Lebanon council fails to rescind law

Property donation to bank remains in limbo.

Lebanon City Council didn’t get enough votes Tuesday to rescind a law that came into question after one member took part in legislation involving the city’s donation of a local community center to a bank that employs the councilman.

As a result, Councilman Jim Norris’ vote — which could violate Ohio ethics law — will remain in effect for at least two weeks.

With Norris and Councilman Steve Kaiser abstaining, the council voted 4-1 to rescind the donation so that Norris can recuse himself, abstain from voting and avoid an apparent conflict. That was one vote short of the margin needed to rescind the ordinance.

The vote also prevented the council from moving a new ordinance supporting the donation and left Law Director Mark Yurick unsure what to do next.

“It’s quite the legislative conundrum,” Yurick said.

Two weeks earlier, Norris motioned for passage, then cast a crucial vote for emergency passage of an ordinance authorizing donation of the Eleanor C. Ullum Community Center to LCNB Corp. The law took effect immediately.

ExploreNorris, a part-time courier at LCNB, since decided to recuse himself because ethics law prohibit him from “discussing, deliberating, or voting on any matter involving his private business.”

The land would become part of a three-story, 45,000-square-foot bank administrative center on Broadway, a block north of the existing bank headquarters.

In addition to the property, valued at $137,000, the bank is to expected to receive state funds set aside for redevelopment of cities that lost racetracks through legalization of racinos in Ohio.

The city would retain 98 jobs, and the bank is expected to create 28 new jobs in coming years. The bank is projected to spend more than $5 million on property and construction.

On Tuesday, the voting majority continued to support Norris’ recusal, as well as the donation.

Mayor Amy Brewer said the issue, brought up by Kaiser last week, should have been raised before the May 12 vote.

“We’re all about professionalism, integrity,” Brewer said.

Councilman Matt Rodriguez switched his vote on rescinding the law, leaving the ordinance a vote short of emergency passage and requiring a second reading. He questioned the need for emergency passage, as well as a revote allowing Norris to abstain.

“Jim Norris knew exactly what he was doing. Now he wants to recuse himself,” Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Asked last week why he voted, Norris responded by text message: “In this vote I judged I could vote … to be part of this historic change for our downtown … really didn’t see any connection in the vote and my little job … perception can be 100 percent reality for some … I am not voting.”

On Tuesday, Norris declined to respond to Rodriguez’s questions.

Unless other votes change, the ordinance rescinding Norris’ vote should be approved on June 9.

Rodriguez said he would vote against the new donation ordinance, unless the emergency language is removed.

The new donation ordinance will include emergency language, City Manager Pat Clements said.

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