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Editorial Board

Council’s actions appear illegal

Kent’s law director James Silver said City Council “had no intentions of voting during executive session.”

That’s a joke.

City Council decided to go into executive session during Wednesday night’s meeting to discuss the three finalists for the city manager position. And under the law, the Council is able to meet in order to discuss a few specific issues, in this case, personnel issues.

And that would have been fine if it was all Council did. But a few council members’ comments in yesterday’s Stater contradict Silver’s initial statement regarding not voting.

According to the Stater, “(Rick) Hawksley (at-large councilman) said the Council’s consultant will see what he can do with Council’s first choice. Negotiations will continue until a contract is drawn up with one of the three candidates.”

Hawksley then said, “It’s not an official decision until there’s acceptance. Because it’s not a done deal until it’s done, we can’t tell people our first, second or third choices.”

Well how did Council reach those first, second and third choices? They voted in private — and that’s illegal.

Discussing candidates frankly in a public setting is difficult to do. But the law allows council members to do the discussion behind closed doors. The Council and its law director should have been forthright enough to keep the discussion private but as soon as a decision was being made, it had to be done in public.

More questions are raised after one of the candidate’s wives, Jackie Ruller, said Council had contacted her home after the meeting Wednesday night. Although she later retracted the statement, it’s hard to understand how she could have been confused about receiving the phone call. And if the Ruller residence did receive the phone call, yet the two other candidates did not, a decision was made during the executive session to contact candidate Dave Ruller. That decision should have been made in public.

City Council’s action will bring its future credibility into question. In the newspaper business, credibility is all we have. We need to know our readers can trust and believe the information we provide. As soon as that trust is put into question, all other decisions the newspaper makes are suspect.

The same is true for City Council. The citizens the Council represents will no longer know if issues being discussed at Council meetings had already been decided behind closed doors. Skepticism prevails.

The city’s Bicentennial Plan, and more specifically the Campus Link portion of the plan, could have far-reaching implications for the community. The thought of council members meeting in private to decide whose property to take under eminent domain is outrageous. But if seemingly simple management decisions are being made in private, it isn’t a far stretch to envision such controversial decisions being made. The Council would appear much stronger if it decided to use eminent domain unanimously because it had already reached a decision in private.

It’s unfortunate the city manager hunt has become riddled with the controversy of illegality. In a previous editorial, we touted the importance of the position to bring the university and city closer together. But like a child who is caught with a hand in the cookie jar, Council has a lot of explaining to do.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.