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Columbiana City Council files complaint against city manager, municipal attorney

October 10, 2012
Morning Journal News

COLUMBIANA - City Council has filed a complaint in county Common Pleas Court against City Manager Keith Chamberlin and Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell.

The complaint came after Councilman Bryan Blakeman suggested they pursue a court order to learn what issue a taxpayer is having with the city's income tax code.

The taxpayer, whose identity remains confidential, filed a formal tax complaint on Sept. 17. Blasdell told council then the city would need to appoint three members to the Income Tax Board of Review to conduct a private hearing with the taxpayer no later than Oct. 31. He also said, as did Chamberlin, that the issue must remain confidential according to state law. Other than knowing a complaint was filed, council members were not told what the issue was, or who had filed the complaint.

The matter came to a head Oct. 2, after Blakeman and two others on council said they need to know the issue in order to perform their duties as council members.

Blakeman said he and Councilman Bob Bieshelt had even met with Chamberlin privately and were still not given the information despite Blakeman referring to a section in the city's charter he argues gives council the right to know.

According to the complaint filed in court by attorney Scott C. Essad, representing council, Chamberlin and Blasdell have "willfully refused their duties to advise, consult with, and report to city council."

The complaint cites the city's charter and tax code and argues it is the duty of council to inquire into and investigate any and all municipal affairs.

"City council has inquired of both the city manager and municipal attorney about the nature of this tax issue (and) has been met with not only silence, but open defiance. The city manager has stated orally and in writing that he will not share any information with city council absent a 'court order,' and that it was 'none of council's business,'" Essad said in the complaint.

He added Blasdell also said council was "not entitled" to know about the issue.

As Blakeman stressed at the Oct. 2 council meeting, Essad also argued in the complaint that council members are not asking for the name of the taxpayer, but only "wants and requires" an outline and explanation of the tax matter from the two people that "have a duty to answer to, advise and assist city council," according to the charter.

Essad said in the complaint that Chamberlin and Blasdell's use of a city ordinance to back their claim the information must remain confidential was "ironic" in that the same ordinance also states the information shall be confidential "except for official purposes or as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction."

"If this matter is not an official purpose, what is?" Essad asked. "The willful declination of these municipal officers to provide information to city council sets a dangerous precedence for the future."

He went on to say that "even more perplexing" is that at other times in the past Chamberlin and Blasdell have "freely consulted" with council regarding tax issues involving special assessments and related matters.

Essad said a writ of mandamus, or court order, is necessary to have the information disclosed privately to council in order for them to perform their duties as required.

A copy of the complaint was served to Chamberlin and Blasdell by the county sheriff's office.

Council members Mary Calinger, Lowell Schloneger and Tom Ferguson were not in favor of pursuing a court order, but Mayor David Spatholt broke the tie vote at the Oct. 2 meeting which allowed council to move forward.



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