STOW - Council members passed two pieces of legislation Dec. 30 — firearms regulations and dealing with a vacancy in the mayoral seat — before six of the seven members left office.
One ordinance will put an amendment to the city’s charter on the March 17 primary ballot. The charter issue would amend the section dealing with appointing a new mayor in the case of a vacancy.
The proposal is a result of the necessary change in leadership that occurred when former Mayor Sara Kline resigned in May 2018 to accept a post with the Cuyahoga Falls Park and Recreation Department. Currently, when a mayoral vacancy occurs, the charter requires Council to select one of its members to serve in an interim role "until a successor is elected at the next general or special election."
After Kline’s resignation, Ward 2 Councilman Jim Costello, who is retired, was appointed as the city's interim mayor. He was the only one who was available at that time to assume the full-time post. Costello was they only council member Dec. 30 to vote "no" against the legislation, saying it should be done by the charter review committee and not council.
John Pribonic, then an at-large councilman, sought the seat in a special election that November to finish the term and then was elected to a full four-year term this past November.
The proposed charter amendment would allow council members to appoint someone to a mayoral vacancy "who meets the Charter's qualifications to serve as mayor until a successor is elected at the next general or special election for such purpose." This would allow a resident or a city administrator to be considered, as well as any council member interested in serving.
A charter review commission will begin its job in the new year of reviewing the charter and proposing any amendments it feels are necessary. The commission is convened every five years.
A resident accused council members of having a hidden agenda for rushing through the vote. Although council members said the Dec. 30 meeting was a regularly scheduled meeting, the Dec. 19 meeting for a second reading was a special council meeting.
The second ordinance would amend the city’s laws on discharging firearms or dangerous ordnance to comply with a new state law that took effect Dec. 28.
Council members Dec. 30 focused on a property of approximately 40 to 50 acres in Portage County that the city purchased to drill a water well to help negotiate water rates with the city of Akron. Vice president of council Brian Lowdermilk said beavers building dams on the property cause it to flood, and the city has to remove the dams. The city only has access to the property from a neighboring property. The owner of the adjoining property hunts on the city property. The new legislation, initiated by State House Bill 228, would allow that person to continue to hunt on city property.
State House Bill 228 expanded the locations at which a person has no duty to retreat before using force and modified concealed handgun licensing laws. It also pre-empts local firearm regulations dealing with "acquiring, carrying, or manufacturing of firearms and ammunition." The new state law gives a person, group or entity the right to file a civil action against a city if they believe they were "adversely affected by the enactment or enforcement of a local firearm regulation" that was pre-empted by HB 228.
To avoid any civil action, council amended Ordinance is 549.08 Discharging dangerous ordnance; hunting which begins with a definition of hunting.
"Hunting means the pursuing, shooting, killing, following after or on the trail of, lying in wait for, shooting at or wounding wild birds or wild quadrupeds while employing any device commonly used to kill or would wild birds or wild quadrupeds, whether such acts result in such killing or wounding or not." It also states hunting does not include the safe extermination of rodents or vermin on one's own property.
A section of the ordinance states hunters and trappers must have permission of the Stow mayor or his designee in the Stow Police Department to hunt or trap on city of Stow owned property outside the municipal corporate limits such as the property in Portage County. They need the completed Ohio Department of Natural Resources form for Permission for Hunting, Fishing, or Trapping on Private Land. The form must be carried by the hunter or trapper at all times while engaging in hunting or trapping on municipal owned land. They must show it upon request.
The ordinance also states no one can discharge or cause to be discharged any dangerous ordnance except for hunting or trapping. Violations of the ordinance would be first degree misdemeanors.
Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Barberton, Cleveland, Norton and Tallmadge have filed a complaint against the state of Ohio, claiming that HB 228 amendments "pre-empt" local firearm regulations, said attorney Stephen Funk of Roetzel & Andress, the firm that is representing those municipalities. Columbus and Toledo have also filed lawsuits against the state.
The cities sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the HB 228 amendments from taking effect until the court rules on the legal issues, but Judge Alison McCarty ruled against the injunction. The cities are continuing to pursue the lawsuit against the state.
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org