In-person Council meetings to resume in Northfield

Ken Lahmers
Special to MyTownNEO
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NORTHFIELD – Village Council’s June 23 meeting will be conducted at Village Hall, with residents allowed to attend. It will be the first in-person session since March 2021 when state coronavirus pandemic protocols governing mass gatherings went into effect.

At council’s June 9 meeting, Councilman Gary Vojtuch said a couple of residents have expressed concerns to him about meetings taking place virtually and council operating secretively. “Some of them do not have computers and some are not computer savvy,” he said.

“We’re not trying to be sneaky or underhanded,” responded Councilman Alan Hipps. “Meetings have been open to the public online, residents can dial in by phone and we make minutes available to anyone who wants them. I think we’ve had more transparency doing it this way than when residents show up in person.”

Mayor Jesse Nehez added any resident can call a council rep or village official to discuss problems or concerns they may have.

“I think it’s unfair to say council and village officials are not being cooperative with residents,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Domzalski. “If they’re not computer savvy, one of us could visit their homes to show them how to access the meetings,” added Councilwoman Renell Noack.

Vojtuch said at least one resident told him he didn’t feel comfortable calling a department head for fear of retaliation. “I assured them we do not operate that way, we will get to the bottom of whatever issues they have and we’re not trying to hide anything,” he said.

Ohio House Bill 197 was passed and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine last March in response to COVID-19. It allowed members of public bodies to hold and attend meetings by means of teleconference, video conference or any other electronic technology.

The bill stated that “any resolution, rule or other formal action adopted by the public body during such a session is to have the same effect as if it had been taken or adopted in an open meeting or hearing.”

The measure’s provisions permitted public bodies to conduct virtual meetings until DeWine’s health emergency declaration was rescinded, which occurred June 2.

Domzalski said the village will await further guidance from the state about conducting virtual meetings and whether council reps can vote virtually. She said one idea is for council to conduct one of its two monthly sessions in person and the other virtually.

“If we do conduct some of the future meetings virtually, residents are welcome to submit questions and comments ahead of the meeting which [law director] Brad Bryan can read,” Hipps noted.

OTHER BUSINESS

Council adopted the village’s 2022 tax budget, which must be filed with Summit County’s fiscal office by July 15.

The village expects to receive the following amounts from tax levies: general fund (2.53 mills), $200,000; police pension (0.3 mill), $25,000; fire/EMS (3.15 mills), $200,000; and fire/EMS (1.5 mills), $1120,000.

Total revenues in the 2022 general fund is expected to be about $5.1 million, with a $3.72 million unencumbered balance heading into 2023. Other estimated revenues include $1.03 million in the fire fund and $215,000 in the police pension fund.

A buildings and grounds committee meeting is slated for June 23 at 6:30 p.m. and a recreation board session July 7 at 6:30 p.m. What to do with the empty lot where the former PNC Bank stood, playground improvements and whether to schedule a Movie in the Park are some topics to be discussed.

Fire Chief Jason Buss reported fire hydrant flushing has begun, while village engineer Daniel Collins said the Jefferson Drive improvements project is scheduled to begin June 28. Collins added the planning commission likely will meet in July.

Noack thanked the local VFW Post for donating flags which were displayed for Memorial Day, and council OK’d canceling its regularly scheduled Aug. 11 meeting.

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