Warren City Council and Mayor Doug Franklin's administration must now tread carefully whenever they receive advice from Law Director Greg Hicks.
A series of questionable opinions and puzzling decisions from Hicks' office is the cause of this concern.
Most recently, Hicks rendered an opinion that the controversial nonprofit agency Sunshine of Warren Trumbull County Area Inc., is a private company not eligible for the state audit requested that some City Council members asked for. However, a representative of state Auditor David Yost's Office said it would consider auditing Sunshine if the city would simply ask, and Trumbull County commissioners sent a letter to Warren, citing an Ohio Revised Code statute as support, asking the city to request the audit.
Hicks' decisions raised questions last year when, despite ''grave'' concerns from City Council about police calls and violence at a downtown Warren bar, Hicks postponed a state liquor permit hearing for the establishment. Hicks said the reason for the delay was because a law department attorney, who is a specialist at liquor permits, would be unavailable on the scheduled hearing date. However, the Tribune Chronicle later discovered that the attorney had submitted his retirement notification and somebody else would have to present the case anyway.
This year, when the hearing was held, Hicks' office did not mention police calls and violence, including a murder, at the bar despite council's ''grave'' concerns. Hicks' office did provide evidence of violence and police calls during a hearing involving another bar in a nearly identical case. Consequently, the bar which was the subject of council's ''grave'' concern did not lose its liquor license but the other establishment did, leaving its owner considering legal action against the city for selective enforcement.
Going back even further, Hicks dropped the charges against an Internet cafe that police raided. The reason was that Community Development Director Michael Keys previously told the cafe's owner that he had permission to operate in the city. Keys said he was following the guidance provided by Hicks' office.
And Hicks had many times told city officials and concerned citizens that there was nearly nothing the city could do about the proliferation of massage parlors that many felt were havens for sex offenses and human trafficking. Hicks once said the best way to combat it would be for police officers to park their cruisers there and occasionally walk in to deter customers.
Soon after the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative pushed for the Ohio attorney general to get involved, the state raided the parlors.
A pattern has developed that seems to place council and Franklin's administration in a vulnerable and potentially costly position. It should be careful with advice it gets from Hicks and avoid relying solely on his opinions when deciding how to spend taxpayer money, represent constituents or run the city.
A precarious position, indeed.