Sandusky law director warns city commissioners of ethical violations

SANDUSKY For the third time in less than a month, Law Director Don Icsman had to stop city commissio
jasonsinger
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

For the third time in less than a month, Law Director Don Icsman had to stop city commissioners from committing ethical violations.

On Friday morning, at least two commissioners planned to attend a meeting at Sandusky International about waterfront economic development.

At least two other commissioners planned to attend a similar meeting Tuesday, also at Sandusky International.

But according to Sunshine Laws, four commissioners -- a majority of the commission -- cannot attend the same unofficial meeting.

Icsman, the city's law director, said the law also specifies that two commissioners cannot attend one meeting while two others attend a separate meeting if both meetings are about the same topic.

"The Sunshine Book is very clear," Icsman said. "You can't do these serial, round-robin types of meeting. You just can't have meetings about city business like that."

The controversy began when Ed Ryan, CEO of Sandusky International, contacted ex officio mayor Craig Stahl about the meetings earlier this week.

Stahl said he would attend Friday's meeting but wanted all the commissioners invited.

On Friday morning, city commissioner Dan Kaman, who was invited by a Sandusky International representative only after he learned about the meeting from a resident, e-mailed Icsman. Kaman questioned whether the meetings were legal. Icsman shared his concerns.

Stahl, who was already having reservations about the meeting after discussing it with Kaman on Thursday afternoon, arrived shortly thereafter at Icsman's office.

Icsman told Stahl he couldn't attend the meeting, and called commissioner Pervis Brown and told him the same thing.

"I know you're not supposed to poll commissioners, so that's why I contacted (Icsman)," Kaman said Friday. "We all know we should run these things through Don. You have to do things open and transparent."

For his part, Stahl said he only thought four commissioners couldn't be at one meeting. He didn't know about sending less than four to two separate meetings.

He said he was just trying to be available for a local business.

"In today's environment, if a business wants to talk, I think we should listen," Stahl said Friday. "That's all I was doing. I will tell you there was no bad intentions on anyone's part."

Since the city didn't actually violate any law because the meetings did not take place, some officials downplayed the incident. But Kaman said it's part of a disturbing trend.

Last month, commissioner Bob Warner tried to have a meeting with Schirmer Construction to lobby for local jobs on the Hayes Avenue underpass project.

But the meeting was scheduled to occur before the commission officially selected Schirmer, so Icsman told Warner it was unethical.

The commission also violated Sunshine Laws when it failed to take minutes at two off-week work sessions. Stahl took full responsibility, saying it was a simple oversight. But Icsman told the commission it can't happen again.

"This is just another foiled illegal meeting," Kaman said. "Stahl and Warner have tried, but they're illegal. You can't keep doing this."