City Councilman-at-large Brent Crone (right) is sworn into office in January. Word was released on Monday that Crone has resigned from his council seat, effective April 28, 2014. (TB file photo)
City Councilman-at-large Brent Crone (right) is sworn into office in January. Word was released on Monday that Crone has resigned from his council seat, effective April 28, 2014. (TB file photo)

BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT -- A change is coming to Van Wert City Council. On Monday, it was announced that Councilman-at-large Brent Crone had submitted his resignation to Council President Ken Mengerink, effective after the April 28, 2014 council meeting.

Crone had just been re-elected to another two-year term on the governing body. Now it is the duty of the Republican Central Committee to choose a replacement. Mengerink intimated that Committee Chair Martin Burchfield already had a list of names for the post but that anyone interested should contact Burchfield.

The announcement was hardly the only news coming from the Monday council session. The long-awaited legal opinion from City Law Director John Hatcher was released concerning the validity of the re-stated contract between the city and Ohio State University Extension for economic development services in Van Wert. Hatcher had been asked if the contract was legal and if withdrawal from the agreement was possible without giving a one-year notice to OSU Extension.

The question was asked because of a disagreement between council members about economic development efforts and a disagreement between the city and Van Wert County Commissioners. The commissioners are in the midst of setting up a new economic development organization for the county replacing OSU Extension. The commissioners back out of the old agreement with the city and OSU in December.

Commission Chair Todd Wolfrum, an attorney, has been claiming that the city is not legally allowed to contract with Extension. Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer signed a re-stated contract with OSU earlier this year, claiming the authority to do so based on legislation passed in 2001 which authorized the mayor to sign such an agreement.

"Quite frankly, I don't think there's a clear answer," noted Hatcher." Because both sides have solid statutory bases for the opinions that they have, and they are in conflict. Typically when you have a situation like that, the one way to solve that conflict is through the courts. There's going to be some degree of uncertainty until or unless something like that happens."

Hatcher pointed out that many have considered a court case to settle the matter not to be a good idea, and that he agreed with that opinion. But he did emphasize that since the city has signed a contract, he would advise keeping that contract in place until a court decides the contract is invalid.

With that opinion in, a call was issued for the matter to go to committee for discussion between council's Judiciary and Annexation Committee and the Economic Development Advisory Board. That meeting was scheduled for April 21 at 6 p.m. The three members of that committee will decide if further action on behalf of City Council is warranted. The chairman of that committee is Stan Agler who is joined by Jerry Mazur and Jon Tomlinson. In prior discussions, Mazur has expressed his desire to cancel the OSU Extension contract, while both Agler and Tomlinson have aligned themselves on the other side of the discussion.

In a related issue, Hatcher told council members that calling an executive session for the April 21 meeting would not be proper since he feels that the new Sunshine Law exemption for keeping meetings private does not apply to the reconsidering of an already-signed contract. A handful of council members had expressed the desire to hold the meeting in executive session to keep the media from attending. Their hope was to limit coverage of contentious debate out of the newspaper, but Hatcher stated that such a move would be against the Open Meetings Law.

In other action Monday, council members approved the 2014 permanent appropriations with a few last-minute modifications. One of those modifications was the addition of a $21,000 donation to the Van Wert County Airport Authority to help make needed improvements this year to make the facility eligible for a possible FAA grant in 2015. The Airport Board hopes to make improvements to help bolster the local economic development efforts. Adjustments to a pair of already-passed salary ordinances were approved Monday night as well.

In his report, Farmer noted that city income tax collections continue to rise with March 2014 receipts up more than $37,000 over March 2013, with another week of collections still to come in this year. He also said that work on annexation of a pair of properties containing the new rail spur to the Van Wert Super Site was continuing. Farmer stated that annexation of these properties is important for the certification process of the site. That goal for certification of the Super Site is early this year.