Conflicting stories have emerged from Mahoning County commissioners about who was actually involved in the decision to fire Ricky Morrison.
Morrison, the county’s maintenance worker, was terminated a few days after it was revealed that he publicly supported the political opposition of Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti. He was later reinstated and paid back.
Now Morrison is suing, saying the commissioners violated his First Amendment rights. Morrison’s attorneys, Subodh Chandra and Martin Desmond, also accused the commissioner of violating the Ohio Open Meetings Act Dec. 1, when Remedios Rimedio-Righetti and Commissioner David Ditzler allegedly voted during a “meeting of the private” staff to end Morrison. Commissioner Anthony Traficanti told the Vindicator that’s what happened, and he voted no.
But voting during a special meeting violates Ohio’s voting rights laws.
An investigation into the shooting by Mahoning County District Attorney Gina DeGenova ultimately blamed county Administrator Audrey Tillis, not the commissioner, despite Traficanti’s statement.
However, DeGenova said his investigation, which included questioning each of the three commissioners, resulted in the conclusion that Morrison was fired by County Administrator Audrey Tillis without authorization. In a subsequent court filing related to Morrison’s lawsuit, DeGenova denied that “Mr. Traficanti told Ms. DeGenova that the county commissioners held a ‘secret meeting’ or Ms. Rimedio-Righetti and Mr. Ditzler voted to fire Morrison in retaliation.
However, Traficanti told The Vindicator that DeGenova “was well aware of my opposition to the shooting…. I got it off my chest and felt better after telling the prosecutor everything. He was well aware of my opposition.”
On the other hand, both Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler have made it clear that commissioners do not vote in special meetings, but rather vote through resolutions in general meetings.
We are deeply concerned about these conflicting stories and, moreover, about how DeGenova arrived at her decision to accuse Tillis.
What is even more troubling and, yes, suspicious, is that DeGenova defended the commissioners in this case, accusing Tillis, when they made a decision whether to appoint him to the seat of the prosecutor in the after another questionable meeting Nov. 17 participants. by commissioners, Tillis, DeGenova and Prosecutor Paul Gains.
That meeting was held one day before Gains publicly announced his retirement. In fact, Morrison’s government’s investigation states that the meeting is also illegal because it was not notified in advance to the public that it was going to happen and “there is no need for a public meeting or a special meeting was achieved.”
The lawsuit does not detail the specific reasons why Morrison’s lawyers believe the meeting on November 17 is illegal.
First Amendment and media attorney David Marburger told our reporter Ed Runyan that he also believes the meetings are questionable, including how county commissioners participate in meetings labeled as ” staff meeting,” which he described as “false.”
In fact, Ohio’s Open Meetings Act prevents government officials from meeting in secret to discuss public issues without being accountable to the public. No votes are allowed to be taken at a private meeting.
DeGenova said in a court filing responding to the lawsuit that she “never participated in or was aware of any alleged ‘cover-up’ of the termination of the man.” of Morrison and/or his reinstatement”.
From our vantage point, DeGenova should offer the Mahoning County community a deeper understanding. Why did he believe that it was Tillis – and not the commissioner – who was responsible for this campaign? What conversation did he have with each commissioner during his investigation and why did he believe Ditzler and Rimedio-Righetti over Traficanti? And why did he believe that Ohio’s opening ceremony was followed in spirit and law without illegal votes or improper discussions behind closed doors?
After being newly appointed by the Mahoning County Democratic Party to maintain the position of attorney for at least a year, DeGenova must stand up and put all doubts to rest by showing complete transparency.
He should understand that his role is as a County attorney representing the people of Mahoning County, not just as a commissioner. If the commissioner does something inappropriate, we believe it is his responsibility to advise them of that.