Problems with JMHA discussed by commissioners

STEUBENVILLE — Problems with the conduct of meetings and the operation of the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority will be the discussion Thursday before the Jefferson County commissioners.

Commissioner Tom Gentile said he is concerned after hearing reports about the JMHA Board of Directors most recent meeting, which took six minutes, included approval of more than $500,000 worth of invoices without discussion and acceptance of the retirement of the current Executive Director Debbie Bailey, in an executive session. That session came without allowing for the normal public input portion of the public session.

“It appears, and there have been allegations, that a lot of decisions are not being made at the meetings. When a meeting lasts six minutes, it may support the allegation,” Gentile told the county commissioners Thursday. Gentile requested having the commissioners’ representative on the JMHA board, Tony Morelli, to come to next week’s commissioners meeting to give a report about what happened at the meeting.

Bailey spent about two years in the position and is a longtime JMHA employee. Her hiring followed a protracted search for an executive director that started in 2014 and went through two directors and included a board member serving as acting director for a period.

The board said after announcing Bailey’s retirement that a national search would be undertaken to find a new executive director.

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, asked for the three most senior members of the JMHA board, Dr. Frank L. Petrola, Gerald DiLoreto and JoAnn Welday to resign. At the time, in March, Johnson said it was obvious to him there were “significant internal problems” with the JMHA board and without changes to the “leadership, membership and direction of the JMHA board, the JMHA is in danger of going into receivership.”

In other matters, the commissioners heard a report and a request from Cross Creek Township Police Chief John Stasuilewicz about enacting radar photo patrols in the township.

Stasuilewicz said the department won’t be putting the enforcement tool on roads just to issue lots of tickets and fines. He said he intends to use it only on streets with many reports of speeding problems.

Stasuilewicz said while the township has contracted with a company, the device is not like the photo enforcement tools used by other communities in the region. Rather, the department will be supplied with a hand-held LIDAR unit, similar to the hand-held radar used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, but the device will give the officer using it the option of either issuing an on-the-spot ticket or a photo ticket to be mailed.

He said an officer has to run the unit and always will be present with it when it’s in use.

Stasuilewicz said the reason he is going to the contract is because there is himself and one full-time officer, in addition to part-timers, covering a township with 45 miles of roads and 10,500 residents. He said the township police department couldn’t itself afford a $6,000 speed gun.

His request to the county was about notification signs announcing the photo enforcement on all main roads into the township. He said the state requires the signs and he wanted to place some of them under county speed limit signs on county roads.

The commissioners gave conditional approval pending review by the county engineer and prosecutor.

Stasuilewicz said he will make a public announcement before putting the LIDAR in service. He said the plan will be to hold hearings twice a month at the township police station at the Jefferson County Air Park for those who want to appeal tickets.

In other matters:

¯ Commissioners tabled a request for payment of $564,058 for ongoing work at the county-owned Towers building at 500 Market St. Gentile said he is having discussions about the project and wants time to follow up.

¯ Commissioners approved a request for $1,000 in additional appropriations for the county probation department to cover costs incurred. The money is generated by the collection of probation fees.

¯ Commissioners accepted the resignation of poundkeeper Victoria Brown effective Thursday from the Jefferson County Animal Shelter. An advertisement seeking two full-time poundkeepers will be placed. Commissioner Dave Maple said the county is discussing with the workers’ union about eliminating a probationary salary for the poundkeeper in hopes of getting more applicants for the positions.