Suit Against Council Nixed

A lawsuit filed against Bridgeport Village Council members David Smith and Ben Lenz was dismissed Monday, allowing the pair – who were re-elected in November – to take office in January and rejoin council.

A filing in the Belmont County Probate Court states that based “upon the court being advised that the defendants have been re-elected to their positions on counsel beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the case is hereby dismissed without prejudice to refilling.”

Judge J. Mark Costine issued a temporary restraining order against Smith and Lenz on Aug. 19 that has barred them from their elected positions since that time. It is alleged that the two men – both members of the Bridgeport Fire and Emergency Squad – repeatedly voted, as members of council, on matters pertaining to the emergency squad, including voting to hire themselves as EMTs. The votes in question took place in the spring of 2011.

Smith and Lenz self-reported themselves to the Ohio Ethics Commission, which was to investigate the matter and report back to the court. Court records do not indicate receipt of the report.

“It is against our policy to comment on investigations that are on-going,” said Susan Willeke, spokesperseon for the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Smith on Monday said he did not have comment, and wanted to first speak with his family and legal counsel. Messages left at Lenz’s home, meanwhile, were not immediately returned.

The Bridgeport mayor’s office also declined comment Monday.

An initial group of nine Bridgeport residents filed the lawsuit against Smith and Lenz on Aug. 16. Relatives of Mayor John Callarik were among those joining in the lawsuit, as were some candidates for Bridgeport Village Council in the Nov. 5 general election.

Public record of votes by Smith and Lenz from March and April 2011 do not show them voting in favor of the ordinances in question, but rather voting “present.”

At a March 15, 2011 meeting, ordinance 2011-09 was read, creating the part-time position of paid EMTs, paramedics and first responders for the Bridgeport Fire Department. Smith, Lenz and council members David Coyne, Marvin Husarik, Richard Riley and Howard “Jim” Porter all voted in favor of the legislation.

A list of prospective EMTs for hiring then was given to council for approval, and that list included the names of Smith, Lenz and Smith’s wife, Misty Smith. The minutes state Smith and Lenz voted in favor of suspending the rules to vote on the measure.

Next was the vote on accepting the names. Smith and Lenz both then voted “present” on the ordinance, according to the minutes, with the other four members of council voting in favor.

Ordinance 2011-10, approving the hiring of Smith, Lenz and Misty Smith as part-time emergency personnel, was signed by Mayor John Callarik, but lists the vote as 6-0.

During the next council meeting on April 19, 2011, there were only four members of council present: Lenz, Smith, Husarik and Coyne.

Lenz and Smith next voted in favor of ordinance 2011-14, establishing the part-time position of fire department clerk at a salary of $150 a month. This ordinance passed 4-0.

The next ordinance discussed, 2011-15, hired Smith’s wife for the position of fire department clerk. Smith voted “present,” while Lenz, Coyne and Husarik all voted in favor. The vote of the six-member council was 3-0, with one member voting present. The ordinance – which does not record the vote – was signed by Callarik.