Columbiana mayor must follow the law or work to change it

From time to time, the Ohio legislature has considered abolishing mayor’s courts.

Proponents of elimination have cited the fact that most mayors are not qualified to hear cases and they fear the possibility of abuses by corrupt mayors who can impose large fines to boost ailing town finances or hand out reduced fines for political favors.

Recent statements by the mayor of Columbiana, Bryan Blakeman, should bolster arguments favoring the courts’ abolishment.

During discussion of a parking dispute at a city council meeting, Blakeman publicly announced that he would not issue guilty verdicts for people found violating a parking ban on East Park Avenue.

A 1950s ordinance prohibited parking along the street, but the law had not been enforced for decades because city officials were not aware of its existence until a few months ago. After officials found the law, the curb in front of the Mercantile on the Square was painted yellow to designate it as a no parking area. The store’s owner has complained to council because she believes the parking ban is bad for her business, and until the curb was painted she parked there daily.

The parking ban became an issue after Councilman Dan Bekar brought it to the city’s attention that people driving west on East Park Avenue were going left of center to get around the parked vehicles, creating not only a safety issue, but a traffic violation.

Saying that he believes the no parking zone there “is bad for the city … it will run a business out of town,” Blakeman said he would not find people guilty of parking in front of the store.

Municipal Attorney Dan Blasdell warned Blakeman, “You took an oath to support and uphold the laws of this city … to sit here and say you would not, that would be wrong. For you to make that pronouncement is inappropriate and I would ask you to withdraw it.” But Blakeman was steadfast in his refusal.

While we sympathize with the store owner who believes the parking ban will have an adverse effect on her business and understand Blakeman’s reluctance to harm a business, we cannot condone the mayor’s refusal to follow the law.

Blakeman should work with council in getting the ordinance repealed if he believes it is detrimental to business, but in the meantime, he must uphold his oath of office and enforce the law. He can’t pick and choose which laws he will uphold and which he won’t.

Perhaps the legislature needs to take another look at doing away with mayor’s courts. The Columbiana situation is just the latest example of why they don’t belong in our justice system.