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Newton Falls council to vote again on firing of David Lynch

Police chief’s job also on line after mayor decries ‘insubordination’ during meeting

NEWTON FALLS — After voting 3-1 this week to fire village manager David Lynch, Newton Falls Village Council now plans to meet again next week to rehash Lynch’s termination and to discuss the termination of police Chief Gene Fixler.

Some members of council believe Fixler may have been insubordinate in not carrying out its wishes after voting to fire Lynch.

After council’s vote Monday, Lynch walked out of the meeting on his own.

Following the vote, village Law Director A. Joseph Fritz stated the 3-1 simple majority vote was insufficient for official passage because the matter was introduced on council floor with no advance notice.

Mayor Ken Kline said he still believes that Lynch’s termination was proper, but rather than risk a lengthy, costly legal battle, council will proceed with a special meeting to come to some resolution.

“We will go into executive session to see if he wants to resign, and then if not, council will proceed with terminating of the contract,” he said.

Kline said Lynch has been at work since Tuesday morning and has not surrendered his keys. Kline said while Lynch may physically be at the building, Kline does not recognize that he is acting as village manager.

“I do not know why he wants to stay in the position when a majority of council and many members of the community do not want him here,” Kline said.

Lynch said he welcomes the meeting next week to speak with council and Kline.

“I hope a solution to this can be reached. I think council realizes now what they did at the meeting was not the right way and had to schedule another meeting,” Lynch said.

Lynch said he is optimistic all parties will be able to come to a resolution.

POLICE CHIEF CONTRACT

Also added to the special meeting notice issued Thursday by Kline is discussion and possible vote to terminate the contract of Fixler. The move comes after some council members said they believed Fixler was insubordinate by not removing Lynch from the meeting on Monday, Kline said.

Kline said while the police chief takes his orders from the village manager, he also should take orders from council and requests from the mayor at meetings.

“There are some members of council who feel his actions at the meeting were insubordination,” he said.

Reached Thursday, Fixler said he was acting on a decision of the law director, who Monday evening issued a memorandum indicating that council’s vote Monday was insufficient for passage.

“I am following the decision of the law director. He has ruled that Mr. Lynch’s contract was not legally terminated and that it was an improper vote of council,” Fixler said.

Fixler said he walked with Lynch out of the meeting Monday, but he did not remove him from the municipal building this week because he did not believe he was fired.

Fixler said in light of next week’s meeting to discuss his contract, he has contacted an attorney.

“I have no idea what that is about. I am doing my job as police chief. The community is pleased with the police department and what we do,” Fixler said.

UNANNOUNCED MEETING

Kline acknowledged he and council members Brian Kropp and Tesa Spletzer met for lunch last week, prior to Monday’s meeting. The gathering was not announced publicly, according to Ohio Sunshine laws. Kline said he did not believe two of five members of council constituted a quorum and therefore was not a Sunshine Law meeting violation. He added no decision about Lynch was made during the lunch meeting.

Kline said Lynch’s contract was not discussed, but the group met with a liaison from the state auditor’s office and state Rep. Michael Loychik on various matters.

“It was the middle of the day, and we were all at a local restaurant where anyone could see us. We were speaking with some state officials on different issues,” he said.

According to Ohio open meeting laws, all public business must be conducted in open meetings. Under the law, any time a public body gathers for a preplanned meeting to discuss public business, it must be announced publicly in advance.

Lynch said he was aware of the meeting and questioned whether it was a violation of Ohio Sunshine laws because under council’s charter, the mayor is considered a voting member of council, thereby constituting a quorum.

Also, according to Lynch, Spletzer and Kropp make up village council’s Audit and Finance Committee, which under Ohio law, would constitute an illegal meeting of that council committee.

Lynch said he believes his contract was discussed at that gathering.

“I hope that this situation can be resolved and not come to litigation,” Lynch said.

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