MUNROE FALLS — The city took another step toward cleaning up its firing range.

City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to advertise and take bids for the project. The bids are slated to be opened on Oct. 21 and 22, and council will award the contract after that, according to Mayor James Armstrong.

The city is permanently closing its firing range on Main Street. A moratorium on the use of the range was imposed last summer after the city and four other communities received a notice from a Munroe Falls resident who threatened legal action against the municipalities that use the city’s firing range.

In June 2018, officials in Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake, Stow and Tallmadge, and each entities’ police departments, received a letter notifying them that Thomas Shubert intended to file a lawsuit against them for alleged violations of state and federal environmental laws.

Shubert’s attorney, Andrew J. Karas of Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, sent the letter to the various communities. Karas said that Shubert wanted the four cities and the village to stop using the range and to "conduct ... an environmentally sufficient assessment to gauge the nature and extent of the [alleged] contamination of the ground, of the groundwater, and of the adjacent [Cuyahoga] River, to gauge what sort of remediation is likely to be necessary."

Armstrong said all five communities worked together on an "agreement to resolve the legal matter and sharing the related costs such as clean up, legal fees, and engineering."

Munroe Falls City Council earlier in the year approved both a settlement agreement with Shubert and the other communities and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with all of the communities.

Armstrong noted Munroe Falls is responsible for half the cost, and the other four communities will share in the remaining expense "based upon usage over [the] past years."

When Munroe Falls City Council approved the city’s 2019 budget in December, that spending plan included $100,000 that was earmarked for "the shooting range, the cost of the litigation and any cost in ...[the] cleanup that may be necessary," according to Armstrong.

Armstrong said the city has received money from the other communities to pay for cleanup costs and some other expenses related to the range. According to Finance Director Karen Reynolds, the amounts paid by the communities were: Cuyahoga Falls, $56,249; Stow, $23,189; Tallmadge, $8,058; and Silver Lake, $1,002.

Council approves paying more in legal fees in Barnes case

Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 in favor of paying another $5,000 to Brouse-McDowell for the recently settled case in which Council member Mike Barnes filed a public records lawsuit against the city. Barnes cast the dissenting vote.

When council amended the legislation on Sept. 3 to change the amount being paid from $10,000 to $5,000, Barnes abstained from the vote. For the final vote on Tuesday, however, Barnes voted "no."

When council voted on a motion to suspend the rules to allow the final vote to happen, Barnes voted "no." When he did that, Armstrong said, "technically …I think Mr. Barnes has to abstain from the vote, since it involves his lawsuit."

Law Director Tom Kostoff added, "I believe that is true."

"It’s voting [on spending] money," stated Barnes. "I don’t think I give up my right to, as a councilman, [as] an elected official, to vote on appropriations."

Kostoff responded, "ultimately, Mr. Barnes’ vote is Mr. Barnes’ vote."

Barnes later told the Sentry that when he reflected on abstaining from the vote on Sept. 3, he realized that since the case was closed, "no really good reason existed for me to abstain."

Reynolds said the city has now spent $46,395 on the Barnes case.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.