Bridgeport councilmen named in lawsuit

BRIDGEPORT – A case of alleged double-dipping has a pair of village councilmen in hot water.

St. Clairsville attorney Michael Shaheen filed a four-page lawsuit late last Friday afternoon in Belmont County Common Pleas Probate Division Court on the behalf of nine village residents against Council President Dave Smith and Councilman Ben Lenz.

Both Smith and Lenz are accused of hiring themselves in their capacities on council as EMTs through the village during their current terms.

According to Ohio Revised Code 705.12, a councilman is prohibited from being employed by the same entity and prohibited from having an interest “in the profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work, or service for the municipal corporation.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Smith’s wife, Misty, also receives compensation through the Village of Bridgeport Fire Department. As the Smiths are married and reside together, it is clear that Smith and his household have a pecuniary interest in a contract, job, work, or service for the municipal corporation which is clearly prohibited by statute.

The nine village residents named as plaintiffs in the suit are John Porter, Shirleann Murad, James J. Murad, Mikida J. Clegg, H. James Brubach, Chris Tarter, Diane K. Orum, Anna M. Gallagher and William E. Clegg.

“(Bridgeport) Mayor John Callarik asked me several weeks ago to look into this matter,” Shaheen said in a recent interview at his office. “This statute allows for residents who are electors in the Village of Bridgeport to cause an action like this to be filed. You have to have at least five. We have nine.”

Belmont County Common Pleas Probate Division Court Judge J. Mark Costine, also on Friday afternoon, issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing Smith and Lenz from participating in any undertaking associated with their position with village council, including, but not limited to, council meetings, committee meetings, and communications with village officials until the conclusion of the case. On Monday, Costine temporarily suspended the pair from office over allegations of illegal and unethical actions, according to Shaheen.

That included Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled village council meeting, which was ultimately postponed when Councilman Marvin Husarik announced he was unable to attend the meeting. That left the group without a quorum.

According to Shaheen, the meeting had been set for more than a year, and Husarik has never missed a prior council meeting during his time on the panel.

Costine has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 28.

Along with possibly being removed from their council seats, Shaheen said the accused, if found to be in violation of the law, could be ordered to pay financial restitution to the village, and also could be responsible for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

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