By Kevin Kelley
Newly elected Ward 1 Councilwoman Lynda Appel, an employee of the Westlake City Schools, said she will decide if she faces any conflict of interest on city-school district matters on a case-by-case basis.
Appel defeated Shamus Cusick, 74.25 to 25.75 percent, or 1,116 to 387 votes, in the Nov. 5 election to win the open Ward 1 council seat. Appel is employed by the Westlake City Schools as a special education secretary and part-time webmaster. She also owns and operates Blue Peacock Imports, which she said is the website for Polish Pottery, a shop in Westlake.
“I’m not a decision maker for the schools,” Appel told West Life. “I’m just the webmaster.”
Appel said she her decision on whether to vote on a particular ordinance would be dependent on the particular issue at hand. She said she would consult with Westlake Law Director John Wheeler on whether any conflict existed.
Ward 5 Councilman Michael O’Donnell, who is employed as director of information services at American Greetings, has abstained from voting on all legislation associated with the card maker’s planned move to Westlake from Brooklyn.
The relationship between Westlake city government – specifically City Council – and the Westlake City Schools has been a topic of some conversation after voters twice defeated school operating levies in 2013. At a November Westlake Board of Education meeting at which deep budget cuts were discussed, school board member Tony Falcone spoke of “intense anger” among school backers that the city’s leadership had refused to publicly endorse the levy. He said city leaders in other Ohio communities often back public school levies.
And at a November City Council meeting, Tim Falcone, the father of the school board member, questioned council members on their silence on the levy. He noted that Westlake Magazine, published by the city to promote the community, featured articles about the district’s new middle school and high school, along with articles on private sector construction projects with the city.
Mayor Dennis Clough and Council President Michael Killeen said it was the district’s responsibility to convince voters to pay for a tax increase. Killeen told West Life that council has an informal policy of not endorsing issues or causes as a body, but that individual members are free to provide endorsements. Ward 6 Councilman Mark Getsay said at an Oct. 1 candidates forum that he was in favor of the school levy.
Killeen noted that the city and school district do regularly cooperate in areas apart from the votes on operating levies.
Asked about the overall relationship between the city and school district and recent criticism over endorsements, Appel said she does not have enough knowledge of the relationship to comment on it. She added that she has not yet had much discussion with fellow council members on the matter.