DELAWARE, Ohio — Two trustees from Liberty Township found themselves on trial in a Delaware County courthouse Tuesday for exploring ways to improve services for residents while increasing the amount of money the county reimburses them for EMS (emergency medical services). Mike Gemperline, one of the trustees, was there in person while Melanie Leneghan was on a pre-planned vacation with her family out-of-state. Their attorney, Brandon Abshier, in his opening statement, said that the courtroom was not the appropriate venue to discuss policy disagreements – the ballot box is.
One Liberty Township resident called the trial “a Democrat Op” against two conservative trustees. The politically-connected resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Ohio Star that one of the plaintiffs, Domenico (Nico) Franano, is a Democratic operative and member of Save Our Services, the organization that collected the signatures to oust the Gemperline and Leneghan.
Franano’s public voting record shows he is a registered Democrat. He has worked for the Democratic Party and as deputy political director for former Democratic Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus. Gemperline and Leneghan are both members of the Delaware County Republican Central Committee.
SAVE Liberty Fire/EMS will be in court tomorrow to begin the consolidated Removal for Cause hearing against Trustees Leneghan and Gemperline.
“You watch,” the resident said. “If the Democrats and their allies in the township are successful at removing these two trustees through the court system, they will have a new weapon in their arsenal to take out other Republicans. [Congressman] Troy Balderson better watch out. This is a trial run.”
The resident also noted the McTigue & Colombo law firm representing the petitioners is a Democrat firm that specializes in social justice issues, initiative and referendum, ballot access and political and election law.
Visiting Judge Guy Reece began the hearing by entertaining a partial motion to dismiss from the trustees’ attorney. The motion covered only the first point in the multi-point claim for “Forfeiture of and Removal from Office” of the two trustees.
The complaint states: “First Claim, Gemperline, Leneghan’s plan to terminate the provisions of the EMS services by LTFD [Liberty Township Fire Department] will reduce and compromise services that are vital to the safety and wellness of Liberty Township residents.”
Abshier explained his clients’ reason for wanting to dismiss the first claim.
“This issue’s not right…It talks about a future plan. It’s a plan that has not been implemented. It’s a plan that’s not even pending right now. It also talks about future hypothetical damage. It talks about potential layoffs from this future plan. Nothing’s happened,” he said. “I’m not sure how this court can look at this, some future hypothetical plan that has not happened, has not been passed by resolution, is not currently pending and whether those actions are grounds for dismissal or a removal of a trustee. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Judge Reece sited the reasons for legally removing a person from office from Ohio Revised Code section 3.07, which states that if an elected official “…willfully and flagrantly exercises authority or power not authorized by law, refuses or willfully neglects to enforce the law or to perform any official duty imposed upon him by law, or is guilty of gross neglect of duty, gross immorality, drunkenness, misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance is guilty of misconduct in office.”
He questioned attorneys for the petitioners about whether the accused were operating within their legal authority. “The real issue is, has any of this been executed?”
Colombo acknowledged the resolution has not been passed.
“Let me ask you this: is a township obligated or required to have EMS services?” the judge asked counsel for the plaintiffs.
Colombo pointed to an Attorney General decision that stated counties are not required to provide emergency medical services, but if they do, they must implement them countywide. “So from there what a lot of counties do, they’ll contract with the township fire departments to have a fire and EMS joint service,” Colombo said.
Reece then asked Colombo, “Does Delaware EMS services comply with state requirements?”
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable answering that question,” he responded. “Some would argue their standards could be more.”
“Some could always argue we want more. We want a little bit more gravy on this meatloaf,” Reece commented. “But as long as you have meatloaf, the gravy is extra.”
Gemperline told The Ohio Star that “this is the Orwellian thought police. ”
A spectator asked, “What kind of precedent will this set? It’s okay, if you don’t like the outcome of an election, you can lie to over 4,000 people, tell them they’re signing a petition to save Fire and EMS services, when it’s really a petition to remove a duly elected person from office? If a handful of people are permitted to get away with this, it damages the democratic process for all future officeholders.”
“The hate we’re seeing in local politics is very disheartening,” Leneghan shared exclusively with The Ohio Star. “The group of haters led by liberal Democrats have sunk to levels I didn’t expect. They have perpetuated lies to the point that some Republicans who don’t know who is leading this effort have been fooled.”
“Had these good Republicans heard these lies on CNN they would have known the truth, but they don’t realize who is behind this.” Leneghan continued, “What is happening across the country is that Leftists are partnering with political opportunists and RINOs to get rid of elected officials who are actually there to be a voice for the people.”
“We saw this during the Trump election here in Delaware County. Some Republicans from our own central committee actually joined with Democrats to try to stop Donald Trump. Now some of these same ‘Republicans’ have partnered with well-known Democrat activists to destroy Mike Gemperline and me. But this issue is so much bigger than the two of us.”
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