WHEELING - The second, and final, reading to enact an expansion of Weirton's business and occupation tax can move forward after Ohio County Circuit Court Judge David J. Sims dismissed a request for an injunction against the city by three area businesses Tuesday morning.
On Thursday, Sims heard the request from Tri-State Medical, Ocean-Air International Inc. and Startrans International Inc., represented by attorney Kevin M. Pearl, alleging the city violated the state's open meetings laws and Robert's Rules of Order in the process of implementing the B and O tax, and also citing the current vacancy of a Ward 1 representative on Weirton City Council.
In his order, Sims stated the "Court is without authority to grant the relief requested by Plaintiffs as no ordinance has yet been enacted into law. Therefore, this matter is not ripe for consideration. The Court further finds that it is without proper statutory or constitutional authority to lawfully intervene in the ongoing legislative process of the Plaintiff."
City Attorney Vince Gurrera argued against the injunction Thursday, saying the Sunshine Law, Robert's Rules of Order and city by-laws have not been violated.
"If we're not permitted to abide by our normal course of conduct in passing ordinances in this circumstance, the city is going to suffer irreparable harm," he said at the hearing.
Pearl, Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce President Brenda Mull and Weirton City Manager Valerie Means were all unavailable for comment this morning. Members of City Council have been advised by legal counsel not to comment.
J.J. Bernabei, owner of Tri-State Medical, said that there are still steps to be taken against the B and O tax.
"It was dismissed without prejudice, which means we can bring the injunction back if the ordinance passes. That's exactly what we're going to do," he said. "This could all be solved if City Council would just allow all seven wards to be represented. It's taxation without representation."
The first reading of the B and O ordinance was passed by a 3-2 vote, with Councilmembers David Dalrymple, Chuck Wright and George Ash voting in favor, Councilmembers Fred Marsh and Terry Weigel voting against, and Councilman George Gaughenbaugh abstaining, citing a "conflict of interest."
The Ward 1 seat become vacant when Ronnie Jones resigned from the position on June 10 because of a residential move out of his ward. Council has six weeks from that date to appoint a replacement. If no one is appointed during that period, a special election will take place.
City Council is scheduled to meet in special session today at 6:30 p.m. The B and O ordinance is the only item on the agenda.
Time allotted for public comments is not required at "special" sessions, but in an interview this morning Mayor George Kondik said he was "sure" that council will vote to accept public remarks.
(Dalrymple can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)