At the request of the Save Our Services (SOS) Petition Committee, legal counsel has filed a “voluntary dismissal” in the “removal for cause” case filed against Liberty Township trustees Melanie Leneghan and Michael Gemperline.
On July 2, the SOS group filed a petition with the Delaware County Clerk of Courts containing over 4,000 signatures against Leneghan and Gemperline on the grounds of “willfully and flagrantly exercising authority or power not authorized by law, refusing or willfully neglecting to enforce the law or to perform official duties imposed upon them by law, and is guilty of gross neglect of duty, misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance.”
Judge Guy Reese II, on special appointment from the Ohio Supreme Court, convened a hearing July 23 in order to get the preliminaries out of the way before granting a continuance until Aug. 12, when the hearing would have picked back up where it had left off.
However, before adjourning, Guy encouraged the two opposing sides to seek a solution to settle the conflict outside of the courtroom.
“It’s always good to talk with each other and attempt to resolve matters yourself,” he said. “If you do that, quite often both of you will walk away feeling that you gained something as opposed to continuing in court and the court having to make a decision that as to what is proper action.”
According to SOS spokesman Nico Franano, the group heeded the judge’s advice and began “good faith negotiations on July 26,” through their legal counsel.
“The initial settlement offer outlined 14 points that focused on the faithful execution of their duties as trustees and a “cooling off” period for any EMS-related action through the end of the year,” Franano states in a press release issued Friday. “The Petition Committee made multiple attempts to find common ground, but trustees Leneghan and Gemperline were unwilling to discuss any of these terms and insisted that any settlement include an apology.”
Franano said the group had every intention of taking the case to the verdict. However, the press release states the group “made the difficult decision to forgo presenting the rest of the case to the judge” and decided, instead, to focus its time and resources on “strengthening the resolve of the Liberty Township and Powell community in support of our award-winning Liberty Township Fire Department, other local services, and to insist on good governance from our elected officials.”
“In addition, we also expect elected officials to faithfully perform the duties of their office with the utmost professionalism and integrity, while taking into account the wishes of their constituents,” he said. “While we realize this is not the outcome that many Liberty Township and Powell residents were hoping for when we began this process, we encourage our neighbors to continue to stay engaged and informed about the activities of elected officials that affect our community.”
Before the hearing began, attorneys for the trustees had filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss part of the complaint that concerned a resolution that could have replaced the township’s fire-based emergency medical services (EMS) with that of Delaware County EMS. The judge allowed the motion and that portion was dismissed.
“After that part of the complaint had already been dismissed by the judge, (they asked) for the remainder of the complaint to be dismissed,” Leneghan noted in an email to The Gazette. “In our opinion, the dismissal demonstrates that it completely lacked merit. The filing of the complaint was premised upon the idea that we would personally have to pay for our defense and that the financial cost of that would drive us from office. But when we were able to mount a defense, they chose not to proceed. We are happy that this type of maneuvering did not succeed. It would have set a horrible precedent.”
Leneghan also commented on the negotiations that took place outside of the court.
“The petitioners requested we agree to certain legislative commitments. Simply put, they asked us to commit to certain legislative decisions, in exchange for the benefit to us of the dismissal of the complaint. In our view, they were asking us to violate Ohio’s open meeting laws and our ethical obligations. We refused,” she said.
In addition, Leneghan said “the ringleaders (of SOS) also asked us for a release from any future lawsuit for defamation, malicious prosecution and abuse of process — in exchange for a dismissal of the complaint. We also refused.”
“Even when it was suggested that a weak apology might be forthcoming as part of a settlement agreement, we again refused to agree,” she said. “Rather, we were prepared to proceed to trial to clear our names.”
In conclusion, Leneghan writes, “But it saddens us that many false things were said about us, during both the petition drive and in the complaint. We are not sure we can ever restore the damage these false accusations have done to our reputation. To the extent our reputations have been irreparably damaged, there is no doubt the complaint will be considered a success for some.
“We look forward to continuing to represent the residents of Liberty Township,” she added.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.