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St. Clairsville council clashes over leaks

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — What seemed like a typical decision to enter into executive session devolved into angry exchanges and accusations among council members and citizens Monday, with allegations that confidential information is being leaked.

Council voted to enter executive session to discuss “pending or imminent court action” with attorney Michael Shaheen. Shaheen later said the issue was a minor one.

“I have a client who has an issue with a piece of property adjacent to the city. We’re trying to work something out,” Shaheen said.

However, Councilman Frank Sabatino voted against going behind closed doors. Councilwoman Terra Butler then raised the issue of leaked information.

“We have claims of information coming out of executive session,” she said. “If we are following the charter, all of the information discussed in executive session is to stay in executive session. I think there needs to be an investigation if things are being taken out of executive session, because we owe our voters.”

Council President Jim Velas said this has been a longstanding issue.

“This is not anything brand new,” he said. “I think that council itself needs to really watch.”

Sabatino added that information from some past executive sessions has gotten to the media.

“That needs to stop,” Velas said. “It’s happening way too much.”

“This is ongoing,” Sabatino said.

He said everyone entering executive session would have to leave their cellphones and electronic devices outside.

“If there’s a leak, it needs to be investigated,” Councilwoman Beth Oprisch said. “I want to know what we’re going to do about it. If there’s a resident who is saying that they have gotten information from an executive session … to me that’s a very serious allegation.”

Velas said he had discussed the matter with Law Director Elizabeth Glick and Richard Myser, law director under the previous mayoral administration.

“I have been told that there is really nothing under our situation that we can do,” Velas said.

“It’s a violation of the Ohio Revised Code,” Oprisch said.

Velas said he was advised the leaking of information was unethical but likely not a violation that a councilperson could be penalized for.

Councilman Perry Basile said resident Bill Brooks has been making social media posts about issues discussed in executive session, using the same verbiage as used in the session.

“You’re a liar,” Brooks said. “Yes, I put that out there, but it did not come from a councilman, it came from the friend of a councilman.”

Brooks went on to imply that Basile has leaked information in the past. He directed profanity at Basile and made allegations about the personal life of another council member.

“This is ridiculous,” said former mayor Terry Pugh, who was present as an observer but otherwise did not speak.

“We need you off,” Brooks said to Basile.

“I’m not putting up with this,” Butler said of Brooks. “Nothing but disruption and disrespect and slander.”

Oprisch asked Brooks to leave. He complied.

Council then voted 4-3 to annex two 5-acre tracts of land north of the city. Basile, Butler, Mike Smith and Oprisch voted in favor with Sabatino, Mark Bukmir and Linda Jordan opposed.

Afterward, Shaheen said the matter was resolved amicably and involved the placement of his client’s utilities. His client intends to build two homes on the property.

“The property is outside the city limits and we had to make some arrangements for utility purposes,” Shaheen said, adding he did not understand the reason for the divided vote.

Sabatino and Bukmir did not choose to elaborate on their reasoning. Jordan left before she could be asked.

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