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Solicitor: Talks to dissolve village must be public


December 14, 2013

Village Council members were warned that any discussions with Middleton Township trustees about dissolving Rogers should be conducted in a public meeting.

The admonishment was delivered at this week's meeting by village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli after learning some council members were planning to meet in private with officials from the township and the state auditor's office to discuss what would happen if Rogers were to dissolve and become part of the township.

"You can't have a closed-door off-site meeting. With any issue this controversial you have to be completely transparent," Simonelli told council.

Her comment came after councilmen Mike Hunt and Tom Chambers reported they intend to meet with township and state officials to discuss dissolving the village. A previously scheduled private meeting was canceled at the last minute.

Prior to the meeting, Hunt indicated only he and Chambers would attend on behalf of the village since this would be insufficient to constitute a quorum, turning it into an open council meeting. Hunt said it was more for information-gathering purposes anyway, which is an exception allowed under the state's Sunshine Law governing open public meetings of government boards.

Simonelli told them any meetings, regardless if they lack a quorum of council members, should still be held in public to comply with the Sunshine Law and avoid any appearance of impropriety.

"You guys should really not participate in something that's not above board," she said.

Hunt said he has no problem holding these discussions at a public meeting but township officials indicated they would rather not do so out of concern some might misconstrue this as meaning the trustees favor dissolving Rogers.

Simonelli said they still have to abide by the Sunshine Law. "This is a really important issue. You're talking about a village going away, and that is something that deserves the utmost respect and transparency," she said.

Due to dwindling funding and public opposition to enacting an income tax after voters just approved an operating levy in 2012, council members have begun discussing what would happen if the village of 237 residents were dissolved and become part of the township. At its November meeting, Hunt and Chambers volunteered to undertake a fact-finding mission to determine what exactly would transpire should that option be exercised, either by council or by voter referendum.

Street lights are the only service provided by Rogers that would not continue should it become part of the township, since the village has no municipal water or sewer service and lacks a police department. Fire services are provided by the Negley Fire Department.

Hunt said he and Chambers did meet with township Fiscal Officer Bob Chapman, who told them the township would not pay to keep the street lights on should Rogers be dissolved.

He also pointed out should the village dissolve that snow removal on side streets in Rogers would take a back seat to those township roads that serve as school bus routes. Buses do not travel the village side streets, with their children picked up along state Route 7.

Meanwhile, the village will enter 2014 without a mayor since incumbent Sharon Hebron declined to seek another term, and no one ran for the position in the November election. The six-member council will also be short two positions.



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