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Village attorney says Stephison can serve on DDA, council



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November 02, 2011 - Legally, there's no problem with Kevin Stephison wearing two hats in Oxford Village government.

Last week, the village council voted 4-0 (with Stephison abstaining) to release a legal opinion from the municipality's attorney, Robert Bunting, which stated that Stephison can continue serving on both council and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board.

Bunting indicated that the state's Incompatible Offices act "does not prohibit Stephison from serving simultaneously on the DDA and the village council."

"Stephison is a 'public officer' as defined under the Incompatible Offices Act," he wrote. "The Incompatible Offices Act states that a 'public officer' can serve on a Downtown Development Authority."

Bunting noted there's also nothing under state law or in the village ordinance that prohibits two village council members from serving on the DDA at the same time.

"It was good to see it written down and explained," said Stephison, who was elected to council in September and continues to serve as chairman of the DDA board, a body he was appointed to last year.

Stephison serves on the DDA board as both the representative of a business within the district, Huntoon Funeral Home, and as someone who lives downtown.

Village ordinance requires that "at least one member (of the DDA board) shall be a resident of the downtown district, if the downtown district has more than 100 persons residing in it." There are currently 119 registered voters living within the DDA district.

Prior to this situation, only one member of the village council has ever served on the nine-member DDA at any given time and it's always been the council president because he or she is required to by both village ordinance and the DDA's bylaws.

For example, village President Tom Benner currently serves on the DDA board by virtue of his position.

Councilman Tony Albensi raised the question of whether or not Stephison could serve on the DDA board at the same time as Benner.

Bunting's answer didn't satisfy him.

"It may be legal, but I don't agree," said Albensi, following the release of the attorney's opinion at the Oct. 25 meeting. "I still don't think Mr. Stephison should be a member of the Downtown Development Authority."

Albensi explained his reasoning to this reporter. "We've never had two village council members on the DDA," he said. "I would hate for there to be undue influence (over) the DDA by the council."

Albensi said it's okay for the village president to serve on the DDA board because he or she is "there as council's representative."

"Their job is to bring whatever council's feelings or actions are to the DDA board," he said.

Albensi's also concerned that Stephison serving on both boards could give "the appearance of the DDA having a representative on village council."

"When you become an elected official, you represent the entire village, not just the DDA," he explained. "My concern is separating the two (positions) and whether there will be the ability to do that."

"I don't doubt that Mr. Stephison has the best interests of the village in mind, but is it plausible to have two council members on (the DDA)?" Albensi added.

Stephison disagreed with Albensi.

"I don't see any conflict," he told this reporter. "I'm elected to represent the whole community; the whole community includes downtown. The business owners, the residents, they're part of the community just the like the rest of the village. I don't really see there being any conflict of interest."

Stephison doesn't view his dual service as a "major issue" because he doesn't believe the DDA and village council "are working toward opposite ends."

"I believe we're both working for the same thing," he said.

As with everything else in life, Stephison believes serving on a governing body is a balancing act. "Whether I'm on the village council or the DDA, there are going to be times when individually, there may be issues I have to think long and hard on because there's conflict no matter what," he said. "I'm always representing multiple parties in the process."

When asked whether he'll seek reappointment to the DDA when his term expires in September 2012, Stephison replied, "I'm taking everything one month at a time."

"September 2012, while it's not that far away right now in the long scheme of things, it's quite a ways away for me," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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