With the resignation of Dan Wilczynski as mayor of Walbridge, the village avoided what would likely have been a costly court battle had the former mayor or members of council decided to pursue legal action.
Council voted 4-2 in December to seek an outside legal opinion on whether the mayor was violating the Ohio Revised Code by missing too many meetings of council.
“Our village council hired outside counsel to get a declaration on whether that applied to mayors,” Wilczynski said Tuesday. “They came back to Brian Ballenger (village solicitor) with an opinion that said they think it applies. There is at least one court case. Brian said I could probably fight this but the village is going to have to pay for both sides. He said council is against you and they’re going to continue to push this. So I basically said I didn’t want the village to pay for lawyers to fight this.”
Section 3.17 of the general provision section of the code reads: “Any member of a board, commission, council, board of trustees of an institution of higher education, or other public body of the state, except a member of the general assembly or a judge of any court in the state, who fails to attend at least three-fifths of the regular and special meetings held by that board, commission, council, board of trustees, or public body during any two-year period forfeits the member’s position on that board, commission, council, board of trustees, or public body.”
The law went into effect in September 1997.
Wilczynski was re-elected to the mayor’s office in November 2011 in a three-way race. His absences were an issue as he had to travel out of town frequently for his job in the private sector but Wilczynski said he kept in contact with the administrative staff via cell phone, email, and faxes and his presence at the council meetings wasn’t crucial to the day-to-day operations of the village. The village last May approved appointing Ken Frost, the police chief, as part-time administrator in addition to his duties as chief.
Members of council usually fell into a predictable pattern when voting on whether or not to excuse the former mayor’s absences from the meetings, with Fred Sloyer, Sue Hart-Douglas, and Jan Sawaya voting to not excuse and Pat Fox and Nathan Eikost voting to excuse him. Council President Ed Kolanko would vote to excuse when the mayor would alert him to his travel plans before a meeting, otherwise he voted against.
But Kolanko, who, as council president, assumed some responsibilities of the mayor when he was out of town, said during the summer the absences were “getting out of hand.”
Between Jan. 4 and June 20 of last year, Wilczynski missed seven regular council meetings and two special meetings. He missed four regular meetings and one special meeting in the last half of the year, according to meeting minutes, Council holds two regular meetings each month.
Last week, Kolanko said the absences were hampering communications between Wilczynski and council during the budget process for 2013.
“There are a lot of good things, and I think council would agree, that Dan has done for the village throughout his time as mayor. But obviously his work, his family, his personal life have taken him outside of being available in the village. The law is the law and we all took an oath of office to follow the laws of the State of Ohio,” Kolanko said.
Kolanko assumes the mayor’s post with the resignation and said council will begin the process of filling his vacant council seat and that of Pat Fox, who was critical of the decision to seek the legal opinion on the absences, and also resigned.
Fox’s letter of resignation, dated Jan. 12, states “…I feel I am no longer part of the team.”
Council has 30 days to fill the vacant seats, Kolanko said.
Wilczynski, a former member of village council, assumed the mayor’s office in 2003 when his predecessor, Rob Robson, resigned the office.
Last week he said he was proud of the village’s effort to retain and attract businesses during his terms as mayor and to lessen much of the negative media coverage of the village.
Terry Burton, a member of the Wood County Board of Elections, said the mayor’s post will be open for election in November because there are more than two years remaining in the term. Those appointed to the vacant council seats can hold the seats for the duration of the terms.