Liberty trustee meeting times must change

Elected government bodies with members who pontificate, disagree and sometimes split votes never should be viewed as necessarily a bad thing.

Debate and discourse are part of a healthy democracy, after all.

But in order to have good debate, all elected members of a board should be present and informed. And no decision ever should be made in advance of open and public discussion on varying topics.

Sadly, that is not what appears to be happening in Liberty. Here, the two most recently elected trustees, Arnie Clebone and Greg Cizmar, have aligned on many township issues, holding discussions during meetings when the third, longtime trustee Jodi Stoyak, has been absent.

Worse, these meetings were scheduled at times established by Clebone and Cizmar despite Stoyak stating she would be unable to attend.

Now, we know inconvenient special meeting times sometimes cannot be avoided to address pressing matters. But regularly established meeting times that are convenient to each of the duly elected board members only make sense.

Instead, it appears professional courtesy has fallen by the wayside in lieu of majority vote simply because they can.

Here are some critical moves approved by Clebone and Cizmar by 2-0 or 2-1 votes since January. In each of these issues, Stoyak was either absent or voted no because discussions were held in her absence:

In March Clebone and Cizmar called for and then accepted the resignation of township law director Mark Finamore. In a separate vote they subsequently hired Cherry Poteet to replace Finamore. Stoyak voted no because she missed the meeting when the discussions were held — a meeting scheduled even though Clebone and Cizmar knew Stoyak was traveling out the country.

In May, Clebone and Cizmar voted 2-1 to establish early morning meetings — 7:30 a.m. the first Thursday of each month — saying it would allow them to meet with department heads without interrupting the employee workday.

The meeting time was rescheduled from the original 11 a.m. meeting time established during the annual organizational meeting. Meetings are also held one Monday evening each month.

Clebone and Cizmar told our reporter they would avoid taking official action at the morning meetings, except when it was absolutely necessary.

“We will not pass any resolutions at the morning meetings unless absolutely necessary. We will call special meetings,” Clebone said at the time, adding the only time items are acted on in the morning is when “they are time sensitive and shouldn’t be delayed a few more weeks.”

It wasn’t much later that the May 10 meeting included action on a controversial topic of splitting speed camera revenue 50 / 50 to police and general fund for a trial period of six months. The motion passed 2-0 because Stoyak was not in attendance.

Then at 7:30 a.m. last Thursday, Clebone and Cizmar voted 2-0 to hire two additional police officers, despite questions raised earlier by Stoyak about funding.

Stoyak learned of the scheduled hiring a few days earlier when she received notice of the meeting and learned of their plans. The topic had been discussed in June, but no action was taken because trustees were unclear on funding.

Professional courtesy — that which could have been used in establishing a morning meeting time in which all three trustees were able and willing to attend — seems to have gone by the wayside.

In fact, we view these inconvenient early morning public meetings as no less than attempts to bully and control. Further, we believe the majority of township taxpayers also will struggle to get to the meetings at this unreasonable hour.

The trustees should adjust the meeting times in order to accommodate all three, as well as the majority of residents.

If they refuse, then Stoyak must take the high road and make changes to her personal schedule allowing her to attend the meetings in order to participate and fulfill the duties of her elected office.

At the end of the day, public discussion and an open exchange of ideas is critical to democracy.