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FOP: Mistakes Made

Union wants to amend lawsuit on cruiser occupancy issue

November 22, 2012
By IAN HICKS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - The Wheeling Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 admits there were errors in a lawsuit it filed against City Council in October, and its members now want a judge to let them try again.

The organization claims the process by which City Council voted to allow residents to decide the fate of a longstanding ordinance requiring two police officers to ride in each car on patrol was flawed, and it is asking Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson to declare the Nov. 6 election results - a nearly 2-1 vote in favor of repealing the two-officer mandate - null and void. Election night totals indicated 6,773 voters opted to strike down the law, which had been in place since 1972. Only 3,905 voted to uphold the law.

FOP attorney Stephen Herndon's motion for leave to file an amended petition states the new lawsuit corrects "technical errors in the dates of the meetings ... first made apparent to petitioners on the filing of the (city's) responsive pleadings."

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Wheeling voters decided earlier this month to repeal the rule requiring two police officers per cruiser, but the police union wants that election result thrown out.

City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth said the city will object to the FOP's motion and she plans to file a response next week.

The lodge members' original lawsuit claims council held a first reading of legislation to initiate a vote on the issue on July 17, then voted on it Aug. 7 - a meeting they say violated the state's open meetings law. City Council's official meeting minutes contradict that chain of events, however, reflecting an initial reading on Aug. 7 and a 6-1 vote in favor of the ordinance on Aug. 21.

The new lawsuit makes no mention of council's July 17 meeting, during which City Manager Robert Herron said no discussion of the cruiser issue took place.

But the lawsuit maintains that a meeting held Aug. 7, when council heard first reading of the ordinance in question, violated the state's open meetings law because it began at noon, not 7 p.m. as required by the law that was in effect at that time.

City officials insist they followed all rules with respect to the time change, including placing a legal ad in the July 31 editions of both The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register. Herron said additional requirements for special meetings - including a written request to hold such a meeting signed by two members of council on file with the city clerk - do not apply because the meeting was a regular meeting on the first Tuesday of the month, regardless of what time it began.

The FOP's new lawsuit also claims council broke the law by holding two readings of the ordinance during its Aug. 21 meeting - which it may only do in cases of a "pressing public emergency," according to the city charter. The original suit claimed council read the ordinance twice on Aug. 7.

Herron flatly denies this happened.

The city's response to the FOP's original petition claims police officers had plenty of notice that council would be voting on whether to put the issue before the public, and suggests the lawsuit is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to interfere with the electoral process.

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