Beachwood City Council held two executive session meetings within four days of each other, the first with special counsel regarding a personnel matter, and the second with the city law director regarding a complaint against a public official.
Prior to the first meeting, Mayor Martin S. Horwitz said he was not “invited.” On Oct. 6, he said he would not attend the second.
“They have not informed me of anything other than it’s a meeting strictly with council,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
The Oct. 4 meeting was held during a committee of the whole meeting, and included Carole Rendon, a partner at BakerHostetler, and an unnamed associate from BakerHostetler.
On Aug. 22, city council retained Rendon, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and the Cleveland law firm as special counsel to be compensated at an amount not to exceed $30,000.
Oct. 4 meeting
The Oct. 4 meeting lasted from 4 p.m. until 6:32 p.m., with the two women from BakerHostetler arriving at about 4:10 p.m. and leaving at about 5:45 p.m. City council deliberated privately until just before 6:30 p.m. and adjourned at 6:32 p.m. All seven members of city council were present and the group unanimously went into executive session prior to Rendon’s arrival to discuss a personnel matter, as written in the agenda.
Council President Brian Linick told the Cleveland Jewish News no notes were taken during the meeting.
The CJN made a public records request Oct. 7 to city Law Director Diane Calta for Rendon’s report. Calta responded in an email that afternoon, “There are no documents responsive to your request.”
On Oct. 5 at 3:10 p.m., a posting was placed on the city’s website for an Oct. 7
special city council meeting, one that Linick said on Oct. 6 was scheduled by the entire city council. Linick told the CJN the two meetings were “for different purposes” and did not confirm the two meetings were connected.
Oct. 7 meeting
The Oct. 7 special city council meeting, taking place an hour before a regularly scheduled city council meeting at 7 p.m., was posted “to consult with legal counsel regarding a personnel matter.”
Calta was that legal counsel and she acted as the clerk in the meeting as well as in her role as city law director, calling the roll for votes in the absence of Whitney Crook, city council clerk.
That meeting convened shortly after 6 p.m. and included six of the seven council members. Eric Synenberg was absent.
The vote to enter executive session was 6-0, on the motion of Linick and seconded by Councilman James Pasch.
“I make a motion to go into executive session discussion to consult with legal counsel regarding a personnel matter, “ Linick said.
Pasch said, “Second.”
Calta then asked Linick to add more to the motion.
“Can you add that other part?” she asked.
Linick asked her, “Do you have it right there?”
Calta said, “Yes, it’s regarding a complaint against a public official.”
Linick then added, “Oh, regarding a complaint against a public official. James, you want to second it again?”
Pasch said, “Second.”
Linick asked Calta to call the roll.
City council met with Calta for nearly 45 minutes, at which time she left the room and city council continued meeting for nearly 15 minutes more in executive session.
Just before 7 p.m., city council adjourned executive session and the special meeting moved from Council Room A into council chambers for the regularly scheduled meeting, which was attended by Horwitz as is typical.
During the regular meeting, city council approved minutes for past meetings, including an Aug. 19 special meeting at which the council voted to retain special counsel, but it did not vote to approve minutes for the Aug. 22 meeting, the Oct. 4 committee of the whole meeting or the Oct. 7 special city council meeting.
Horwitz said he had no comment regarding the Oct. 7 special city council meeting.
“Until such time as I have some official notice of something, there’s nothing I can comment on,” he told the CJN.
Executive session without mayor
Former City Councilman Mark Mintz and former Beachwood Mayor Merle S. Gorden said city council never met without the mayor during their terms.
“I don’t recall that ever happened to me,” said Gorden, who served as mayor for 23 years beginning in 1995.
Mintz, who served on Beachwood City Council for 16 years ending in 2016, said, “Quite frankly, I don’t remember ever meeting without the mayor in executive session. We always met with the mayor as far as I can remember.”
One day before the council voted to hire Rendon and BakerHostetler, Horwitz signed a letter on the mayor’s official stationery with the words “hand delivered” and “confidential” – all in capital letters. The letter was addressed to Linick and Calta and stamped confidential.
The CJN received a copy of the letter through a public records request.
The redacted version given to the CJN reads, “It is my understanding that City Council is initiating an investigation of allegations that have been / or may be raised concerning (redaction).
“Under the circumstances, I am formally requesting that the City place our insurance carrier on notice that (redaction),” Horwitz wrote. “Further, in as much as this is an employment/personnel matter, I am requesting that any and all correspondence, emails, and any other discussions be considered privileged and confidential and not subject to release via public records requests.
“Given the above, and the legislation before City Council tomorrow evening, I will expect a prompt response to this communication,” Horwitz wrote.
The letter was copied to members of city council via email.
Minutes of the Aug. 22 meeting deemed the hiring of Rendon and BakerHostetler an “urgent matter.”
At the Aug. 22 meeting, Linick introduced a motion, which was seconded by Councilman Alec Isaacson, that Ordinance No. 2019-95 to retain outside counsel be adopted. The vote was 7-0 and the ordinance was presented the next day to the mayor for his signature. He did not sign the ordinance and by city charter, the ordinance took effect seven days after passage as though the mayor had signed it.
When asked about the regularity of a mayor not signing legislation put in front of him, Gorden told the CJN, “I can never remember a situation where I did not sign legislation that council had drafted for my signature.”
On Oct. 8, Horwitz told the CJN the redactions were made because, “It’s confidential and privileged information.” He said the redactions “came through our law department.”
“I don’t have all the information in this, regarding this situation, and I cannot make any comments until I have all the information,” Horwitz said.
Linick told the CJN on the same day he did not respond to Horwitz’s Aug. 21 letter, but forwarded it to Rendon.
“What is redacted is not for me to decide, that’s the law director’s decision,” he said.
Managing Editor Bob Jacob contributed to this report.