Clerk May Face Discipline Over Ballot Mixup

Benwood City Council on Tuesday temporarily tabled its ordinance regarding the planting and maintenance of trees in the city, directing that some changes be made to language in the measure.

Council also made a move toward privatizing garbage service in the city, while there also was some discussion about disciplining City Clerk Judy Hunt regarding mistakes made on Benwood’s May 13 municipal ballot.

“What are we going to do about Mrs. Hunt – the way she mishandled the election?” Councilman Walter Yates asked. “We’ve discussed it in a past meeting (during executive session) about putting a reprimand on her personal file. We’ve got an election in two more years.”

Police Chief Frank Longwell stopped Yates, and told him the issue was a personnel matter that should be discussed in private by council.

Council then called for an executive session to discuss “discipline of a public employee” that lasted more than an hour. No action was taken following the executive session.

Council voted to table the tree ordinance after members Robert Rose and Curtis Mele voiced concerns about the measure, which would have permitted city workers to go on to private property to trim or take down tress thought to be safety issues.

The measure also would regulate the type of trees residents could plant on their property.

“If I want to plant an oak tree on my property, I should be able to plant an oak tree,” Rose said. “It’s my property. I pay taxes. That’s just my opinion. I’ve had a couple of neighbors say the same thing.”

Mele agreed there can be safety issues with trees, which also can grow to damage a neighbor’s property.

But he also thought the measure to be overreaching. He called for the removal of sections in the ordinance regarding the type of trees, how far they must be spaced apart, and allow city workers to prune any trees or shrubs interfering with the visibility of any traffic control device or sign.

Keith Koebley, general manager of Republic Services, presented to council his company’s proposals to assume trash hauling in the city.

Council voted 5-2 to accept a proposal that would set the cost of garbage collection for residents at $11.50 a month for residents, $18.50 per housing authority unit, and $30 for commercial units. Residential and commercial units would be serviced once per week, and the Housing Authority properties twice a week.

Voting in favor of the proposal were council members Rose, Mele, Yates, Carl Richter and Chuck Terry, while John Kazemka and Larry Ferrera III voted against. Councilwoman Lori Longwell was not present at the meeting.

Kazemka and Ferrera indicated they want to take the proposal to residents in their wards before offering their support.