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Steubenville City Council meetings may stay virtual for now

STEUBENVILLE — City Council’s plan to resume in-person meetings June 9 could be in jeopardy.

City Solicitor Costa Mastros said Tuesday the April 30 health order, as he reads it, precludes gatherings of more than 10 people.

“I do not find any kind of exception that would allow us to go back to regular meetings,” he told council. “Maybe I’m missing something in the order, maybe I’m missing something in my interpretation of the order. I’ve looked at it, I don’t think I am, but obviously I’m not infallible.”

Mastros said he’s reached out to the Municipal Attorneys Association for guidance, but probably won’t get an answer before the weekend at least.

“My guidance to you is we’ll probably still have to meet by telephone at this point,” he said. “However, that could change when I hear back from the MAA. (And) we’re looking at some other options that still might be available to meet as a group, live.”

City Manager Jim Mavromatis said the City Building is supposed to be professionally sanitized over the weekend and said he’s still awaiting delivery of several items needed to maintain social distancing and protect public and employee health.

“If we don’t get those, my recommendation would be to keep the building in lockdown another week,” he said.

The meeting began with Mayor Jerry Barilla acknowledging protests in front of the City Building over the weekend, saying he was “thankful and appreciative of those who participated (respecting) the ideals and dreams of Martin Luther King of non-violent, peaceful demonstration.”

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said he will introduce resolutions at next week’s meeting adopting amendments to the fiscal year annual action plan for use of CDBG CARES Act funding, executing an agreement with Urban Mission for a new dormitory roof using CARES Act funds, and authorizing administrators to seek proposals from qualified service providers for a micro-enterprise assistance program that would provide technical assistance, training, mentoring, design assistance and coordination to new and existing small businesses with five or fewer employees.

Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn told council the hospitality group serving the university is laying off 106 people who work on campus, full- and part-time.

“It’s not the university, it’s the Eat’n Park hospitality group. Their honest hope is that it’s just a temporary layoff,” she said. “The university does plan to reopen in the fall.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul said he’ll bring two resolutions to council soon, the first amending the police department Table of Organization provisions, allowing the department to bring a new employee online before a sergeant retires in June.

“We have a promotion list for a sergeant position,” Mavromatis said. “One sergeant is retiring next month, but the civil service list expires this month. We’d like to bring a person on now (before the list expires).”

Mavromatis said council needs to consider it as emergency legislation because, “If we do three readings, our list will expire.”

“It’s not costing us money because we’re already down three positions, we haven’t filled them yet,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is preserve a promotional list which is going to expire.”

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella renewed his concerns with overgrown lots throughout town, asking Mastros if there’s “any way we can shorten some of these vacant lots that been vacant for years, we’ve already established that, and getting them into court and cut without such a lengthy process?”

But Mastros said when the ordinance was established, council had mimicked the Ohio Revised Code time line “which provides us with a floor. We can go beyond that, we can go above it but I’m not sure we can go below it.”

“The only thing we can maybe also do in terms of shortening things is request the court to expedite those complaints,” he said.

“There’s got to be something with these properties that have been abandoned for years,” Petrella countered. “These habitual places are all over the city — they’re just abandoned. There’s nobody” you can service legal notice on.

Mastros said if that’s the case, “we might be able…put liens on” the abandoned properties, but Petrella said that hasn’t been effective in the past.

“The only thing we can do with those is request the prosecutor’s office to put them on the front burner,” Mastros said. “But we can’t control that process, we can only make the request.”

“We need to make that request,” Petrella said. “There’s lots by people’s houses. If they can by a lot for a dollar and take care of it, it’s a win-win situation. They can have a nice yard and it will be back on the tax rolls.”

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons told Petrella “there are so many of them, I share your pain. Yeah, I share your pain.”

“(It’s) every single ward,” Petrella said. “There’s not a ward in the city that doesn’t have one of these lots.”

Paul said he’s aware of a home in a “very nice neighborhood “ that lacks running water and electricity.

“It’s getting to be an eyesore,” he said. “It’s a very nice neighborhood, what’s going on there is a tragedy.”

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