BRIDGEPORT - Family members of Bridgeport Mayor John Callarik, along with several candidates for village council, are among the nine complainants that filed a lawsuit against Bridgeport Council members David Smith and Ben Lenz.
The complaint, filed last week in Belmont County Probate Court, led county Judge J. Mark Costine on Monday to temporarily suspend Smith and Lenz from their elected positions. It is alleged that the two men - both members of the Bridgeport Fire and Emergency Squad - have repeatedly voted, as members of council, on matters pertaining to the emergency squad, including voting to hire themselves as EMTs.
Costine has set a hearing for 9 a.m. Aug. 28.
Photo by Joselyn King
Bridgeport Village Solicitor Mark Thomas takes notes at his office Tuesday.
Bridgeport Village Council had been scheduled to meet Tuesday, but that meeting was canceled early in the day when one of the four remaining members indicated he could not attend and a quorum would not be present.
The Bridgeport residents listed as complainants on the court documents regarding Smith and Lenz are Callarik's daughter, Shirleann Murad, and James Murad, both of 67541 Alexander Road; Callarik's granddaughter, Mikida Clegg, and William E. Clegg, both of 67549 Alexander Road; the mayor's secretary, Ann Gallagher, 410 Bennett St.; John Porter, 67780 Kirkwood Heights Road; Chris Tarter, 57785 Prospect Ave.; H. James Brubach, 67611 Broadway Ave.; and Diane Orum, 67602 Broadway Ave.
Smith and Lenz are seeking re-election on the Nov. 5 ballot. Four council members are to be elected, and Brubach, Mikida Clegg and Vincent Gallagher, the husband of Ann Gallagher, have filed in the race. Incumbent Marvin Husarik and former council member David J. Coyne also will be on the ballot.
Among the complainants, only Orum and Tarter could be reached for comment Tuesday. Both referred all comment to their attorney, Michael Shaheen of St. Clairsville.
In the complaint, Shaheen specifically notes two votes by Smith and Lenz pertaining to the emergency squad. The first was a move to hire Misty Smith, Dave Smith's wife, as a paid clerk for the emergency medical squad.
Last month, the two men also voted to place an additional 1.5-mill levy for five years on the ballot to purchase, replace and repair the fire department's emergency apparatus.
Shaheen writes that he was present at the July council meeting.
"At this meeting, the issue of the defendants' conflict of interest was raised," he states. "In fact, the issue was openly discussed by council.
"Despite defendants being specifically made aware of their conflict of interest, Smith and Lenz voted on the fire levy legislation."
Shaheen also writes in the complaint that he has informed Bridgeport Village Solicitor Mark Thomas "on more than one occasion" that Smith and Lenz should resign over their actions.
"Mr. Thomas has confirmed both in person and in writing that Smith and Lenz had no intention of resigning," he adds.
Shaheen on Tuesday told The Intelligencer that Bridgeport's residents aren't being properly served by their council members.
"I know the two defendants don't like the mayor," he said when asked about the personalities involved in the matter. "I sat through two council meetings ... and I've never seen more poorly run council meetings."
Personalities aside, Shaheen, a former village solicitor in Bellaire, said he would not be involved "if there were not a factual basis for the complaint."
"I really did not get involved until I saw the documents," he said. "I filed a records request in May, and the first thing that (stood) out to me was that two council members (Smith and Lenz) were on the fire department payroll."
Thomas said Tuesday he has served as Bridgeport's solicitor for just 18 months, and during that time the levy vote was the only issue before council pertaining to the fire and emergency squad.
Smith and Lenz have since reported themselves to the Ohio Ethics Commission, Thomas said.
"I'm not saying what they did was proper," Thomas said. "But it was just a levy. Even if there was a conflict, all they did was vote to put it on the ballot. It has nothing to do with salaries or buying fire equipment."
Thomas - a former Belmont County commissioner - echoed Shaheen's sentiments on the village meetings, noting he often has to remind Bridgeport officials that they must keep the needs of residents in mind as they work for the village.
"During the last 18 months, literally - two or three times - in open discussion I have said, 'You must put any personal or political differences aside and work for the village of Bridgeport.' It is incumbent on me to see they work hand in hand in the spirit of cooperation. I have repeatedly said this, and it has all been for not."