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Lawsuit a factor in council race

A lawsuit about public records in North Lewisburg has led to debate among residents and council members as election season nears in November.

Village officials are waiting for the final outcome of a lawsuit that — while it has largely been resolved outside of the courts — could still lead to the village paying damages and attorney fees to a council member over a dispute over public records. Attorneys said it is not clear how long a decision might take.

The case was filed in the Second District Court of Appeals last year by Pat Bollack-Brown, a council member whose term expires at the end of this year. Brown had filed the suit to force village officials to turn over public records, including invoices and purchase orders from 2011 and 2012, as well as checks written to and from the village between January 2011 and 2012. The suit shows Bollack-Brown was concerned about some of the purchases made by the village, as well as complaints that little financial information was made available.

Brown said she was simply trying to do her job in making sure the village is being fiscally responsible.

Ray Cox, an attorney representing the village, said the case was unnecessary, and the village turned the documents over once Bollack-Brown paid the appropriate fees necessary to print the records. However, the courts are still deciding whether to award as much as $1,000 in damages and require the village to cover the cost of attorney fees, which the village opposes.

Cox said the village turned the records over before the court ruled on the case, and Bollack-Brown had access to those records at any time, including during council meetings.

But Chris Finney, a Cincinnati attorney who represented Brown in the case, said the case was largely based on a dispute over the definition of a public records request. He argued the village should pay the damages as a penalty for withholding the records for several months.

The court case argued the village’s mayor, Jason Keeran, specifically told the fiscal officer not to turn over those records. Finney said they also tried to avoid turning over the financial documents because Bollack-Brown did not specifically use the word, “request,” or cite the public records act when seeking the documents from the village.

“The attitude of the mayor and the administration was about as bad as I’ve seen against the public’s right to know,” Finney said.

Some candidates for the village council mentioned the case during discussions about issues affecting the village, while others said the case had little to no impact on their decision to run. Bollack-Brown was among eight candidates who filed earlier this month to run for four available seats on the village council.

Cheryl Hollingsworth, who has lived in the village since 1996, said she is running because she wants to encourage business growth in the village. But Hollingsworth also said there has been friction and a clash of personalities on the council and, if elected, she would like to restore more civility to the village.

Nathan Holycross, who volunteered with the village fire district for 15 years, said he had previously run for mayor but is now seeking a seat on the council. Holycross said residents are tired of the disputes and thinks street repairs and other issues are more pressing.

“That doesn’t concern me,” Holycross said of the lawsuit. “That’s between whoever’s involved in it.”

Matthew Warner, who has served for four years and is running for re-election, said he is running because he has lived in the village for most of his life and wants to donate his time to help the village improve. In years in which there are four seats open on the council, Warner said there has traditionally been a lot of interest in those seats. But he acknowledged some village residents are hoping Bollack-Brown loses her seat in November, and said the suit has caused friction in the village.

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