MUNROE FALLS — City Council's meeting on Dec. 5 opened with some fireworks as Mayor James Armstrong scolded City Council member Mike Barnes for releasing details of the proposed police union contracts on social media.
Barnes posted specific details on the proposed deals on his City Council Facebook page on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3.
On Dec. 5, Armstrong said he was contacted by a representative from the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association who complained about a "possible unfair labor practice" involving "a Councilman posting contracts and commenting on social media about the negotiations involving the police unions."
Attorney Paul Jackson, who represented the city in contract talks with the OPBA, said the OPBA representative was "not at all pleased by what had happened."
"She believes… at the very least, we probably did not act in good faith given where we were as to the tentative negotiations and the fact that the discussions were in executive session," said Jackson.
Jackson added it "remains to be seen" on what the union may or may not do in connection with the situation.
"At least at this point, nothing has been filed," said Jackson.
Armstrong expressed his displeasure with the situation.
"It is unfortunate and upsetting that those who seem to follow the rules seem to be punished by those who ignore procedure," said Armstrong. "…I don't know why these contracts created such drama. I also don't know why a small group of people tried to blow up the negotiations by misleading the public."
Armstrong asked Council to approve the contracts.
"You had the benefit of the executive sessions and you know what took place," said Armstrong. "And I think the majority of you prefer adhering to what was discussed."
Barnes defended his decision to post the information on Facebook.
"I didn't disclose anything that was submitted to us in executive session," said Barnes. "Nothing was given to us in executive session."
Barnes said copies of the contracts were handed to him in the hallway of City Hall by Armstrong after the last Council meeting.
"You were informed that it was confidential and you didn't have a copy and I provided you a copy," said Armstrong. "Do not mislead the public any more, Mr. Barnes."
Barnes answered, "You're misleading the public by what you've screwed up … the contracts … and any of the others, the old ones, are not marked confidential. I don't believe privilege can exist in the venue we have downstairs. I take exception to what you said."
Armstrong asked other Council members what their understanding was regarding the confidentiality of the contracts. Council member Chris Ritzinger said he recalled receiving an email saying that the contracts are confidential. Barnes said he "cannot open emails that I receive from Ms. [Council Clerk Lisa] Hawes."
When asked by Armstrong, the other four Council members present said it was their understanding that the contract details should be kept confidential until the pacts were approved by Council.
Addressing Barnes, Armstrong said, "Your defense is because you couldn't open your email, and I handed [the contracts] to you, that that's some kind of loophole to allow you to go and blow up the negotiations and tell people part of the story. That's your defense?"
"I don't have to defend anything here," said Barnes. "If the city wants to pursue some type of action, if SERB [State Employment Relations Board] does, fine. Wade on in. The water ain't deep."