By Dedra Cordle
The village of Urbancrest council has agreed to convene earlier in an effort to streamline its meetings.
Starting in February, its members will gather for a caucus 30 minutes prior to its regular meeting, typically held on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. The media and the public will be able to observe the informal session should they choose to do so.
The recommendation to hold a caucus was proposed by councilman Lacy Wallace Jr. He said he believed the move was necessary in order for the council to work more fluidly on items that may be discussed on the upcoming agenda.
He initially requested that the caucus be held in a closed setting so the council could be free to discuss matters in private.
“There’s things that could be happening, that decision could be made that sometimes all of us might not agree upon and sometimes we don’t want disputed or shared in the public quite yet,” he said. “We want to have the opportunity to brainstorm among the council, the six wonderful brains that have been placed by the voters to help guide the village.”
Village Law Director Rodd Lawrence said that while he agrees that holding a caucus could be beneficial to streamline the council meetings, he stated it needed to be held in an open session so the council does not run afoul of state and federal public meeting laws.
“It is a good idea but you have to be aware of the Ohio Sunshine Law,” he said, referring to the Open Public Records Act and the Open Meeting Act. “You are not allowed to get together and caucus and discuss the business of the council in private unless it qualifies as an exception to the Sunshine Laws.”
He said the village can put forth a motion to go into executive session where they can discuss topics such as confidential information, personnel matters, and interest in real estate in private, but any other matters pertaining to the village must be discussed in an open session.
He added that if the council would like to streamline its regular meetings, he would recommend they do so during the committee meetings where its members can discuss “the pros and cons” of different actions and then put forth a proposal to be considered by the whole council in an open session.
He noted that the council has to be aware of how many council members sit in during the committee meetings – any more than three would be considered a quorum of the council.
The village council currently has two committees – the finance committee and the health and safety committee. The finance committee typically meets on the last Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. in the Village Municipal Hall, located at 3492 First Ave. The health and safety committee typically meets on the third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the Village Municipal Hall. The committee meetings are open to the media and the public.
The council will hold its first caucus of the year before the Feb. 13 meeting. The council said they intend to hold the caucus on a “trial basis” to determine if it should be held throughout the year.
In other news, the village council held a vote to determine which member would be chosen to serve as the president pro tempore for the 2024 calendar year. Council members Shawn Moore, Alicia Skinner and Sabrina West voted in favor of the nomination of Skinner to the position, while council members Stefanie Day, Steven Larkins, and Lacy Wallace Jr. voted in favor of the nomination of Wallace Jr. to the position. Since the vote resulted in a tie, Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. voted in favor of Wallace Jr. to serve as president pro tempore. Ohio law states that the president pro tempore shall have the same powers and perform the same duties as the mayor should they be absent from the village or are otherwise unable, for any cause, to perform their duties.