COLUMBIANA - Mayor David Spatholt was recently called on to break council's tie vote on whether to contract with the Mahoning County Building Department for commercial and industrial inspections.
Spatholt cast his vote against working with the county, and the decision elicited a strong reaction from Councilman James King, who argued throughout the meeting-even after the lengthy discussion had ended-that contracting with the county would be more beneficial for the city.
He said that prior to the meeting he spoke with three people involved in the construction trade and was told by them "we would be a fool if we did not contract with Mahoning County, just for ease of operation."
But council members Mary Calinger, Spatholt and Lowell Schlonegger said they heard otherwise.
"I have received several calls from it being in the paper, and everyone that called me was opposed to it," Spatholt said.
King then asked why they were opposed, to which Spatholt replied they didn't give a specific reason.
"How can they be opposed to something and not give a reason?" King said.
Schlonegger said a reason given to him was that inspections could be filed through the state electronically and Mahoning County inspectors aren't always available.
Councilman Brian Blakeman called the latter reason "completely fictitious" and told Schlonegger the public wasn't telling the truth on how often the county inspectors are available.
He argued the inspectors would be available to the city however often the city wants, based on what is included in the contract, which was only recently presented to council although the matter has been discussed since April, when Blakeman first made the suggestion.
He and King also argued there are many commercial buildings in the city that are "embarrassing" and commercial inspectors are needed in order to have them improved, but Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell said they were suggesting "going into areas where (they) have no authority."
"We are not the beautification police here," he said.
King contended that buildings like one on South Main Street, which has long been out of operation, are unsafe.
"You can't walk through that place without potentially falling through the floor," he said.
But Blasdell said the building was addressed in the past and deemed not a hazard, which elicited laughter from Councilman Bob Bieshelt, who also later accused Blasdell of being "too defensive" about the matter.
"I don't know why you're laughing .... I don't have a dog in this fight," Blasdell responded.
To King, he said, "You are assuming all sorts of things you don't know to be true, and the things you are suggesting are not a public nuisance."
"We can tell someone to cut their grass, but we can't tell someone to fix up their building? The building looks like it should be burned down and used as a parking lot," King said.
Again, Blasdell said council couldn't "invade" someone's public/private property when it is not posing a nuisance, or danger, to the community.
King then called upon City Manager Keith Chamberlin to verify the building was unsafe, and Chamberlin said the foundation there "doesn't look good," but that it would be a matter for the owner and contractor to deal with, not the city.
Prior to the vote Blasdell told council they were "getting very far afield of the issue at hand," which was whether or not to proceed with a contract with the county.
Those opposed to contracting were Schlonegger, Calinger and Councilman Tom Ferguson while those in favor were Bieshelt, Blakeman and King.
Blakeman said by not contracting with the county the city is sending the message that they "don't care what our city looks like. We'd like to push it off on someone else (the state), that's what we are saying."
Following Spatholt's vote, King said, "This is ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous. I don't want to hear one person complain about the building inspectors ... unbelievable."
Assistant building and zoning inspector Bob Belding is set to take the certification test in December and will continue conducting residential inspections on one-, two-and three-family dwellings. Although he is called the assistant inspector, he is the primary person conducting inspections in the city for residential buildings. Chamberlin is head of the department of which Belding is the only employee.
Commercial and industrial inspections will continue through the state.