MEDINA — A 14-day extension on a temporary restraining order was granted Monday as firefighters from Medina Township attempt to slow down the trustees’ decision to allow the city of Medina to take over fire services.
The hearing Monday before Common Pleas Joyce V. Kimbler was scheduled after the Medina Township Firemen’s Association received the restraining order June 15 just before a trustees meeting where they planned to vote on the matter. Medina City Council approved the agreement June 12.
Kimbler heard testimony Monday for 90 minutes from township fire officials and trustees Ken DeMichael and William Ostmann.
Trustee Ray Jarrett was not called to the witness stand.
Lawyers for both sides were given seven days to submit written closing arguments.
The proposed contract states the township would pay $230,000 annually for fire service from Medina.
Trustees have said it cost $623,000 to operate the fire department in 2016. The township department has about 40 part-time employees. Medina said it would need to hire only about 15 after the agreement took effect.
When City Council unanimously approved the plan, it was termed an emergency at the request of the township. Medina provides similar services for Montville Township.
Township officials testified that each of the three trustees met separately with Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell, and no special meeting with all three trustees and the mayor was held.
John Oberholtzer, representing the firemen’s association, said the group had an “absolute belief” that trustees violated Ohio laws in pursuing the agreement with the city without public meetings.
Mel Lute, representing Medina Township, said the argument about public meetings was “irrelevant.”
He said the Ohio Revised Code allows the township to make an agreement such as a fire services contract.
DeMichael said he met with Hanwell to discuss the agreement because he was going to be on vacation during the regular June 15 township meeting and he believed that action would be taken at the meeting.
Ostmann, chair of the board of trustees, said there was no reason that all trustees couldn’t meet at once rather than separately with the mayor.
Instead, he said, separate meetings of each trustee with the mayor took place with “representatives from the fire department” present.
He testified township Fire Chief Mark Crumley asked him to perform the process that way.
Holding meetings that way does not disobey the state law, Ostmann said.
Contracts typically are not discussed publicly, Ostmann said, because in the past, the fire department has gone to the pubic with “misinformation and killed” possible contracts.
A letter written by Ostmann was published on the township’s website and sent to news media, he said, stating that trustees met with the mayor.
Township Fire Capt. Mark Roberts testified the contract was not discussed in the previous six trustees meetings.
Roberts said if trustees had approved the contract at the June 15 meeting, the volunteer fire department contract would have been “immediately terminated.”
Ostmann testified he was the only trustee to negotiate a contract after Hanwell met with DeMichael and Jarrett.
“We discussed the concept of a fire district,” Ostmann said, which would be a good “starting point” for a contract.
Mark Radice, one of the volunteer firefighters, told Kimbler he found out township and city were in negotiations about June 5 through city sources.
He said he saw a copy of the contract proposal and a letter on the topic from Medina Fire Chief Bob Painter, who was informing his staff that the contact “was a done deal.”
Radice said that, to him, the contact meant township residents would not be protected as they are now. “It left several holes,” he said, and it contained “ambiguous language.”
When asked if he is familiar with how the township schedules meetings, Radice replied, “I’m familiar with how a township should work, yes.”
He said about 500 signatures were collected within a few days’ time from residents who were interested in public meetings regarding the contract.
A town meeting, he said, also could provide feedback about the possible agreement. He also noted that multiple meetings would need to be held since the town hall only seats about 50 people.
Court documents note the balance of township fire funds is $932,000 and there is no emergency affecting the financial stability of the township. Medina Township has a population of about 8,884.
Contact reporter Ashley Fox at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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