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Nelson Trustee Educated on Definition of Slander

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Nelson Twp. – Nelson Township Trustees met for their regularly scheduled meeting with all trustees and fiscal officer in attendance. After approving the minutes and expenditures, Chairman Tom Matota opened the floor for comments and discussion from the gallery. Present at the meeting was Jed Wise, President of Ravenna Oil Company who “had the unpleasant experience of watching a YouTube video (entitled ‘Come Up And Cite Us’)” from one of the Nelson Township Trustee meetings, and wanted to clear up some misinformation about his company. Wise was also on on hand to submit an application to remove the fuel tanks from the Nelson Maintenance Garage at Pixley Park, as the Trustees had failed to make upgrades required to remain compliant with state laws and fire code.

After having a member of his staff pass out folders to Fiscal Officer David Finney, and Trustees Tom Matota, Joe Leonard, and Jim Turos; Wise proceeded to walk the trustees through the six pages contained within the folders. The contents were as follows:

• A copy of a follow-up letters sent in 2010 to the Nelson Township Trustees about a meeting to discuss fuel tank laws that was attended by Wise, a certified tank installer employed by Ravenna Oil Company, Jim Turos, Joe Leonard, and a State Inspector.

• A letter inviting the Trustees to a meeting that took place a year or two ago to explain changes to state and federal laws; changes that placed stricter regulations on fuel tanks and set harsher penalties for compliance violations. This meeting was offered at no charge, as Wise believes in helping keep people informed about the regulations in his industry. There were no representatives from Nelson Township present at the second meeting, and no response to the invitation.

• State Fire Marshall Regulations, of which the tanks are in violation.

• Application to remove the tanks from the township on June 11th, 2013. The tanks are being drained by a licensed contractor, and will be removed by Ravenna Oil Company. The tanks are being removed because they are out of compliance per the federal and state regulations Ravenna Oil Company attempted to make the Trustees aware of. If the tanks were allowed to  remain in service, or even on the property, an state inspector could  fine Nelson Township an estimated $1,000 per violation/per day, retroactively.

• Copy of equipment agreements between Ravenna Oil and Nelson Township from March 2000 from the installation of the fuel tanks, which detailed the transfer of liability for violations of state and federal regulations.

• A photocopy of dictionary definition of the word “slander”. This page of the folder “was directed to [Matota]” who had on several occasions “stated a lot of falsehoods about the company” and “damaged the reputation of Ravenna Oil Company”. The comment by Matota that drew the bulk of the ire from Wise was his [Matota’s] insistence that “it is because of the Ravenna Oil Company that these laws exist”. A claim that was refuted by Wise who “doesn’t write the laws”, but rather “goes out and tries to educate and help people [understand the laws] [..] IF they are willing to listen—which some people are not”.

Raising his voice in an attempt to interrupt Mr. Wise,  Matota loudly refuted responsibility for any potentially slanderous or libelous remarks stating that “nobody has my release to put anything on the internet that I might have said” and that “This is why we don’t officially do our minutes on video. That is why we don’t”.

Unfortunately for Matota, several residents in attendance pointed out, “he is a public official and the recording was taken at a public meeting,” making Matota’s permission irrelevant. When informed of this, Matota retorted “this is an educational thing for everyone”. Matota also claimed that the videos could have been altered. However as Wise stated, “the words came out of [Matota’s] mouth”.

It appeared that Matota had a difficult time coming to an understanding that as the public official who made the potentially slanderous statements in a public meeting, he is responsible for the words that come out of his mouth.

Growing increasingly agitated, Matota demanded to know “What [he] said exactly”. To which a  transcript of Matota’s statements from prior meetings was produced.Once confronted with his words, Matota attempted to smooth over the issue by apologizing stating, “that is,you’re absolutely right, stupid and I can’t believe I said that and I apologize if I said that”.

Matota then proceeded to refer to the facts presented at Ravenna Oil Company’s educational seminars as “scare tactics”, seemingly unaware that doing so also fell under the definition of slander.

Wise concluded his presentation to the Trustees by stating that he “could not believe that the residents of [Nelson] township haven’t demanded your resignation”, to which Matota chuckled and replied, “I agree”.

Turos and Road Supervisor Chuck Vanek then thanked Jed Wise and Ravenna Oil Company for their service to the township.

Moving along, the Trustees then turned to Road Supervisor Chuck Vanek who was asking for approval for the purchase of 150 tons of asphalt and the rental of a roller to perform overlayment of asphalt on about five of the worst roads in the township.  All trustees approved the expenditures.

Zoning department had received a noise complaint from the shooting range, however, the complainant did not attend the meeting.

Turos thanked the road crew for their work in the cemeteries, which “look great” and informed the board that he took the crew out to lunch as a thank you for going “above and beyond”.

Leonard reported that several school-aged vandals damaged grave markers at the cemetery on SR 88. The sheriff came out and did a report on them. One stone was knocked over, and flags were stolen from veteran’s graves. Leonard has talked with the parents of all of the children involved, and brought the punishment decision to the board to decide. The Trustees voted to assign the children to at least “a week or two” of community service projects at the baseball field, cemeteries, and at Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park.

Leonard then presented a list of thirteen questions asked by residents about the demolition of the old township garage, the highlights of which included.

Q. Why weren’t the glass windows removed from the building prior to demolition? This question was asked because the residents living next to the property ended up with a large amount of broken glass spread throughout their yard from exploding windows.

One resident stated “I am sure we’ll find more as someone is walking through there. I mean it would have been a ten-minute job to take the glass window out instead of having it blow out the back.”

Trustee Leonard requested that at the very least the road crew should go over and fine tooth comb the backyard to assure all the glass shards had been removed. Matota agreed with this.

Q. When was the decision made and by who to dump all of the concrete on private property, and was a release signed by the property owners to accept all responsibility if contaminates were found? The same question was asked of the dirt removed from the building prior to demolition, and taken to another private residence.

Matota: We never have anyone sign any paperwork.

Leonard: Well, that doesn’t make it right.

Matota: No, it doesn’t but it is what it is.

Q. Why wasn’t the EPA notified in regards to the demolition of the building?

Matota: We took out a demolition permit and followed all of the provisions of the permit.

Leonard: Well, I got a call from Akron Air Quality Regional Control and according to their laws (they are a division of the EPA), there should have been a notice to demolish, which there was not. There should have been a request for an inspection of the building for possible contaminants, and there also was not. There is also a fugitive dust law, which is what [Chuck] tried to prevent with the firetruck, and according to this gentleman we violated a couple of these laws, and we are going to be cited and fined; to what extent, I do not know.

Matota: Okay

Q. Why weren’t any of the workers wearing safety equipment? Hard hats, safety glasses, etc. Why was one employee smoking during the demolition?

Matota: Okay. Didn’t think they needed it (chuckles).

Vanek: No comment.

Q. Why didn’t the Trustees take bids on this job, or have the building torn down and hauled away professionally?

Matota: Because we thought we could do it better ourselves.

Jumping back to the fuel tank removal at the end of the meeting, the Trustees decided to look into obtaining fuel from Speedway or Save-4-Store in Garrettsville as a stopgap measure while evaluating the best course of action for the replacement of the fuel tanks.

The salt shed project will also receive more attention at later meetings.

 

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