Council members denied access to tax information

COLUMBIANA – A court order initiated by Councilman Bryan Blakeman to city leaders last year was settled last week.

Columbiana County Common Pleas Judge C. Ashley Pike ruled that City Council did not have enough evidence to warrant the court order against former city manager Keith Chamberlin and Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell.

He said in the ruling that council did not have the material facts to prove it had a clear legal right to confidential taxpayer information. “The court finds that council lacks standing to bring this case and further, that if it would be found to have standing, the complaint is not verified by an affidavit,” Pike said.

Blakeman had suggested in October that council pursue a writ of mandamus, or court order, on the city’s behalf after Chamberlin and Blasdell refused to disclose what issue a tax payer was having with the income tax code.

Blakeman’s suggestion moved forward with the support of former councilman Bob Bieshelt, councilman James King and Mayor David Spatholt.

Councilmen Tom Ferguson, Lowell Schloneger and Councilwoman Mary Calinger opposed.

The resident had filed the formal complaint on Sept. 17, and Blasdell and Chamberlin said they were within their rights to not disclose the complaint because all income tax matters are required by law to remain confidential.

The three council members in favor of the court order and Spatholt had argued that in order to properly appoint members to the income tax board of review they needed to know what issue the tax payer was having with the code. They never asked that the tax payer’s identity be disclosed.

All income tax complaints must go before the board of review and members had not previously been appointed because no complaints had been filed in recent history.

In early October Chamberlin and Blasdell were served with a summons by the county sheriff’s office.

In the meantime, the tax payer met with the board of review, which consisted of John Haller, Rick Firestone, and Bieshelt, and the matter was resolved.

Blasdell requested a motion for summary judgment based on the fact that the matter was resolved in the midst of the court case.

Pike’s ruling was in favor of that motion and Blasdell’s statement that council had “other adequate remedies short of maintaining” the court order.

Because the court order was denied the matter remains confidential.

Blakeman said he is disappointed with the outcome.

“The point of this request was to get clarification since there was a difference of opinion. That unfortunately didn’t happen. We are no further ahead, but it is not for lack of trying,” he said.

Finance Director Mike Harold said the city must now pay about $300 in court costs.