Palestine looks close to home for solicitor

EAST PALESTINE – The village is favoring another local attorney to replace Solicitor Shirley Smith.

Council interviewed four people for the position Wednesday evening and after an hour-and-a-half opted to nominate attorney David Powers. He was the only East Palestine resident who applied.

Other applicants were attorneys David Duff of Salem, Andrew Zellers of Canfield and James Connell of Youngstown.

Two others who also applied but not considered were attorney Richard Hura of Columbiana, who later withdrew citing a conflict of interest, and Dario Hunter of Youngstown, who is not a practicing attorney.

According to his resume, Powers graduated from East Palestine High School in 1973 and later completed schooling at Youngstown State University and the University of Akron School of Law. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1984 and Pennsylvania bar in 1985.

In the mid to late 1990s he was a solo practitioner in East Palestine and part-time assistant Columbiana County public defender.

He is currently managing partner with Stacey and Powers Co. located on South Main Street in Columbiana and is an approved attorney for Chicago Title Insurance Co.

He said in the resume his practice has evolved from civil and criminal litigation to real estate transactions, most recently involving oil and gas leasing negotiations and pipeline easements.

“I have handled thousands of real estate transactions, representing landowners, buyers, borrowers, lenders and the Board of Commissioners of Columbiana County,” he said.

The village is still interested in leasing land for oil and gas drilling, with most discussions focusing on a non-drill lease.

Councilman Don Elzer, who started the most recent leasing discussions, said it was that experience that was “the icing on the cake,” with regards to his decision.

“I think what Dave brought to the table, in my opinion, was his experience. He has been a lawyer for 30 years. He has done a variety of things so we are not going to throw anything new at him,” he said.

That he is a village resident was important to Elzer and Councilman Alan Cohen.

“I believe he was the most experienced by far, and I also liked the fact that he was local. He was the only applicant that was from East Palestine and so the combination of the two, experience and the fact that he was local, were the deciding factors for me. I was impressed by the fact he has a tremendous amount of experience in the courtroom trying cases,” Cohen said.

He noted the solicitor also serves as the village’s prosecutor and as such works closely with the police department, and that part of the job is “often overlooked.”

“Dave was the only one of the applicants that had experience in that area, either as a prosecutor or defense attorney,” he said.

Elzer said he liked that Powers is familiar with the local court system.

Councilman Fran Figley was the only one who opposed nominating Powers, and on Thursday he said that decision was based on three things.

Specifically, he referred to Powers’ work with Dave and Michelle Vargo, the couple who annexed into the village from Unity Township about six years ago.

Powers was representing the Vargos, who were asking that the village extend water and sewer service to their property. To date, the service has not been extended and Powers is no longer their legal counsel.

Cohen said if the issue comes back up it could be a conflict of interest, but directed those questions to Powers. When contacted on Thursday Powers did not wish to comment.

Figley said he also did not vote for Powers because he thought Zellers was the better choice.

“I was always in favor of having somebody outside the city or even county to make decisions so there wouldn’t be any preferential treatment,” he said.

He added he was “partial to Zellers,” whom he knows personally.

The last factor had to do with the way Powers answered an interview question during the closed door session, and he did not wish to disclose that information on the record.

“I don’t have anything against Dave Powers personally, I just thought it would be better for the city to have someone outside,” he said.

Now that Powers has been nominated details of his contract must be worked out and approved by council before he can officially step into the new position.

Councilwoman Endia Wisser was absent for the interview process and had no vote Wednesday night.

Powers said he is looking forward to helping the community as a solicitor.