By Dedra Cordle
Officials in the village of Urbancrest debated mayoral appointments and the use of declaring emergencies on agenda items at the Dec. 11 council meeting.
The debate was sparked when councilwoman Deborah Larkins-Jackson voted against the appointment of Rodd S. Lawrence to the position of law director for the 2019 year, which was then followed by councilwoman Alicia Wiggins asking about the placement of “and to declare an emergency” at the end of the resolution.
“Why are we doing this as an emergency again?” she asked. “We do this every year.”
The problem, she said, with the use of declaring emergencies is the frequency in which they are used on agenda items.
“I think it is bad practice,” she said.
She said she also had an issue with how they are used at the end of the year when mayoral appointments are voted upon, such as for the law director.
“We need to be given time to debate these things,” Wiggins said.
She suggested that there should be three readings held for mayoral appointments as they do with ordinances.
Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. said the appointments are done by emergency and held at the end of the year for a number of the reasons. The primary reason they are done at that time, he said, is due to the timing of evaluations.
“December is when I review their body of work for the year and then make that recommendation to reappoint or not,” he said.
Several council members questioned that practice, and village secretary Elberta Barnes reminded them that the timing of official appointment evaluations were set forth by council.
“You make the laws,” she said.
The second reason Barnes stated as to why the use of ‘and to declare an emergency’ was used is because the Ohio Revised Code stipulates that it can only be used when the ‘health, safety or welfare of the community’ is at risk.
He said in reference to the appointment of Lawrence, and then later in regards to the appointment of code enforcement officer Randall Bogue, that ‘and to declare an emergency’ meets the criteria.
“The village is going through a few legal matters at this time,” he said. “They have the expertise to see us get through this.”
He said that there are outside factors at play, namely industrial or commercial developers, who would try to “overrun the village if they could.”
“We have to have safeguards in place to protect the village,” Barnes said.
Another reason Barnes stated for placing the declaration of emergency on his end-of-year appointments is due to what he says are past inappropriate interactions by some council members.
“There have been instances where I state my intentions to appoint an individual and they bully and brow-beat (that person) in order to get them to do what they want.”
He said putting the potential appointee on the agenda at the end of the year puts a stop to these tactics.
Councilman Steven Larkins, who was elected in 2017, said he knows nothing of that behavior and does not condone it. But he said he too was troubled by the use of declaring emergencies.
“When (that language) is on there, it feels like our backs are to the wall all the time,” he said. “But I do trust that the mayor is not going to put anyone into place who can’t do the job.”
He stated his support for Lawrence as he expressed his worry for those outside factors Barnes discussed during the debate.
“Many people don’t know how valuable the land is in Urbancrest,” he said, citing space and access to major interstates as some examples.
“People want to build here and now we got semi-trucks running up and down the streets.”
Lawrence said he has confidence that having a law director in place, especially one that has prior knowledge of village rules, regulations and litigation, would be an asset to the community.
Councilman S. Henry Warr agreed.
“What are we going to do? Vote him out? Who’s going to do the job?” he asked. “Me? You? Somebody in the audience? I think not.”
Wiggins said the discussion regarding Lawrence’s continued employment in the village was not personal, but she remains concerned about the continued use of emergencies to approve mayoral appointments and on agenda items.
“We need to be allowed to ask questions,” she said.
Larkins-Jackson said she just wanted the process to be “better.”
During the official vote to appoint Lawrence, Larkins-Jackson rescinded her no vote, and the other four also voted in favor. Councilwoman Shawn Moore was absent from the meeting.
Relatedly, the council voted to change the resolution to appoint Bogue as the code enforcement officer for the 2019 year to a first reading; they voted for the appointment of Edward Banks to the position of street commissioner; and they voted to change the resolution approved last month to vacate several right-of-ways to an ordinance. The latter of the two items were passed as an emergency.