“Alternative two is this has all along been a contrived non-quorum situation born out of some political cowardice or fear…” – Ted Phelps
Present: Council Members: Kathy Baily • Ted Phelps • Rob Weisgerber
Present: City Staff: Clerk Misty Cheshire • City Manager Dave Kennedy • Chief of Police Sean Rahe • Assistant City Solicitor Christopher Houston • Public Information Officer Joe Wessels
Present: 20 members of the community
Absent: Council Members: Pam Gross • Angie Settell • Stephen Zamagias
Loveland, Ohio – On Tuesday, September 26th, citizens, staff, and a sparse city council waited fifteen minutes before calling a fail to quorum.
Eleven days prior, on September 15th, the city solicitor was asked by Vice-Mayor Angie Settell to email council members about a potential quorum issue (less than four council members present) for the meeting on the 26th, and ask them for an alternate date. There are currently six members on Loveland’s City Council.
“Now, not just to me, but it was curious to others several things in that inquiry that was being sent out. And I can say, in my four years on council, we’ve never lacked a quorum for a regularly scheduled meeting,” councilmember Ted Phelps explained in an address after the failed quorum at City Hall on the 26th. Phelps claimed that, in the past, when regularly scheduled meetings were moved it was almost exclusively when a meeting fell on or near a holiday – with advance notice to the public.
“Nothing was said about this in our last opening meeting. Then I checked with my fellow council members, those who are here tonight,” Phelps said referring to Councilmembers Kathy Bailey and Rob Weisgerber. “They said ‘we’re not part of the quorum problem, we’re going to be here’,” Phelps continued.
On Tuesday the 19th, ten days before the scheduled meeting, Vice Mayor Angie Settell apparently sent an email to members of the press and some members of council (although not all) stating that there would be a problem reaching a quorum. The meeting was not canceled and remained on the city’s website. Reasons for the lack of quorum were not given. Loveland Magazine did not receive the “press release” until September 21.
Settell’s press release said she was sending it on behalf of, “we”, however, Loveland Magazine is not able to determine who the “we” are that Settell referred to. Then, on the afternoon of the meeting on the 26 she said, “I am out of town. The press release merely addresses the lack of a quorum.” She did not answer all the questions we posed to her:
- Will you be attending?
- If not, why not?
- Who did you issue the press release to about the lack of a quorum? (below)
- What can you tell us about what other councilmembers gave as reasons for not being able to attend?
- And, when and in what order did you receive knowledge of other council members not being able to attend?
- Anything else you care to add or documents or emails that will shed light on the situation?
The Vice-Mayor also did not provide the emails Loveland Magazine asked for.
Loveland Magazine emailed Council Clerk Misty Cheshire for clarification. She responded on the 25th and said,”The press release did not come from the City and was independently done by an individual council member. The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow night and will take place if a quorum is present.”
“I only saw [the press release] this morning in a Loveland Magazine post,” Phelps explained in an email to Loveland Magazine the morning of the meeting. Phelps explained that he would be attending the meeting, as it was a regularly scheduled city council meeting.
“To cancel a meeting requires a vote of council – there is no unilateral authority by any one member to cancel or reschedule a planned meeting. I did not receive Ms. Settell’s email […] as it was not a press release. I also noticed a real issue with the date of 9/19 as alternatives were offered following that date. The first I saw her email was this morning via your publishing it,” council member Rob Weisgerber explained to Loveland Magazine via email. Kathy Bailey also said she did not receive the “press release”.
“I am struck by the complete and utter inappropriateness of the Vice-Mayor in sending out a press release on September 19th unilaterally announcing that there will be a lack of quorum without having the courtesy or decency to clear it with council.” – Ted Phelps
“I am struck by the complete and utter inappropriateness of the Vice-Mayor in sending out a press release on September 19th unilaterally announcing that there will be a lack of quorum without having the courtesy or decency to clear it with council, to alert council that she was going to send this or even copy the press release to other members of council. Even more disturbingly audacious to me is the statement that residents should not be concerned when a quorum is not present as if the Vice-Mayor can dictate what citizens and mayors should be concerned about,” Phelps claimed in his public statement at City Hall.
This begs the question: why was there a lack of quorum?
On September 15th, Councilmember Gross responded to Braun’s inquiry for an alternate meeting date. In an email, she told Braun, “The only day I can meet next week is Thurs – 21st. I will be available any time after 12pm. I am unable to attend any meeting the week of the 25th. I have prior business and family commitments.” It appears she only sent the email to Braun and not the other members of Council.
Over email on September 26, Gross also told Loveland Magazine, “I am currently out of town on business. On September 15th, it was brought to the attention of all council members that there were multiple scheduling conflicts for tonight’s meeting.” Gross, however, did not answer the other questions asked of her about the “press release”, what she first knew about other members not attending, nor the reasons or timing of when others said they would not attend the council meeting. Gross was also contacted by Loveland Magazine on October 3 and was also asked about the allegations that the failure by three members to attend the meeting was contrived, but did not respond.
On September 20th, Councilmember Stephen Zamagias told Phelps that he also had an out of town business meetings. The Vice-Mayor and presiding officer, Settell, did not respond to Phelps. It was not until an hour before the meeting* that Settell responded to Loveland Magazine, and simply said, “I am out of town.”
In Phelps’s public address on September 26th, he explained his theory:
“If one of either councilmen Settell, Gross or Zamagias can’t make tonight’s meeting, that would mean that if a quorum of four or five council members were present, we could have the meeting. It seemed to me that’s a good thing. But it would also mean that action could be taken on something significant, like voting in a new mayor by a majority vote of only three members. That’s a bad thing if you want to be mayor and you’re not getting the votes,” Phelps told a nearly full house.
