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Sparks fly at Salem Township trustee meeting

FRANKLIN SQUARE — Several verbal confrontations broke out amongst members of the public after the Salem Township trustees adjourned their meeting Tuesday, prompting a call to the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office to remove people.

Little happened during the actual trustee meeting, but when the trustees adjourned without asking for public comments, which is their right by law, a few of the 25 people in attendance asked “No public questions? Why?”

The trustees responded there was no more business, the meeting was adjourned.

Tony Maroni, one of the candidates running for trustee, started throwing questions at trustees regarding Constable Dan Valentine, who was not in attendance, referring to a report from Beaver Township which outlined an internal affairs investigation into allegations of workplace sexual harassment involving Valentine when he worked as a police officer there. He retired from the department more than two years ago.

Resident Ed Farmer first raised the issue about what happened in Beaver Township earlier this year, after first questioning trustees about their reasoning for reinstating Valentine when he pleaded guilty to an amended charge of disorderly conduct related to the theft of mini bottles of liquor from a Columbiana liquor store last fall. He had been placed on paid administrative leave while the case was pending.

On Tuesday night, Trustee Chair John Wilms said there was nothing more to talk about with the case.

When trustees started to leave, the discourse devolved with other residents supportive of Valentine verbally going after Maroni and residents on both sides of the Valentine issue going after each other verbally. Nothing physical occurred. One man even got after Maroni for not removing his cap during the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Away from the fray, Wilms was asked why he didn’t ask for public comment during the meeting, which they have done in the past when members of the public have been there. He said it would have gotten out of control, gesturing as the people strongly exchanged words with each other.

“We’re not opening this up to a shouting match,” he said.

No place on the meeting agenda listed a time for public comment, although past agendas have earlier in the year. The Open Meetings Act, which is available on the Ohio Attorney General website, does not provide attendees the right to be heard at a meeting. In other words, trustees and other public bodies don’t have to allow public participation. The exception would be in cases where a meeting is specifically called for public comment.

There were also some words exchanged between Trustee Ray Heddleson and Maroni as people were being ushered out of the building, just as a sheriff’s deputy arrived and was telling people to leave.

Wilms and Trustee Bill Heston are both running for re-election against a field which includes Maroni, Joe Merritt, John Gasparik and Neal Bayless, who’s still on the ballot but reportedly isn’t in the race anymore.

During the meeting, trustees approved spending $2,600 to prepare for some improvements at Hart Cemetery on state Route 45. They also talked about an issue with vehicles on a property at Lisbon-Canfield and Butcher roads and a Perry Grange Road resident wanting trustees to see the mowing job done on his road because it looked good.

The next trustee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at the administration building off of state Route 558.

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