Painesville official responds to lawsuit
Community task force accused of violating Sunshine Laws
Painesville City Manager Monica Irelan said she is “very disappointed” to learn a lawsuit has been filed over a new immigration policy community task force.
Kirtland resident Arzella Melnyk and James Weber of Painesville filed a complaint Aug. 29 in Lake County Common Pleas Court accusing Irelan and City Council President Paul Hach of illegally closing task force meetings to the public.
Irelan announced at council’s regular June 19 meeting that a group had been formed to review the recently enacted Painesville Police Policy 413.
Lake County Jail officials used to report suspects of being undocumented to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, but then delegated that responsibility to individual police departments.
Painesville police then created a policy that details guidelines for officers after they arrest suspects for violent crimes, drug offenses or gang activity.
After the department’s new policy was publicly criticized as being insensitive and hostile, a task
force was created that included residents, representatives of the city and police officers, plus religious, immigration and Latino organization leaders.
“While I cannot comment on any specifics in the lawsuit and I need to be sensitive to the fact that this is a legal matter, I want to reiterate the mission of the task force, and let you know that its recommendations will be announced on Sept. 11,” Irelan said in a statement emailed to The News-Herald Aug. 30. “The policy was created so that all of our officers work from the same guidelines after they arrest suspects for violent crimes, drug offenses or gang activity. The formation of the task force, its goals and members have been communicated openly and transparently. There have been numerous news reports about the task force, and I recently wrote about it in an Another Viewpoint column published in The News-Herald.
“When questions and
concerns in the community arose about that policy, I announced the task force as an advisory board, invited people to participate and was pleased to have a diverse group of community leaders step up and join, including an immigration lawyer, a leader of a Latino advocacy organization, a religious leader and others.
“I emphasized that our intent always was to solicit community input and report back to the community on the task force’s findings and any recommendations. It is true that the task force’s first several meetings were closed. Task force members wanted to feel comfortable saying exactly what was on their minds, without fear of retaliation. We had open and sometimes heated debates that would simply not have occurred in front of an audience. The task force compiled a list of recommendations for City Council and me.”
Those recommendations will be shared at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 in Court Room No. 1 at a work session of council, she added.
“As with all of our public meetings, the City Clerk
will post this meeting is compliance with the Ohio Sunshine Laws,” Irelan said. “I want to work together through these important and sensitive issues around immigration. I also want to emphasize an important point that I’ve made before: It’s not the city’s job to enforce federal immigration law. Our new responsibility to federal officials is to share information about violent criminals or drug offenders who our officers identify as potentially undocumented. I must do this in keeping with local and federal laws as I protect our residents from violent criminals. Our intent always was to refine Police Policy 413 so it is clear, and so it is fair. Our community task force did its job. “
According to the lawsuit, the task force held two meetings in June and July that violated Ohio Sunshine Laws.
Melnyk and Weber are asking Judge John P. O’Donnell for an injunction to stop the task force from continuing to meet “in secret.” The plaintiffs are also seeking unspecified monetary damages plus attorney fees and expenses.