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Citizen group town hall revisits Peachey investigation

EAST LIVERPOOL — More than 110 people tuned in on social media, hoping for answers regarding a former city housing inspector Bob Smith’s allegations that he was dismissed as part of a coverup by city administrators.

River Valley Organizing (RVO), which is a citizen-based community group committed toward a safer, cleaner and more transparent environment, hosted Tuesday night’s inaugural town hall on Facebook.

Earlier this month, Columbiana County prosecutors declined to file charges against Councilman Ernest Peachey Sr., who had owned a rental property at 746 St. Clair Ave., and the property’s current owner Thomas E. Dennis after police investigated claims into theft of water services at the address by bypassing a water meter with a straight pipe.

Peachey and Dennis were not named in the police report, but online property records confirmed their identities.

Dennis had acquired the property from Peachey in October — more than three years after water service was terminated at the residence.

Participating in the Facebook Live were Mayor Greg Bricker, Police Chief John Lane and Councilman John Mercer, all who answered a variety of questions on behalf of several members of the RVO.

During the town hall, Bricker said he had concerns that Smith may be pushing the investigation due to a “personal vendetta” against Peachey, who was not present for the discussion Tuesday. Although it was not bridged during the town hall, an earlier Review investigation showed numerous housing complaints against Peachey-managed and owned properties by other inspectors years before Smith’s involvement.

Interested parties questioned Bricker’s decision to accept Smith’s heated text resignation. However, Bricker expressed no regrets about doing so despite the residents’ assertion that Smith was making progress with the city’s housing blight.

If offered the opportunity to do it again, Bricker said he “would accept that resignation all day long,” adding that at times he felt more like a “middle school principal than a mayor.”

Bricker and Police Chief Lane both explained that the evidence accumulated during the investigation wasn’t sufficient to file any charges against Peachey. Ultimately their documentation was forwarded to Assistant County Prosecutor Christopher Weeda, who agreed that there was not enough evidence to charge anyone.

Police Capt. Darin Morgan detailed the investigation for about an hour Thursday afternoon, reinforcing Chief Lane’s comments during the town hall. Of particular interest to authorities, according to Morgan, were statements by Kimberly Fields Spencer that she had resided in the 746 St. Clair Ave. property for around six months before moving out in August 2018, after not having water service there.

However, Morgan said his investigation found that according to city water department records, Spencer would have had water service there, when she had actually moved on around a year before as she had filed two police reports back on July 25 and July 27, 2017 regarding theft incidents from her home

During the first alleged theft incident, she advised that she was out of town and someone entered 746 St. Clair Ave. and removed all her furniture from her home. It was ultimately cleared as unfounded.

The second incident was reported two days later, when Spencer said that someone stole two televisions with a total value of $1,050, a California King mattress and a pistol from 746 S. Clair Ave. when she was out of town for several weeks. Police noted in the report that the apartment showed no signs of forced entry, and Peachey, who was her landlord, was the only other person with a key and he denied being in the apartment. However, she noted that she was behind In her rent and currently exhausting a 30-day eviction notice.

During his interviews of both Peachey and the current owner, Dennis, he did not rent the property after Spencer moved out as various issues needed repair. He instead used it as storage.

Water department records show that Peachey had the water turned off Feb. 28, 2018, and it was never turned back on. Apparently the valve at the curb was broken and could not be shut off, so the valve inside the house was wired shut.

Morgan states his belief that water department employees should have discovered the bypass in the house when they were wiring the valve in the house.

According to Morgan, “There is no evidence that the property was ever rented out after Spencer moved out. Peachey did report that he did allow a couple people to sleep in the house a few nights but said there was no water service.” Eventually Peachey reported the water lines at 746 St. Clair Ave. had frozen and the water heater was removed and relocated to another rental property that he owns.

“The report of the water freezing seems reasonable especially if no one was living at the property and no heat on,” the police captain explained, adding that Dennis had possessed the property for almost two months and never did anything with the water until after Smith went there to condemn the house.

Morgan concluded in his comments two days after the town hall, “There is no city ordinance that says if you own property in the city limits that you are required to have water service turned on when the house is vacant. The water service for 746 St. Clair Ave. had been shut off since Feb. 28, 2018; and at the time of this investigation, we were not able to verify that anyone had rented this property since the water was shut off.”

Although the former housing inspector didn’t participate in the actual town hall, Smith was present for the Facebook Live and could be seen posting in the comments, often disputing remarks made by Mayor Bricker and Police Chief Lane in the comment section.

RVO officials asserted they had invited Smith to participate as one of the panelists, but technical difficulties prevented him from doing so in that fashion. Smith just posted his comments as he could.

Other topics were bridged during the Facebook Live but largely not dealt with, so RVO could keep the conversation on target. However, the citizen group said that they intend to target those issues in future monthly virtual events.

Parties interested in learning more about future monthly town halls can find more information on the River Valley Organizing’s Facebook page.

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