Tonight’s council meeting

City council had one of its longest meetings during my tenure tonight. In particular, there were extensive discussions on the crematory, auto sales rezoning and employee raises. My notes are below:

MAYOR’S SPEECH — Mayor Drew gave her State of the City address. She pointed out some of the ways that our government has cut spending, including by reducing the workforce by one-fifth since 2008. The city has also found ways to raise additional revenue without causing additional tax burden to Stow families. Namely, Stow entered into a long-term lease with Enviroscience with respect to the Parks building, and Stow now conducts building inspections for Munroe Falls and Peninsula.

EMPLOYEE PAY RAISES — The city council chambers were packed for the zoning issues. But those weren’t the issues with the most potential to affect the average Stow resident.

Allow me to backup a few steps: On October 31, I received a threatening letter from five city employees. They claimed to be underpaid, and demanded a resolution by December 1. They threatened to file an EEOC claim unless 13 employees got raises — raises that were retroactive to 2008 (yeah, I’m serious).

Tonight, city council gave these 13 employees the raises they demanded on a going-forward basis. It was a 5-2 vote (Riehl, Rasor). The raises will cost about $45,000 per year, so it’s not a large portion of our budget. But it’s bigger than that…

First, we did not obtain a release of civil liability. I made a motion to require a release of liability before the raises kick in. In other words, before we give raises, the employees should have to agree that they won’t sue the city over back wages that they were demanding. The motion failed 4-3 (Riehl, Rasor, Lowdermilk). Maybe it’s because I’m a business lawyer, who errs on the side of caution, but come on! Taxpayers could be on the hook for $200,000 (and maybe $50,000 in legal fees). To that, a majority of council just shrugged.

Second, there is principle involved. We are setting lousy precedent by gladly giving in when the word “attorney” or “EEOC claim” is involved. It’s not how you run a business, and it’s not how you act as a steward of the people’s money.

I’m disappointed. Council did the wrong thing here. I hope it won’t come back to bite us.

CREMATORY — Take a deep breath (of mercury-free air); there will be no crematory in Stow. The legislation failed, 3-4 (Lowdermilk, D’Antonio, Costello).

I’m glad we are done with this issue. It was hard on the residents, who truly and reasonably feared the effects from burning bodies so close to their homes. I admire them for coming to every meeting and speaking at every opportunity. I was humbled by the roaring applause from the residents after the vote. I felt like we just sunk a 50-foot putt to win the U.S. Open.

AUTO SALES — By a 5-0 vote, council passed the text amendment to the zoning code, allowing auto sales in parcels zoned as C-3 and C-4. The issue was much more complicated than it needed to be. I blame part of that on our zoning code. In the future, we should create a mechanism for a “use variance,” which would have been much simpler than changing the conditionally permitted uses for every C-3 and C-4 parcel in the city.

NEXT MEETINGS — City council will meet next for committees on January 22. Please note, it’s on a Tuesday (not Monday) because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The full council will meet on the following Thursday.