Belmont County Commissioners look at I-70 project

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The board of county commissioners may be revising its stake in a court case to enforce a decision calling for the Steins to upgrade a connector road as part of the I-70 project. In the interest of reducing the cost to the county in terms of legal fees, Commissioner Mark Thomas spoke with the prosecutor’s office asking if they might take over representation of the county from the Columbus attorney that had been serving in that position.

Thomas noted that the attorney’s fees for October and November had been $8,981.

“My personal opinion is these legal fees are unnecessary. They’re too high, and they’re not in the best interest of the taxpayers of Belmont County,” he said.

Commissioners will meet this morning to pass a motion for the substitution of council. A representative from the prosecutor’s office will represent the commissioners during an enforcement hearing Friday at Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato’s court.

Thomas had initially motioned that the commissioners withdraw entirely from that case, noting that the case will go on regardless, since private interests in the form of the Stewart family were pursuing the same motion. That motion was tabled. Depending on the results of the Friday hearing, Thomas will consider pressing that motion next week.

Commissioner Matt Coffland spoke in favor of the commissioners’ withdrawal from the suit, noting that he had voted in opposition of the motion to pursue the case in November.

“The county has no dog in this fight,” he said.

Commissioner Ginny Favede noted the original suit named the commissioners as a party. In addition, the commissioners are asked to put $1.9 million in funding toward a project that the Steins were obligated to complete according to the suit. She said determining the legality of the matter was a responsible safeguarding of taxpayer dollars.

She added that the decision to seek outside council was motivated by a potential conflict of interest, since many local parties were involved in this matter.

Connie Klema, representing the Stewart family, agreed that the commissioners were party in the suit and the county stood to be effected financially if the Steins were required to complete the project, since the commissioners then would not be called upon to finance the project.

“There is a dog in the fight, Mr. Coffland, and you’re a part of it,” she said. “We believe that what was rightfully done by a judge and was agreed to by all the parties should be enforced.”

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