Painesville sued over alleged 'secret' immigration task force meetings

From The News Herald Two Lake County residents are claiming Painesville city officials violated Ohio Sunshine Laws by holding secret community task force meetings about a controversial immigration policy.

Kirtland resident Arzella Melnyk and James Weber of Painesville filed a complaint Aug. 29 in Lake County Common Pleas Court accusing City Manager Monica Irelan and City Council President Paul Hach of illegally closing task force meetings to the public.

On June 19, Irelan announced at council’s regular meeting that a task force had been formed to review the recently enacted Painesville Police Policy 413.

Lake County Jail officials used to report suspects of being undocumented to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, but then delegated that responsibility to individual police departments.

Painesville police then created a policy that details guidelines for officers after they arrest suspects for violent crimes, drug offenses or gang activity.

After the department’s new policy was publicly criticized as being insensitive and hostile, a task force was created that included residents, representatives of the city and police officers, plus religious, immigration and Latino organization leaders.

According to the lawsuit filed by attorney Matthew J. D. Lynch:

• The task force held a secret meeting June 29 at Harvey High School in Painesville.

• On July 5, Weber was told by email that the task force meetings “are not open to the public.”

• On July 31, the task force held a secret meeting at St. Mary’s Parish.

• Any actions taken by the task force at its meetings is in violation of law under the Ohio Revised Code.

Melnyk and Weber are seeking an injunction to stop the task force from continuing “to meet in secret.”

The plaintiffs are also asking for unspecified monetary damages plus attorney fees and expenses.

Irelan, Hach and City Law Director Joseph Gurley did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The case is assigned to Judge John P. O’Donnell.