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Analysis: Council resolves Commission appointment dispute

BUCKEYE LAKE – It took about six months, but village council members finally decided Monday night who would serve on the Village’s Planning and Zoning Commission and who would not.

The village charter allows three of the Commission’s seven members to be non-electors of the village (or non-residents) which is unique among area villages and townships that require zoning board members to be residents. The non-elector members are subject to an annual reconfirmation by the appointing authority – village council members or the mayor. The reconfirmation requirement has not been closely followed.

Two Commission members – Stacie McCloud (a council appointee) and Matt Simon (a mayoral appointee) – are non-electors. The charter, in the Planning and Zoning Commission section, also states, “No Village employee or official may serve as a Board member while so employed, elected or appointed.” McCloud is also a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Last January, several council members expressed concern that they weren’t following the Charter closely enough. Council member Peggy Wells reminded them that just last November Mayor Clay Carroll had invited Athens based attorney Garry Hunter, past president of the Athens County Bar Association, the Ohio Municipal League, the Ohio Municipal Attorneys Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association, to tell council how to follow the village charter more closely.

Wells also noted that the Charter stated that a Village “official” could not serve as a Planning and Zoning Commission board member “while so employed, elected or appointed.” McCloud was already a village “official” due to her appointment to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Carroll and council member Arletta Ruton said McCloud should get to pick between the two appointments. Council president Kitty Zwissler said it was council’s appointment and thus their decision. A motion to reconfirm her for the Parks & Recreation Commission and not confirm her for Planning and Zoning was approved.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Karen Cookston questioned the decision. Carroll asked Buckeye Lake Law Director Mark Gardner to review the matter. A few days later, Gardner responded with a one paragraph opinion.

“Second, as to the issue of a citizen serving on the Planning Commission if that citizen is appointed to another Village Board and/or Commission, I have reviewed Section 7.01 of the Village Charter for guidance. I do not find that Section 7.01 of the Charter requires that the Planning Commission members not be members of other boards and/ or commissions. The closest issue found in this section of the Charter is that, under Section 7.01 (f), no Village employee or official may serve as a Board member while so employed, elected or appointed. I find no definition that a citizen appointed to a Board of Commission is deemed a Village employee or official.”

Gardner’s comment ignored the plain meaning of the word ‘official,’ which is defined “as a person appointed or elected to an office or charged with certain duties” ( By common definition, McCloud became an “official” when she was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The Charter gives the Parks and Recreation Commission specific duties in Section 7.03 (d) and (e) including “The Commission shall also, with the approval of Council and the Mayor, equip, operate, direct and maintain all the existing recreational facilities and park facilities, and from time to time, to acquire, improve and construct additional facilities.”

Carroll, Cookston and Ruton then maintained that the law director’s comment nullified council’s majority vote to keep McCloud on Parks and Recreation and remove her from Planning and Zoning. There is nothing in the Charter or Ohio law that allows a law director or village solicitor to nullify a resolution or ordinance duly enacted by council. Those measures can be changed by another majority vote of council and are subject to review by a Court of Common Pleas.

Carroll later agreed at an April council meeting that there was an opening on Planning and Zoning. “…because council did not reconfirm Stacey McCloud.” However, Cookston ignored council’s decision by continuing to consider McCloud a Commission member. McCloud participated in some meetings and was included in the membership roll call at all meetings.

The vacancy on the Commission was advertised and North Bank resident Doug Stewart was the only applicant. Both he and McCloud were eventually interviewed by council’s Personnel Committee.

That committee met before Monday night’s council meeting. Chair Tim Ryan said, “We are under the impression there is not an opening on the Planning Commission.” He said the issue was McCloud’s reconfirmation. Committee member Peggy Wells moved not to reconfirm McCloud, stating that she moved out of the village three years ago. Committee and council member Doug Poorman DVM seconded the motion, adding “we have a better candidate.”

Committee member Arletta Ruton said, “I think this is a railroad situation. Karen (Cookston) gave us all the information that we need.”

“I somewhat agree with everybody which is somewhat hard to do,” Ryan said. “I have an issue going against the solicitor. We have two qualified candidates that I would put on any committee.”

During the discussion, council member Tom Wolfe suggested, “Maybe we reset the whole table. We pick time and we select them all.”

The committee deadlocked 2-2 on Wells’ motion, meaning that it could not make a recommendation to the full council on the matter. During the subsequent council meeting, Wells moved not to reconfirm McCloud to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Council member Bob Masone MD seconded her motion. The vote was 5-2 with Ryan and Ruton voting “no.” Wells then moved to appoint Stewart to the Commission with Masone’s second. That vote was also 5-2 with Ryan and Ruton objecting. Cookston then told council, “You have created another quagmire.”

During council member comments at the end of the meeting, Ryan said Planning and Zoning Commission membership issue was an “absolute mess.” He added that he didn’ want to be involved in “these messes again” so he won’t seek reelection in November.

