Probate Judge Mark Costine tried to determine who is going to prosecute the case involving two Bridgeport Council members on Wednesday, but no easy answer was to be found.
Council members Ben Lenz and Dave Smith are both reportedly former fire department members who reportedly voted on fire department issues.
The Ohio Revised Code says it should be the village solicitor, but Solicitor Mark Thomas said he has a definite conflict, so he can't do it. The plaintiff's attorney, Michael Shaheen, said he has asked County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter, but Berhalter has declined, saying under statute, it's not his job.
Judge Costine issued an order for the prosecutor to appear, or to file a pleading to show cause why he feels he shouldn't. They adjourned until early October. In the meantime, the temporary restraining order is extended, meaning the two council members involved can't act on any official business until the case been decided in court.
First, legal issues have temporarily suspended two Bridgeport Council members.
Then another called off, saying he can't attend the meeting.
Now, that meeting is not going to happen at all.
A council member is not supposed to vote on an issue--such as a pay raise for the fire department--if he or she has a personal stake in that issue.
For that reason, two council members, Ben Lenz and Dave Smith, both reportedly former fire department members who reportedly voted on fire department issues, are suspended from council until their August 28 hearing.
But Bridgeport Village Solicitor Mark Thomas says it's not the first time this type of voting has happened.
"While it may be a valid legal issue that needs to be addressed now, I will note that I know from personal experience that this is not the first time this has happened," said Thomas. "It happened before I came on board."
Thomas believes there are other issues in Bridgeport that are actually more vital.
He's been the village solicitor for 18 months.
And he says he has spent much of that time trying to get the mayor and council and administration on the same page.
Being a peacemaker is technically not his job.
But he says long-standing fighting and bickering has left the village's government "in dire straits."
"My duty is to give legal advice," Thomas said. "But I also need to do whatever I can to make sure the meetings run as smoothly, as efficiently and as calmly as possible."
Thomas says he wants to see the legal issues resolved.
But he'd also like to see council and the administration move forward and proceed with the jobs the voters entrusted to them.
"Open, honest, transparent communication all the time never hurts," suggests Thomas.