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Motion creates tension in Columbiana Council

November 23, 2012
Morning Journal News

COLUMBIANA - A motion by a city councilman to non-renew a contract for the municipal attorney he served a court order to last month created some tension this week.

Bryan Blakeman suggested council prevent Daniel Blasdell's contract from automatically renewing.

The contract signed by City Manager Keith Chamberlin and Mayor David Spatholt in 2008 is for a one-year term but automatically renews each year unless Blasdell or council opt to have it terminated, which can be done at any time.

Blakeman said he doesn't believe the contract should automatically renew because others should be given the chance to apply if interested.

"(This is) not to censure you, Dan, or to say that council has a problem with you. I don't believe that there should be an auto renewal of this agreement," he said.

Blasdell has worked for the city more than 30 years but reached the agreement with the city in 2008 after deciding to retire his private practice, Chamberlin said. The contract was for a little more money than he had been making before, he added.

Blasdell is paid $1,180 a month on the contract and the city also pays his $300 annual malpractice insurance premium, annual continuing education requirements and his bar association dues.

Although Blakeman said several times that Blasdell would have the opportunity to re-apply if he chooses, he mentioned that keeping the same attorney while changing the city manager "presents a problem."

Chamberlin will retire from his position next month and the city is currently seeking his replacement.

Blakeman argued that whoever is hired will have to step into the lawsuit he and others on council filed against Chamberlin and Blasdell in county Common Pleas Court last month.

The writ of mandamus, or court order, was requested by Blakeman and councilmen Bob Bieshelt and James King after Chamberlin and Blasdell refused to share information with them that pertained to a taxpayer's complaint regarding the income tax code. The request to make the court order was approved after Spatholt voted in favor to break the 3-3 tie among council.

Blakeman and Bieshelt had asked Chamberlin and Blasdell more than once what issue the taxpayer was having with the tax code, but the two men refused, stating that doing so would be a violation of state law.

The three councilmen argued the issue - not the taxpayer's name - should be disclosed to council since it affects the operation of the city. Blakeman suggested the court order following their refusal, and if granted, the new city manager and Blasdell would be ordered by a judge to disclose the information.

He noted that the new city manager could opt to disclose the information but if Blasdell continues to refuse, they are at a stalemate.

"I don't think it's fair to stick someone in that position on their first day on the job. I'm not suggesting you would not be the municipal attorney . But that's a powerful thing when we consider the auto renewal," he told Blasdell.

Spatholt pointed out that non-renewing the contract would stop Blasdell's wages only and that his contract can be terminated at any time, whether he decides to quit or council chooses to terminate.

"I spoke with Dan on this contract and he assured me that at any time council desired we could get rid of him," Spatholt said.

He then said that Blasdell has been good for the city, specifically, in "cleaning up tax cases" through Mayor's Court.

"I don't see any reason to terminate his contract at this time," he said.

Blakeman again said that non-renewing the contract wouldn't mean Blasdell couldn't work for the city.

"I never said I don't want (Blasdell) to have another contract," he said.

King said otherwise.

"The mandamus issue is kind of at the center of this contract. If we do bring a new city manager in, which we will eventually, I don't want them butting heads with us or the attorney. It would be nice to start fresh," he said.

Former council member Joyce Allcorn was not pleased with the idea of removing Blasdell from the position.

Allcorn, who was sitting in the audience at the meeting, served nine years on council about nine years ago and told Blakeman that she didn't appreciate his attitude toward the city and said more than once he was attempting to "micromanage."

"Dan has kept this city out of trouble for 30 years. Mr. Blakeman, ever since you became a councilman you have done nothing but cut the city down. I don't even know why you are here. You have undermined the authority of Mr. Blasdell. You have cut down management from day one. I don't understand, if our town was so bad why did you come here in the first place?" she said.

She also suggested that King agreed with Blakeman on the matter because they worked together, which elicited a strong reaction from King, who said he does not work for Blakeman, although he did at one point.

He then said that he has voted against Blakeman on more than one occasion and noted that he was not the only one with a connection to another city official.

Spatholt said he was related to councilwoman Mary Calinger through marriage. She is his sister-in-law.

Allcorn apologized to King for making the suggestion.

Bieshelt then told Allcorn he didn't appreciate her comments.

"I don't think Mr. Blakeman or anyone on this council is trying to ruin the city and I don't appreciate you coming to tell us (that) ... What we are trying to do is make sure we create change. We can't live under the same management style for 30 years. If we do, I can guarantee you we won't grow," he said.

Councilman Lowell Schloneger said the discussion should have been held in executive session since it had to do with personnel.

"The job that he's (Blasdell) done I feel that he's earned his keep and I for one am not in favor of not-renewing this," he said.

Blakeman's motion then died after Spatholt broke the 3-3 vote. Schloneger, Tom Ferguson and Calinger opposed.

The failed motion also killed Blakeman's second motion, which was to advertise the municipal attorney position and interview or appoint the new or renewed attorney at the Dec. 4 meeting.

Blasdell did not comment during the discussion.

Common Pleas Judge C. Ashley Pike was presented with the non-oral motions regarding the court order against Chamberlin and Blasdell on Nov. 23 and the matter was continued to Dec. 28.



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