the committee. He said discussion of the legislation was tabled until the committee’s next meeting.

In department reports:

• Police Chief Kevin Chittenden said the city’s annual Safety City program for preschool-age children ended last week. He said 41 children participated.

• Public Service Director Keith Torbet reported that Ridgeville Telephone Company has completed installing fiber optic cable from the current State Bank location on Parkview Street to its new location on Shoop Avenue. He said the company will return in the fall to reseed disrupted grassy areas along the route.

Torbet said he completed a presentation to request an Ohio Department of Transportation Small Cities Grant. If approved, the grant will fund paving upgrades to Oak Street between Fulton Street and Shoop Avenue sometime in Fiscal Year 2024.

Torbet explained that upcoming legislation would require Council members to decide on a change of the city’s electrical supplier to Constellation Energy. He said the change would save the the city $2,100 annually over the current electrical contract.

And he told Council the city’s fuel pump has been upgraded.

• Finance Director Jamie Giguere notified the council that the department will be closed until at least July 27 due to exposure to COVID-19.

• Law Director Tom McWatters explained that several resolutions to be presented Monday would vacate original legislation regarding a park levy renewal and replace it with a corrected version. McWatters said the original version failed to clarify that the levy, which funded and operates the city pool, will be a renewal with a decrease in millage, from 2.6 to 2.0.

In new business, Council members approved a motion to appoint Laura Kamp to fill a Tree Commission term vacated by Jim Spiess. The term expires Dec. 31, 2021.

The council passed emergency resolutions to adopt the Fulton County Hazard Mitigation Plan; vacate Resolution 2020-8; renew part of an existing tax levy for Parks and Recreation purposes with a decrease; and authorize the mayor to enter into an agreement for electrical supply and to obtain revolving loan funds for a downtown ADA ramp project.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.