Phelps claims that as a result he, Rob Weisgerber and Kathy Bailey promised to the three no-show councilmembers not to vote on a new mayor or replacement of the open seat at the September 26th meeting. There remains a vacant council seat after the resignation of Mark Fitzgerald on August 14. This was intended to allow as few as one of the three to attend the meeting because there would be a quorum and normal business could be conducted.
On Thursday the 21st, an email was sent by Bailey to Settell and Gross offering three alternative dates (Monday the 25th, Wednesday the 27th and Thursday the 28th) in hopes of meeting the city’s two meeting a month quota. Bailey said she received no response.
“Pam [Gross] claimed she had an out of town business meeting today. That does not explain why she was unable to attend any of the three alternative dates we offered (yesterday the 25th, tomorrow the 27th and Thursday the 28th). She never responded regarding any of those dates. Angie [Settell] has never offered a reason for either the regularly scheduled meeting, or the proposed alternative dates,” Bailey explained by email.
On September 26th at 6 PM (an hour before the failed meeting)*, Vice Mayor Settell explained to Loveland Magazine that “I am out of town. On September 15, 2017 [City Manager] Mr. Braun sent an email to all council members that I, as presiding officer, advised him of a quorum issue for the September 26, 2017, council meeting. He also asked for alternative dates. No alternative date could be agreed upon”.
“It is very difficult to believe that this isn’t a contrived quorum issue, which is simply pathetic, and we all deserve better. Last month Council Member Weisgerber, at his own expense, flew home from a family vacation in Florida for the sole purpose of attending a council meeting, and then flew back, again at his own expense. It just isn’t possible that one of the three could not have found a way to be present tonight at the regularly scheduled meeting, nor yesterday, tomorrow, or Thursday,” Bailey told Loveland Magazine.
The September 26th meeting was, without question, an anomaly. Rob Weisgerber expressed that he felt the discussion about quorum and rescheduling should have been held just two days prior to Settell’s press release. Weisgerber believes that at the previous council meeting, an alternative date should have been agreed upon, as had been done in the past.
“As a matter of openness, I have missed roughly 18 meetings over 7 years (that is about 165 meetings). This is about an average of 2 to 3 meetings per year. With legitimate reason or cause, being excused is appropriate for any member of council. I could not remember in my history on council when we have had 3 members of council miss the same meeting or, even worse, not having a quorum to conduct city business. Nor could I find any request to move a meeting because a couple of members could not make the meeting. This is the real issue. Looking back through the last 8 years of records, I could find about 4 or 5 meetings where 2 members missed the same meeting. No meetings in that time had 3 members missing a meeting. Most importantly, I did not find a case where there was a lack of quorum to do the business of the City,” Rob Weisgerber said in a public statement on his personal Facebook page.
“Let me suggest that I think there are only two possibilities. Number one: although I think there’s no evidence for this conclusion, this is a one in a million alignment of the planets wherein three members of a six-member council simultaneously and unavoidably can’t be present for a regularly scheduled meeting. That’s alternative one,” Phelps said in his address. “Alternative two is this has all along been a contrived non-quorum situation born out of some political cowardice or fear that council meeting under any circumstances that might allow three members of council to pass a vote on something that is significant,” Phelps continued. Phelps was met with a standing ovation.
City Solicitor Joe Braun told all members of Council in an email on September 19, “I would ask everyone to try to find an alternative date that works for everyone, or adjust your schedule to try to attend in order to satisfy the Charter requirement there be two meetings of City Council this month.”
There is no hard evidence that the failed quorum was not simply due to schedule conflicts. All three missing members offered an excuse. However, to many, the inability to reschedule to where even one more member could be present suggests the September 26th meeting was a contrived failure born out of fear. Fear of after being in the majority for almost four years, neutered after the resignation of Mark Fitzgerald, further neutered after the failed attempt to appoint Settell Mayor during an illegally called meeting, that they would face a council meeting being in the minority.
I have asked multiple times now for proof as to the conflicts and when they arose. The silence speaks volumes. – Kathy Bailey
Bailey who did not believe the coincidence also could not get Settell, who appeared to resent the question, to explain the reason for her absence. In an email to Council and City staff on September 21, she wrote: “Arrangements ought to have been made to be available to meet on the regularly scheduled meeting date. Anything less is simply irresponsible and a disservice to our City and residents. I have asked multiple times now for proof as to the conflicts and when they arose. The silence speaks volumes. It simply is not possible to believe that three members of our council, all aligned, are coincidentally unavailable on the same date, a date that has been known since the Charter was written.
Settell, who is the presiding officer of Council did not respond to Loveland Magazine’s request to tell her side of the story and also would not explain the reason she could not attend the regularly scheduled meeting. She replied to Braun’s attempt to get a quorum for the meeting by saying in a reply email, “I too have a busy schedule and made arrangements to be available to meet any other days.” She also told Braun, “Joe – In 5-1/2 years on City Council I have always voted “yes” to excuse colleagues who could not attend meetings. I have never questioned their reason.
“These 3 blind mice must fully explain their absence at the 26 September Council meeting. Immediately.” – Walter D. Golladay
After Loveland resident Walter D. Golladay attended the meeting he wrote in a guest column on September 29 saying, “The three blind mice, need to be held accountable. In explicit detail, they must explain to the Loveland residents where they were that evening, and why they could not attend a long established council meeting date. The three blind mice, need to be held accountable. In explicit detail, they must explain to the Loveland residents where they were that evening, and why they could not attend a long established council meeting date.”
Neither Settell nor Zamagias responded to Loveland Magazine’s request for comment on the allegations made in this story.
* The correct time of Loveland Magazine receiving Settell’s email is 1:52 PM, approximately 5 hours before the scheduled meeting start time of 7 PM.
Watch the failed meeting here. Ted Phelps begins his address at (minus) -27:22.