Shortly after North Olmsted City Council reinstated him to the Civil Service Commission by the narrowest margin possible, Michael Ubaldi was ready to get back to work.
“We’ve got to schedule a (police) chief’s test first,” Ubaldi said. “I appreciate that members of council saw the evidence for what it was and that we had followed proper guidelines and regulations in the first place.”
In a special Saturday morning meeting attended by about 50 people, Council voted 4-3 to uphold Mayor Kevin Kennedy’s suspension and plan to remove Ubaldi from the Civil Service Commission. However, a two-thirds majority, meaning at least a 5-2 margin, is required to remove a Civil Service Commissioner.
Those voting to remove the suspension and retain Ubaldi as Commission chairman were Kevin Kearney, Larry Orlowski and Angela Williamson. Those voting to uphold Kennedy’s action were Paul Barker, Lou Brossard, Mark Mahoney and Paul Schumann.
Kennedy had taken his action in early March following a Civil Service Commission 2-1 vote, with Karen Zolar and Ubaldi voting to set an early April test date for retiring Police Chief Wayne Wozniak. Commissioner Jerome Barrett voted against the action.
Kennedy cited the vote as well as Ubaldi’s saying he would formally post the test date himself when a secretary declined to, noting city officials had said they couldn’t because at that point, Wozniak had not set his formal retirement date. Kennedy took his action after that, and Law Director Michael Gareau Jr. issued a legal opinion saying Ubaldi had exceeded his authority and the commission’s jurisidiction. Both Kennedy and Gareau noted Assistant Law Director Bryan O’Malley had advised Ubaldi several times in the Commission meeting that it couldn’t set the test date until Wozniak gave a formal retirement date.
Saturday’s meeting came after a three-hour March 22 special council session in which Kennedy’s attorney Neil Jamison and Ubaldi’s attorney Jay Carson presented their respective cases. Council decided at the end of that session to hold the special Saturday meeting so the group could review additional documents presented during the first hearing.
After Saturday’s meeting, Ubaldi and his family expressed their thanks for the support he received from different people the last few weeks.
“It meant a lot,” Ubaldi said.
Referring to the vote, Kennedy said he plans no more action.
“While I disagree with the outcome, I respect the process and the council members who reviewed this matter,” Kennedy said in a statement. “My main concern has always been that all commission members follow the appropriate procedure and adhere to the law.”
In addition to his statement, Kennedy said the administration also would like the new chief’s test set up.
“We’ve already forwarded the chief’s retirement date,” Kennedy said. “We did that as soon as we received it in early March.”
Wozniak has set May 6 as his last date.
Among council members, the opinions varied on the actions.
In noting her vote, Williamson questioned why Ubaldi was having to go through this.
“He didn’t vote for the test date all by himself,” she said. “It was a vote of the commission, not just him. I don’t believe it’s fair that he was singled out for this. He took the course of action that he felt was best for the city.”
In defending his actions, Ubaldi had said he was following proper guidelines as well as common sense since Wozniak had given a narrow time frame for his retirement even before he formally set the date. His attorney, Carson, noted that it’s not improper to have a test and list of potential candidates for a position. Ubaldi said some of Kennedy’s desire to remove him stemmed from Ubaldi’s opposition to defeated plans to revamp the Civil Service Commission itself or allow candidates for chief from outside the North Olmsted Police Department. Kennedy disputed this, saying his actions stem from the setting of a test date and Ubaldi wanting to post it.
Orlowski questioned the administration’s allegations that Ubaldi committed malfeasance and misfeasance, meaning he had either committed an act he should not do at all or a lawful act he did improperly.
“I voted my conscience,” Orlowski said afterward. “I did not find that malfeasance or misfeasance had occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe the chairman of the civil service, if he erred at all, it was on the side of wanting to be proactive, and provide whichever candidate is selected to be able to have mentoring by the current police chief before he officially retires.”
In voting to uphold the mayor, Mahoney for several minutes reviewed transcripts of the Civil Service meeting where the first test date was set and said he believed Ubaldi had acted improperly and too quickly in moving to set a test date and then later wanting to post it.
Schumann said he had gone over the matter and said he felt Kennedy had acted properly in dealing with what he perceived as improper actions by Ubaldi.
“If I were the mayor, I would have taken action against him,” Schumann said.
Barker said, “It’s just a good example of how the process works.”