Two sets of rules seem to apply
It amazes me that our local public officials expect citizens to obey the law when they themselves ignore it. The Trumbull County Board of Health is a perfect example of this.
Members of the Board of Health are appointed by the District Advisory Council which is made up of trustees and mayors of communities in the Health District. These appointments are done at the annual meeting usually held in March. For many years, the election the board members has been done via secret ballot of the District Advisory Council.
If this doesn’t sound right to you, you’re correct. It isn’t right. It is violation of the open meetings and Sunshine Law in Ohio. Those trustees and mayors represent us, and we have a right to know how they vote just as we have a right to know how our representatives and senators vote in Columbus and in Washington.
Berry Meadows filed a lawsuit against the Trumbull County Health Department asking for the current board to be disbanded because the elections of the board members were illegal and asking for new elections to be held. In March, just before this years election of a board member, Judge Andrew Logan ordered that the election be held by open ballot.
While that election was done by open ballot, the validity of several votes was questioned. Don Barzak attempted to vote by proxy for Brookfield, Yankee Lake Village and Orangeville Village. According to the District Advisory Council bylaws, no proxies are allowed. Mr. Barzak claimed to be unaware of this rule, stating that it had been “common practice” in the past. Those votes were disallowed.
A fourth vote was also questioned as John Spelich, West Farmington’s zoning inspector, voted on behalf of the mayor. Mr. Spelich is not an elected official for the village and according to the bylaws should not be allowed to vote as a designee. As mentioned previously, a proxy vote is also not allowed.
The lawsuit regarding disbanding the current board with the exception of the most recently elected member is proceeding. Magistrate Anthony Cornicelli requested that the Board of Health voluntarily hold new elections. Thus far, they have not done so nor does it seem likely that they will until they are forced to do so.
In the meantime, there is a new wrinkle. According to the Trumbull County Auditor’s website, Board of Health member, Dr. Pat DiTommaso and his wife sold their home in Liberty Township on May 13, 2013. Members of the Board of Health must be residents of the Health District per the Board of Health website. A search of the auditor’s website could not turn up any other property transfers for Dr. DiTommaso. He could, of course, be renting somewhere in the district. It should be noted that Dr. DiTommaso was not at the June meeting.
A public records request was submitted to the Trumbull County Health Department on June 27 asking for the current addresses of all board members. On July 2, that request was responded to with an email giving the name and address of John Messersmith (elected in March) and an attachment of the 2012 annual report containing the addresses of the remaining board members including the address of the home Dr. DiTommaso sold in May. When it was pointed out that Dr. DiTommaso had sold that home and apparently no longer lived there, the response was that no other records exist. When a record of Dr. DiTommaso’s resignation was requested, the response was that no such record exists.
A search on the Portage County Auditor’s website revealed that Dr. DiTommaso purchased a home in Aurora in Portage County on July 2 so it looks like he has indeed moved out of the county and is no longer eligible to be on the Board of Health.
Since it is fairly clear that Dr. DiTommaso no longer lives at his previous address, the board needs to give a current address for him and prove that he still resides in the health district. If he does not, the District Advisory Council needs to meet and elect a replacement.
This should be done soon. The Ohio Revised Code requires that one member of the Board of Health be a physician. If Dr. DiTommaso is indeed not eligible, the current board makeup may now be in violation of the law.
While they are meeting, the District Advisory Council should comply with the judge’s request and replace the other three members who were elected via secret ballot.
I have attended Board of Health meetings and invariably at some point in each of them, a citizen has been told that the Board of Health is “just following the law.”
Shouldn’t the board also follow the law when it applies to them?
Yoder is a West Farmington resident. Email her at email@example.com.