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Judge, council debate building purchase

In a rare daytime meeting, the Ironton City Council met in special session to discuss the purchase of property by the Ironton Municipal Court.

The meeting was called by Councilman Kevin Waldo, who also chaired it, for the sole purpose of discussing and to deal with issues pertaining to the court’s purchase of the three lots at the corner of Vernon and Fourth streets, between the library and the Ironton City Center.

Judge O. Clark Collins Jr. purchased the property from the Briggs Lawrence County Library board in April for $150,000. The money came from the municipal court’s Special Projects Fund.

Waldo won the Ironton Municipal judge position in the fall general election because Collins is retiring from the position on Dec. 31, since Ohio has a law that doesn’t allow anyone to be over the age of 70 when they take office.

Waldo began the meeting by saying that Collins had a meeting with an organization and the deed being in their name and then presented to the judge. Waldo asked Collins if he would like to answer questions about the issue.

Collins asked what the issue was. Waldo asked if the deed had been prepared and signed.

“That is the business of the court,” Collins said.

“It is the business of the city of Ironton, your honor,” Waldo replied.

“No, it’s not,” Collins replied.

“Have you had a deed presented to you that has been signed,” Waldo asked. “That is the inquiry the council is making to you, sir.”

Collins said that was between him and the other entity, which he did not want to identify.

“That is no one’s business,” he said.

Collins then pointed out that the property is in the court’s name, not in the council’s name.

“The solicitors issued an opinion that we could purchase that out of our funds and they also issued the opinion that there was nothing in the Ohio Revised Code that we couldn’t put it in the court’s name,” he said. “It is property of the court and that is what we are dealing with.”
Collins said the court has the original deed, so it is in their name.

He said he purchased the building so the court would have a place for the court’s probation department and community service department.

“It is a wonderful facility,” he said, and invited council to come look at it. “That will be for the court to use, there is no question about that.”

Waldo questioned him about the involvement of “some entity” in that. Collins said he hasn’t done anything yet.

“It’s up in the air,” Collins said.

Councilman Rich Blankenship asked if the property would be sold to the entity before Jan. 1.

Collins said he had no idea but the court retains the right to use the property if it was sold.

“Nothing has been determined,” Collins said. “And we are not going to sell it. We always want it to be used for the community.”

Collins said he was not free to talk about the lease while he was talking to the other party.

Waldo then asked Collins about a bill of $5,000 for fees from a Columbus law firm.

“Can you state the reason for that necessity,” he asked.

“Well, you folks hired an attorney and sent me letters. I feel the court has to be represented by counsel. I think everyone in possible litigation has to be represented by counsel, so I retained them,” Collins said.

Waldo said that the Ohio Supreme Court would provide an attorney when a judge in Ohio is involved in litigation.

Collins said that was for personal litigation.

Waldo said he had talked to the court and that he would have been covered.

Collins and Waldo disagreed on whether the court or the judge would have been covered by the Supreme Court attorney.

Councilman Nate Kline asked to clarify whether the building and property was in the court’s name. Collins said it was. Then Kline asked if the community service’s vehicles were in the court’s name or the city’s name. Those are in the city’s name.

Collins said the building was bought under Ohio Revised Code 1901.26 (B) (1), which states, in part, “the municipal court may determine that, for the efficient operation of the court, additional funds are necessary to acquire and pay for special projects of the court including, but not limited to, the acquisition of additional facilities or the rehabilitation of existing facilities, the acquisition of equipment, the hiring and training of staff, community service programs…”

Kline asked why the property was deeded to the court and the vehicles to the city when they are both purchased under the same Ohio code.

“I think it’s because we had the option to do that,” Collins said.

Kline then asked about the maintenance of the building and if the property came from court funds or city funds.

Finance Director John Elam said that the city has paid for utilities and insurance costs. The cost for fixing it up came out of the court’s special projects fund. He said the insurance is covered under the city’s insurance because the court is in the city building.

Kline then asked if Collins was opposed to the property deed being transferred to the city.

“I would consider that,” the judge said. “I think you do have to consider all options.”

He added that he would want a clause that the court has the right to use that property for as long as it wanted.

“I want to keep it first for the court, because that was the original designation. But if the court decides it doesn’t want to use it, I want it to go back to a civic function,” Collins said. “I would consider that.”

At the end of the meeting, council went into executive session but no action was expected from it.