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Falls firing might bring costly results

Disagreement among public officials is a common occurrence in Newton Falls. Frankly, political divide is increasingly common among members of most elected bodies these days.

But Monday’s 3-1 council vote to terminate Newton Falls village manager David Lynch went one step beyond the typical divisiveness because it appears to be an orchestrated, secret attack that came with no discussion allowable under Ohio Sunshine Laws; with no fair warning to Lynch; and with no advice from the municipality’s legal counsel on what the move might cost the taxpayers.

Language for Monday’s motion to terminate Lynch was prepared and provided to Council Clerk Kathy King to read into the record in the middle of the three-hour regular meeting. Until then, however, it was not listed on the meeting’s agenda, and it appears there had been no public or executive session discussions about it, including of any egregious offenses or shortcomings that led to Lynch’s firing.

When we later asked Mayor Ken Kline what specifically prompted the firing, he said he couldn’t discuss it at this time.

That’s concerning.

What also is a concern is that council moved forward without advice from the village’s full-time attorney, Law Director A. Joseph Fritz.

That is unwise by any stretch — especially considering that Lynch’s employment contract was renewed by council effective Dec. 1. The new four-year pact indicates, if terminated, Lynch would be entitled to the rest of his $89,258 annual salary through the end of the contract in November 2024. That means he would be entitled to about $297,500 in one lump sum, plus any remaining accrued sick leave, vacation time and paid holiday leave — unless he has been convicted of a felony. Additionally, Lynch’s contract calls for the village to foot the bill for a minimum of six months for health and life insurance coverage after termination.

When asked, Kline said he wasn’t convinced Newton Falls would be on the hook for those costs.

After the motion was read into the record, Fritz spoke up during Monday’s meeting.

“This is the first I’ve seen this. I want to advise council he’s a contractual employee and that to terminate his contract has various consequences that may come to this council. But I haven’t had an opportunity to advise one way or the other. There’s a payout on this matter. I’m not sure finance is able to even take care of that issue. All this type of discussion should be in executive session and not on the public floor because we are dealing with specific personnel issues involving an employee,” Fritz said.

Whether or not council agrees with Fritz’s opinion, as the village’s contracted legal counsel, it would only make sense to loop him in and hear him out before making this decision.

And as in most issues in Newton Falls, Lynch’s firing came with a crazy twist.

Lynch showed up for work Tuesday morning and said he was proceeding with business as usual. A memorandum sent after Monday’s meeting by Fritz advised council members and the mayor that the firing was not proper because, as an item not appearing on the advance agenda, it required a “supermajority,” or two-thirds of council, to take effect. Fritz said the 3-1 vote does not rise to that level.

Kline disagreed, saying administrative code requires only a simple majority to take effect, and indicated to us that this matter will be resolved within a few days.

If it is resolved with Lynch’s removal from the post, we suspect costly legal action ultimately will come into play. If that happens, nobody wins — especially the taxpayers.

At the end of the day, few people should be surprised by council’s decision to terminate Lynch.

The writing was on the wall as early as the July 5 swearing-in ceremony of new Councilman Brian Kropp. When Lynch showed up for the event at a local restaurant, he said he immediately was told publicly that he was not welcome and was asked to leave.

Let’s face it, personalities don’t always mesh, especially in government. Still, decorum and respectful actions, if not for the officeholder, at least for the office itself, must prevail.

If legitimate reasons exist for termination of a long-term employment contract like this, then we urge elected officials always to move slowly in order to ensure they are acting in the best interest of the village and with the best legal advice possible.

From our vantage point, that appears to be lacking.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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