Zwissler asked Union Township Trustee Charles Prince to give council members an overview of the recent issues with the Ohio Public Entity Consortium health insurance cooperative (OPEC-HC). State-wide 157 government entities have health insurance through OPEC-HC, including cities, villages, townships, fire departments and health districts. Local members include the Villages of Buckeye Lake and Hebron, and Licking and Union townships.

Prince said the cooperative was formed in 2014 with all members locked in until the end of this year. The cooperative quickly started running million dollar plus deficits with claims exceeding income. Members were given an option of a 25 percent rate increase for 2016 or a 12.5 percent rate increase with a $2,000 deficit reduction payment per employee covered. That additional income brought down the deficits but did not eliminate them.

For the 2017 renewal, members had the option of a 12.4 percent rate increase or a 6.2 percent increase and a $1,000 deficit reduction payment per employee. Those increases proved insufficient to eliminate the deficits.

Prince said members faced a June 30, 2017, deadline to give notice that they would be leaving the plan at the end of the year. Otherwise, they would be automatically renewed for three more years. That notice could be rescinded anytime up to October 1, 2017. Hebron, Licking Township and Union Township all gave timely notice to withdraw at the end of year. Buckeye Lake did not.

Prince said members were shocked to learn on June 27, that the OPEC-HC board decided at a June 26 board meeting to change plan administrators effective July 1. The current administrator was Jefferson Health Plan, a regional council of governments (JHP), in Jefferson County, Ohio. OPEC-HC members had access to JHP contracts negotiated with healthcare providers like Medical Mutual of Ohio, but the cooperative was responsible paying all the bills of its members.

OPEC’s new program partners did not include a health insurance company, but OPEC pledged to pay any and all claims no matter where they were generated. Non-contract providers are rare in the current health insurance market and could be quite costly. Members were questioning OPECs financial viability.

Prince said JHP gave members an option to stay with JHP with the same rates and plans through the end of the year. County prosecuting attorneys in Ohio provide legal advice to Ohio townships. The Licking County prosecutor’s office recommended that Licking and Union townships take JHP’s offer which was consistent with both townships’ trustees’ preference. Hebron opted to stay with OPEC.

Prince said they subsequently learned from JHP that OPEC’s deficit, funded by JHP, was about $7 million as of June 30 and that OPEC didn’t pay JHP its June payment of some $3.9 million. JHP then demanded payment of approximately $12 million by Oct. 1 plus an additional $16 million in penalties for the early termination of their contract.

JHP also told OPEC that they won’t be paying any large claims initiated after June 3 since OPEC hasn’t paid their June bill. Prince said Buckeye Lake Police officer Andy Davis started a large claim in June for first his boating accident and then treatment for brain cancer.

Prince speculated that Buckeye

Lake and Davis could find his treatment uncovered. Prince also speculated that OPEC may file bankruptcy by October 1 to protect itself from JHP’s demands for payment.

Council members asked a few questions but did not discuss the issues or their future steps.

In other business, council members set a public hearing for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 14, to hear comments on the proposal to change the name of Hebron and Walnut roads (Ohio 79) in Buckeye Lake Village to Buckeye Lake Boulevard. ODOT is requiring the change in order to place the name “Buckeye Lake” on Ohio 79 bridge over I-70 that is currently being rebuilt. The third and final reading followed by council members’ votes will occur at the regular meeting following the hearing.

Council members also unanimously suspended the three reading rule and adopted an ordinance appropriating $14,000 for street repairs and storm sewer improvements. Union Township will be paid about $2,200 for DuraPatching repair on Hunts Landing Road. The balance of the $14,000 will be spent for storm water sewer improvements on Highland Avenue.

Council members also unanimously suspended the three reading rule and adopted an ordinance to advance $32,000 from the General Fund to the new Storm Water Utility Fund. The advance will be repaid from the fund’s collections from property owners once the fees are set and collected.

Police Chief Jimmy Hanzey said part-time Officer Jeff Vermaaten had been moved to fulltime to take some of the open hours caused by Davis’ treatment. He added that the village’s auxiliary or unpaid officers have also stepped up. “We’ve handled our load,” Hanzey reported. “He’s (Davis) is at home and in good spirits.”

Carroll said he hasn’t heard from ODNR since council members approved the sale of a small lot next to the AMIL spillway. Council members accepted ODNR’s $22,000 offer but the acceptance is contingent on ODNR replacing the sidewalk, providing some screening for the residence to the north and adding a barrier like a fence to keep people from falling into the outlet channel.

Carroll announced that the now annual Mopar SuperCruise down Ohio 79 will be from 6 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, August 12. He did not comment on any changes to the event which places spectators just inches away from tire-burning muscle cars.

Some residents objected last year to the “I can do anything drivers” who tried to co-opt the festive and packed atmosphere with their attitude. The risk isn’t from Mopar Nationals visitors – they are mature and very protective of their vehicles. Some residents want police officers to take control to get rid of the open containers and reckless burnouts.

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