Summit County Council opened the new year on Monday, Jan. 7, with a new president and a partisan fight.
The first meeting of 2019 involved in part criticism from Republican member Gloria Rodgers that none of the three GOP members on the 11-person council was named to either a committee chairmanship or vice chairmanship.
Rodgers protested by refusing to vote for Democrat Jeff Wilhite, the District 4 representative and 2018 council vice president, as the new council president.
"Again, there’s a significant lack of respect for the work Republican council members do. There’s no effort at bipartisanship," she said. She said council members were going to be asked to vote later in the meeting on bipartisan legislation calling for an end to the partial shutdown of the federal government.
"Leadership is asking for support but making no effort to reach across the aisle. Therefore, I cannot support Mr. Wilhite. He knows that," Rodgers said.
Her comments drew a rebuke from John Schmidt, the District 2 representative and 2018 council president. Schmidt made the motion to name Wilhite as president and asked for a unanimous vote. He didn’t get one.
"Your partisan political posturing is very disappointing, Gloria," he said.
"John, interesting comment, coming from you," Rodgers said.
"You know what, I’m a Democrat and proud of it, OK?" Schmidt said.
"And we work very well together, John. You and I work together well," Rodgers said.
"I know we do," Schmidt said. "I don’t try to disguise my partisan ID. I’m proud that I’m a Democrat."
Wilhite, who sat next to Rodgers as she spoke, was appointed president to a one-year term on a 10-1 vote.
And while Rodgers cast the lone no vote, she applauded Wilhite’s appointment.
Wilhite succeeds Schmidt, who was prevented by new term limits from running for council president. At-large member Elizabeth Walters was unanimously elected council vice president.
Rodgers also had said she was upset that neither of the two nurses on council — herself and fellow Republican Bethany McKenney — were assigned to council’s Health and Human Services Committee, based on a list she had seen. Rodgers was on the committee in 2018.
Rodgers said she had been told the new committee assignments were set in stone. But Schmidt and others said that was not so.
"If it’s a rough draft, that would be great. I would appreciate that," Rodgers said.
While no Republican will be named either a committee chair or vice chair, Wilhite said after the meeting that 2019 committee assignments have not yet been finalized.
"The committee assignments will be addressed this week," he said.
The political party in control of council traditionally appoints its own members as committee chairs and vice chairs, Wilhite said.
"The Democrats are in control of the council, so that’s normally how it goes," he said. "We have excellent, excellent members, Republican and Democrat. I have off-the-chart respect for all of them and will continue to work with them. My role now is to do everything and anything I can to help all the members of the council . . . and the executive. I have respect for all of them. I will do everything I can to make sure the county is first and we get what we need done for the county."
In other business Monday, council unanimously approved legislation, introduced by District 6 representative Jerry Feeman, that urged the federal government to end its partial shutdown, which involves a dispute between the Trump White House and Democrats on whether to fund the building of a border wall next to Mexico.
"Our elected representatives need to expedite a compromise on this issue so we can put this chapter behind us," Feeman said.