MEDINA — Medina Township trustees can vote on a proposed fire service contract with the city of Medina at their meeting Thursday. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will.
Medina County Common Pleas Judge Joyce V. Kimbler’s ruling last week lifted the temporary restraining order filed June 15 by the Medina Township Firefighters Association. The firefighters brought legal action to prevent trustees from voting on the contract that would allow Medina to take over operations of the township’s force.
“Technically, we could vote,” township Trustee Bill Ostmann said Monday. “I can’t tell you a vote will be taken. It will probably be discussed.”
The attorney for the Medina Township Firefighters Association, John C. Oberholtzer, of Medina, said he’s waiting to see what the trustees do, too.
“The ball is now in the trustees’ court,” he said. “The case is not over. There are still some questions that need to be resolved.”
Oberholtzer said the biggest question is whether the township legally may enter into an agreement with the city to provide fire service.
The proposed contract is for three years with the township paying the city $230,000 a year. Trustees have said the agreement would save the township more than $400,000 a year.
Oberholtzer said the cost likely would even out since it would be the township’s responsibility to maintain its fire trucks and equipment.
“The price is going to be about the same,” he said. “There’s no savings here.”
Perhaps the biggest downside is that many of the township’s 38-person, part-time staff would be eliminated. Medina Police Chief Bob Painter said the plan is to hire about 15 new firefighters, most of whom would come from the township’s staff.
Township firefighters and township residents have argued that trustees negotiated the fire contract behind closed doors and in violation of Ohio open meeting laws.
However, Kimbler said in her Thursday ruling that “the evidence presented by the plaintiffs fails to substantiate the allegation that the trustees have violated the Sunshine Law.”
It said there is no evidence two of the trustees ever discussed the issue of the fire contract with one another outside of a public meeting.
Before any vote is taken, Trustee Ken DeMichael is recommending that a committee composed of “all vested parties” should be assembled.
“This committee’s charge would be to devise a plan that would represent the best interests of the Medina City and Medina Township fire departments,” DeMichael said in a letter posted on Facebook. “I have several qualified people that I would recommend be part of this committee. People on the front line of these issues that can give us the information we need to make sound decisions for our community.”
In a phone interview, DeMichael said he would like Montville Township represented on the committee, especially if a fire district is being discussed. The city provides fire service to Montville.
“I want to explore every avenue,” he said.
Ostmann said he doesn’t support the committee idea.
He does believe a fire district should be created and consist of the city and Medina and Montville townships.
“I believe a district is the right thing to do,” Ostmann said. “We need one chief. We’ll have personnel in place. It’s had a number of false starts.”
Ostmann said the township’s attorney, Mel L. Lute Jr., said the township may enter into a contract with the city, and that levy money may be used to pay for the fire contract.
DeMichael said he thought there were a lot of holes in the contract.
He said in the same letter on Facebook that “with the amount of resistance that we have been met with from the firefighters and the community, I feel as if it is prudent for us to take a step back and address their concerns.”
He said the talks and actions on the fire situation should have been done more openly.
DeMichael said it raised a red flag that Ostmann negotiated the fire contract, but that the third trustee, Ray Jarrett, is the township’s fire commissioner.
“Personally, I was shocked to find a ‘final’ contract in my township mailbox on June 1,” he said on Facebook. “I had no input in the contract whatsoever.”
The fire contract was scheduled for a vote June 15 when DeMichael was on vacation.
“(Ostmann and Jarrett) planned to push forward with a vote in my absence knowing that all they needed was their two votes to pass this contract,” he wrote. “This is just another example of why the residents of Medina Township might be skeptical.”
Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell responded to DeMichael’s letter.
He said he also is not in favor of a committee to review the matter.
“I refuse to permit the contracting of fire services to become politicized rather than service related,” Hanwell wrote. “If you and your fellow trustees prefer to delay and discuss further that is your prerogative. The city will respectfully await your decision.”
Medina Township trustees are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the township hall.
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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