Thursday, October 16, 2003

Councilman quits over series of closed meetings

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

Patrick Henry Irelan, who resigned council, still is a school crossing guard in Waynesville.
Enquirer file

WAYNESVILLE - A politician known for dressing as Ebenezer Scrooge each Christmas has said "Bah, humbug" to Village Council.

Councilman Patrick Henry Irelan, 77, resigned his office last week after council called its third executive session in a row. He called that an abuse of the ability of a public body to close its sessions for certain matters such as personnel issues.

"I don't believe in secret meetings," he said. "Executive sessions are used 90 percent of the time because bureaucrats want to hide from the public."

Irelan, who also volunteers as the northern Warren County village's school crossing guard, resigned from council in April 1996 over the same complaint. He was reappointed 45 days later and said there hadn't been a problem since then with executive sessions until recently.

Citing Ohio's sunshine law, which prohibits closed meetings with certain exceptions, Irelan said holding three meetings in a row in executive session was an "insult" and a "slap to the face" to the citizens of the village.

"If we hold these executive sessions, all the people at the coffee shops and the good old boys make up what happened," he said.

Waynesville Mayor Ernie Lawson said in the three years he's been mayor, roughly 15 executive sessions have been held, all in accordance with Ohio law.

Executive sessions allow councils and other governmental groups to meet without the public when discussing personnel or land purchases, while conferring with attorneys and to prepare for union bargaining sessions.

"While I respect (Irelan's) position, I am worried about these accusations of impropriety," said Lawson, a member of council since 1995.

"The last few executive sessions we've held were about personnel issues we needed to discuss. We don't want to open up the village of Waynesville to multimillion-dollar libel suits."

Irelan resigned from nine other community boards with his decision, but Lawson wants Irelan to keep his post on the Warren County Regional Planning Executive Session until his term runs out.

"Pat remains my closest adviser; and while we disagree, we're basically on the same page of most issues," Lawson said.

The village is seeking applicants for appointment to the term that ends Dec. 31, 2005.


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