Mansfield city council online meeting

Mansfield City Council conducted its first virtual public meeting on Thursday using Zoom conference technology that was successfully streamed live on the city's Facebook page.

MANSFIELD -- It was a first in anyone's memory for Mansfield City Council on Thursday night.

No, not just the fact it was the first completely virtual full council meeting for local lawmakers during the coronavirus pandemic.

It also provided the first time in anyone's memory that council opted to reconsider legislation it had approved minutes earlier -- but in insufficient numbers for passage as an emergency.

Local lawmakers had concluded their meeting and were about to adjourn an unusual Thursday session after its normal planned meeting Tuesday was delayed when technology would not allow it to be live-streamed on the city's Facebook page.

It had been a two-hour plus session that included a warning from Finance Director Linn Steward that she was anticipating at least a 20 percent drop in anticipated revenue this year due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

That anticipated decline in revenue helped lead council Thursday to table $42,863 in proposed equipment purchases for the fire department.

After Council President Cliff Mears asked if there was anything else to discuss, a Richland Source reporter asked if the 5-3 vote to approve the city's plan for 2020 federal Home Investment Partnership Program funds would impact HUD deadlines for submission.

In order for the ordinance to take immediate effect as an emergency, six of eight council members needed to vote in favor.

Council members Jon Van Harlingen (3rd Ward), Alomar Davenport (4th Ward) and Jason Lawrence (5th Ward) voted against the proposal, which didn't include requested funds for an affordable rental housing project on the north end or a similar project for senior citizens near OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital.

Tracy Bond, the city’s community development and housing director, has maintained the projects as submitted are not eligible.

She said unused federal dollars from previous years could be used for those projects and that she would work with the  North End Community Improvement Collaborative and the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging to assist in their applications.

Without three-fourths of council members present voting in favor, the  legislation would only take effect 30 days after it's signed by Mayor Tim Theaker. That would also delay the required 30-day public comment period needed before the plan is submitted, putting the May 15 deadline in question.

After Bond said the delay could create an issue, Van Harlingen said he had not noticed the emergency clause and wondered if the issue could be reconsidered.

"I should have just voiced my opinion and then voted for it," said Van Harlingen, who has questioned Bond in the past about funds unspent and accumulating from past years and why more assistance was not given to the organizations seeking funds for housing this year.

There was discussion about if and how the issue could be reconsidered. Law Director John Spon didn't participate in the meeting, nor did anyone from his office.

Van Harlingen and council member Jean Taddie (6th Ward) consulted Robert's Rules of Order, a manual of parliamentary procedure, and council decided it could reconsider the issue.

A motion to reconsider was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Davenport voting against. The proposal was then successfully passed as an emergency with Van Harlingen changing his original vote.

Council did vote unanimously to approve the city's Community Development Block Grant proposal, including $30,000 for the Richland County Transit Dial-A-Ride program; $12,800 for the Mansfield Parks  & Recreation Department's summer interns and $2,000 for its summer rec activities; $16,200 for the NECIC's community garden program; $10,000 for the Catholic Charities HOPE Food Pantry; $22,400 for the Culliver Reading Center's after-school programming for children; $13,250 to support the Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Student Achievement Leadership Training program; and $24,500 for the Metropolitan Housing Authority's emergency monthly housing payments.

It was an uneven ending to a meeting that included the finance committee of Van Harlingen, Davenport and Lawrence voting unanimously to table the fire department's request to use unappropriated general fund money to buy lights for the new ladder truck, turnout gear for new firefighters and to replace condemned hose that can longer be used.

The decision came at the end of an hour-long finance committee meeting and after Steward told council she is still working on numbers, but anticipates a 20 percent reduction in revenue. The city relies heavily on income tax for its general fund and unemployment has skyrocketed due to business closures and layoffs.

The city entered the year with only $1.1 million in anticipated unappropriated funds, an amount Steward said may not be there.

"I don't know if we will have anything available," she said. "I would not recommend starting to dip into that."

Van Harlingen agreed and said, "I think our divisions need to be looking at their budgets hard."

Steward said it would likely be mid-May before she has a clearer look at the revenue picture, though she said she would have additional figures at the next council meeting on April 21.

Fire Chief Steve Strickling said his 2020 budget has no funds for capital expenses and said these purchases are necessary items. "I will have to come to council every time we need to buy something this year," he said.

Also on Thursday, council:

-- voted to accept donations totaling $2,053 for Cyclops Circle improvements from Gorman Rupp & Associates ($600), Mechanics Bank ($300), Telks LLS/Tom Sneeringer ($300), International Association of Firefighters ($300), Kahl's Electric ($252), CCI Midwest ($251) and  Vasu Communications ($50).

-- voted to accept donations totaling $450 for police division crime prevention materials from Kyle Kennedy ($200), Rinehardt-Walters-Danner & Associates ($100), Steven Brown ($100) and Roby-Foster-Miller-Earick ($50).

-- voted to accept a $1,000 donation from Walmart to be used to buy patrol shields for the police division.

-- voted to purchase two 2020 Ford Police Interceptor utility vehicles from Matthews Ford in Marion at a cost not to exceed $118,626.32. Council will also approved appropriation of $20,000 from the safety-service operating funds to help pay for the vehicles.

-- voted to temporarily lease .62 acres of Hamilton Park to American Transmissions Systems, Inc., which will work in conjunction with First Energy during the U.S. 30 improvement project. The lease will be from April 15 to July 30.

-- voted to transfer 14 parcels of land to the Richland County Land Bank "that no longer have a valid public purpose."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"