The six attorneys competing in the May primary to be Green’s first elected law director don’t agree on whether the position should be elected or appointed.
Daniel Walpole and Stephen Pruneski, who formerly served as Green’s law director, say they think the position should have remained a mayoral appointment. Rhonda Kotnik has no opinion on the issue. And Lisa Dean, John Greven and Robert Duffrin say the decision was made by voters last November when they approved a measure changing the position to an elected post.
“Appointment would minimize political and/or personal discord between the administration and the law director and make for a more efficient and productive atmosphere,” Walpole said.
“The voters in Green made the choice,” Dean said. “I support democracy and the rights of United States citizens to shape their government.”
The top two vote-getters in the nonpartisan primary will compete in the Nov. 5 election. The primary winners, however, may be on the ballot at the same time as a measure to repeal the ballot issue that changed how the law director is chosen.
Green council candidate Des Wertheimer is circulating petitions to ask voters to repeal the ballot issue that passed by a mere 26 votes after an automatic recount. The deadline to place issues on the Nov. 5 ballot is Sept. 6.
This uncertainty is reflective of the ongoing turmoil in Green that has been fueled by anger over the city’s Nexus pipeline settlement. That unrest likely spurred the interest in the law director job, along with the promise of a generous salary and benefits for a part-time position.
The law director will serve for four years and earn an annual salary of $55,000, with 3 percent raises each year. He or she will have the option of medical benefits.
The candidates for law director have practiced law for 14 to 33 years, but their legal backgrounds vary.
Pruneski says he’s the best person for the job because he’s done it. He was Green’s law director from January 2000 to May 2016. He also served on two Green Charter Review Commissions and was special counsel for the Ohio attorney general.
“With all of the conflict in the city, it is more important than ever that a law director have substantial experience and expertise in municipal and governmental law matters,” he said.
Dean, now in private practice, worked in the appellate divisions of the Summit and Portage county prosecutor’s offices and Summit County Domestic Relations Court and as a magistrate in Cuyahoga Falls Mayor’s Court. She said she’s the best choice because of her “experience in handling matters involving intense conflict.”
Kotnik and Greven, both well-known criminal defense attorneys, pointed to their litigation and research experience.
“I have spent 25 years in high pressure litigation and trial practice,” said Greven, a former assistant Summit County prosecutor. “I am able to compare the facts to the applicable law and advise what issues should be settled.”
Walpole said he was asked to run by the local Republican Party. He said he agreed “for no reason other than to contribute in a positive way to the betterment of the community.”
“I have no political, legal or personal ax to grind with anyone,” he said.
Duffrin is a former Mahoning County assistant prosecutor who is now the Louisville law director. He said he decided to run because he was concerned about other candidates’ lack of municipal law experience.
“I do not know if I am the most qualified candidate, but I have a significant amount of experience in municipal law,” he said.
The candidates point to the Nexus pipeline as one of the biggest issues in the city.
Green fought plans by Nexus to build a 36-inch, high-pressure natural gas pipeline through the city as part of its 250-mile path from the Carrollton area into Canada.
Under a settlement with Nexus last year, the city received $7.5 million in cash, around-the-clock monitoring of the pipeline and 20 acres west of Boettler Park. The city granted easements to Nexus totaling about 2½ acres in two city parks and through various roads along the pipeline’s 8-mile path through Green.
Pruneski thinks the city didn’t communicate well with residents during the Nexus debate.
“I believe the city’s administration and counsel were intellectually dishonest with taxpayers,” he said. “They asserted they were going to fight the pipeline; however, they never had enough resources or money, nor could they, to properly fight the project.”
Dean agreed the settlement “created a feeling of unease, mistrust and dissension.”
“Transparency through communication, education and information served directly to the public is the best way for us to rebuild our trust in each other,” said Dean, who said she would host meetings to answer questions from the public if elected.
Duffrin thinks the administration made a “shrewd financial decision,” but one that didn’t go over well.
“I think many people felt betrayed by those they counted on for representation,” he said.
Walpole, however, said the administration dealt with the pipeline and he thinks “looking backward is argumentative and unproductive.”
Kotnik said she thinks the city “made a business decision based on the case law and the estimated costs to litigate and chances of prevailing on a civil lawsuit.”
Two things the candidates agree on are: The important role that the law director will have in making sure the Nexus settlement is enforced and the need for Green to move past the dissension that has long mired it.
“The most important thing facing Green is trying to end the division between the residents,” Greven said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter @swarsmithabj.