Thursday, May 16, 2002

Fairfield mayor admits open meeting violation

Council decided on $9M center without proper notice

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — Mayor Erick Cook conceded this week he violated the state's open meeting laws by holding a weekend meeting with council members without issuing the required 24-hour public notice.

        A key decision for the city was reached at that session. After years of debate, council decided to build a $9 million community cultural center in Village Green, its new downtown.

        The matter is expected to go to a formal vote later this year.

        Mr. Cook said he arranged the session with City Council weeks ago and an agenda was given to members a week in advance. When the meeting was announced about 2 p.m. Friday, however, it was described as an “emergency retreat.”

        Normally, “emergency” meetings are reserved for sudden personnel changes such as the resignation of a city manager or to settle a lawsuit.

        “We made an egregious error because we forgot to send out the notice,” Mr. Cook said. “We messed up. You will always find me to be truthful, and that's what happened.”

        The retreat was held on private property at a Colerain Township facility from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the mayor said. All council members attended.

        The city clerk, Dena Morsch, said this week she thought the mayor had sent the notice out on time.

        “We had our wires crossed,” Ms. Morsch said. “I thought Erick Cook had taken care of it. He planned the whole retreat. But we double-checked with him Friday and he hadn't done that, so we sent it out.”

        Although the reason for the meeting wasn't released publicly ahead of time, it was held because the mayor didn't think all the council members were on the same page. Council discussed priorities for the city and ranked them, with the community cultural center being everyone's first one, he said.

        When asked why the discussion couldn't take place during a regular meeting, Mr. Cook said the session took four hours and that would be too long for a council meeting or work session.

        Building the community cultural center before a new or expanded Justice Center has been controversial. Some residents and workers at the outdated and overcrowded Justice Center wanted the city to first either add to or move the center. Police officers say crowding is so bad, at times they have to interview citizens outside in the parking lot for privacy. One toilet is shared by 45 male officers.

        At its meeting Monday, council unanimously agreed to pay a consultant $41,000 to study options for expanding the justice center.


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