Bridgeport Council Members Voted ‘Present’

BRIDGEPORT – Minutes from Bridgeport Village Council meetings from spring 2011 indicate council members David Smith and Ben Lenz voted “present” on ordinances hiring them or family members as paid EMTs for the village.

Just what a “present” vote means during a governmental proceeding in the state of Ohio is what could be at issue as the two men have their case heard in court.

Smith and Lenz are accused in a lawsuit filed by 10 Bridgeport residents of voting on legislation that financially benefited them while in their role as council members. Belmont County Probate Judge J. Mark Costine has suspended them from their elected positions until the matter is resolved.

Public record of their votes – all happening more than two years ago – do not show them voting in favor of the ordinances, but rather voting “present.”

Paul Nick, head of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said the matter of just what a “present” vote means will have to be decided by a judge.

Village Solicitor Mark Thomas said, in his opinion, a “present” vote would not count, essentially serving as a vote to abstain.

Michael Shaheen, a former village solicitor in Bellaire who is representing the plaintiffs, said his opinion is that a present vote is a vote in the affirmative.

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. Paramedics were to be paid $9 an hour; EMTs, $8.50 an hour; and first responders, $8 an hour, as stated in the ordinance.

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 Mayor John Callarik.

Bridgeport lawyer Richard Myser was village solicitor at the time of the votes.

Thomas said Smith and Lenz earlier this month self-reported to the Ohio Ethics Commission, which is investigating whether any inproprieties occurred regarding votes on Bridgeport Village Council.

Fire Chief Mark Subasic confirmed that Smith and Lenz resigned their paid positions as EMTs with the village on April 21, prior to the filing of the lawsuit by Bridgeport residents.

Bridgeport residents filing the lawsuit are Shirleann Murad, the daughter of Bridgeport Mayor John Callarik, and James Murad; Callarik’s granddaughter, Mikida Clegg, and William E. Clegg; the mayor’s secretary, Ann Gallagher; and residents John Porter, Chris Tarter, H. James Brubach and Diane Orum. Councilman Richard Riley also has joined in the complaint against Smith and Lenz, bringing the number of Bridgeport residents filing the legal action to 10.

Smith and Lenz are seeking re-election on the Nov. 5 ballot.