COLUMBIANA - City Council member Bryan Blakeman said Tuesday he was wrongly accused of intentionally skipping a regularly scheduled council meeting.
Blakeman took a moment during the Tuesday meeting to respond to comments made by North West Street resident Rick Pennell at the Dec. 20 meeting.
"For the record, I told (City Manager) Keith Chamberlin months ago that I would not be in attendance at last week's meeting. Perhaps he forgot, which could happen to anyone," he said.
Blakeman and council members Tom Ferguson and Bob Bieshelt were not at the Dec. 20 meeting. It was the first time in years three members were absent at the same time.
Pennell said during that meeting that he believed their absence was a coordinated effort related to a previous discussion about pay disparity.
Blakeman read aloud a portion of the Morning Journal article in which Pennell was quoted saying that the absences were "not a coincidence."
He also read a statement Pennell made regarding the timeliness of a pay disparity discussion suggested by Bieshelt at the Dec. 6 meeting.
Pennell questioned why the discussion regarding council salary came after the election and not before, and indicated the reason was so council members could recoup money spent on election campaigns.
"I was shocked the day I came home from traveling to read in the Morning Journal that Mr. Rick Pennell had said such horrible things in an attempt to impugn my character. To suggest that I would go back on an oath that I swore to uphold, for a couple hundred dollars, absolutely makes me sick," he said.
Blakeman said he was not at the meeting because he was out of the country on a cruise with his family. He said he had scheduled the cruise six months ago and told Chamberlin of his plans at that time.
Chamberlin said after the meeting that Blakeman's statement was correct. He said he had not received an explanation for Ferguson's or Bieshelt's absences.
The men did not offer explanation during the meeting and Bieshelt declined to offer comment after the meeting.
He said he didn't believe an explanation was needed and pointed out he has only missed three council meetings in six years.
Blakeman said he has missed two meetings in four years and also believes an explanation is not necessary.
Columbiana Council members are not required to notify others when they will be absent from a meeting.
"I do not feel that I owe anyone an explanation as to where I was, but since I was so wrongly accused of intentionally skipping a meeting in protest to a raise that I would not have received (even if it passed), I will at least say that I have small children out of school and we took a family vacation," he said.
He also said he still had the keys with the dates on them from his cruise ship, should anyone at the meeting wish to see them.
He requested Pennell give a full public apology for his "attempt to besmirch" his character.
Pennell could be heard telling Blakeman after the meeting that he still believed the absences were not a coincidence.
In other business, council approved agenda items they could not vote on at the last meeting due to a lack of a quorum.
Numerous emergency ordinances were approved to amend appropriations to balance the budget for 2011. An emergency ordinance setting the wages for Finance Director Kevin Smith for services rendered on a part-time basis from Jan. 1 through March 31, 2012, was also approved.
The city is still seeking a new finance director after Smith announced earlier this year he was leaving. He agreed to help the city on a part-time basis until a replacement is found.
Chamberlin said the list of potential replacements has been narrowed to four and that Police Chief Tim Gladis is currently conducting background checks.
He said a decision should be made in January.