Hudson City Councilwoman Nicole Kowalski filed a civil suit against the city council‘s recent decision to censure her over her expenditure of money that required legislative approval without the council’s knowledge or consent.
According to Hudson City Council President Chris Foster, Kowalski launched an investigation of a citizen’s complaint about an alleged campaign finance violation without the knowledge or consent of the council. Foster said that Kowalski also spent money that required legislative approval without informing the rest of the council.
In February last year, Kowalski learned about a letter that Sarah Norman‘s campaign had sent out, claiming that Hudson’s campaign finance legislation was unconstitutional and unenforceable and urging individuals to give more than the $100 cap. Norman had run against Kowalski for her at-large seat in that year’s election.
Kowalski, who won the election, asked Hudson solicitor Matthew Vazzana if that action should be prosecuted. Vazzana drafted a legal opinion about the potential prosecution of campaign violations. In the end, they determined not to prosecute.
When Marshal Pitchford took over from Vazzana as a solicitor the matter resurfaced.
“A single council member does not have the legal authority to direct staff to bring in outside, county-level prosecutors. A single council member doesn’t have the legal right to direct staff at all. The City Council president is essentially the liaison with staff, but only the body of council can direct staff to bring in a county-level prosecutor, and council would have to be fully informed of that. Nobody on council knew anything about this,” Foster said.
In a 5-1 vote earlier this month, city council voted to censure Kowalski for acting beyond her authority by initiating an investigation and spending on it without the council’s consent.
Last week, Kowalski filed a civil suit asking the Summit County Court of Common Pleas to overturn the action. Kowalski contends that the council overstepped its bounds with the censure vote. According to the complaint, neither Kowalski’s actions justified a censure nor violated the municipal law because the charter does not grant the council the authority to “censure or publicly admonish its members.”
“Councilwoman Kowalski was wrongfully, illegally, and maliciously censured by the Hudson City Council,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also charges the city council with failing to inform Kowalski of the potential censure, denying her a fair hearing, denying her the opportunity to testify in support of herself at the meeting on December 6, and denying her the chance to confront the accusations made during the meeting.
Kowalski is seeking the revocation of the censure and an order for the city of Hudson to accord her the protections and privileges guaranteed by the US and Ohio constitutions. She also requests that the council act within the boundaries of the city charter and the Ohio Revised Code. Additionally, the lawsuit requests that the court order the city to make public all correspondence and documents used to discredit Kowalski at the meeting on December 6 without exception.
Kowalski and Foster have reportedly clashed on many issues in their duration together on the city council. However, Foster refuted the concept that the censure is political, claiming that Kowalski primarily manages herself and that the two don’t often contact on anything.
The case has been assigned to Judge Kelly McLaughlin, and the matter is expected to resurface at a future meeting of the city council.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Nicole Kowalski” by Nicole Kowalski. Background Photo “Hudson, Ohio” by Zach Vesoulis. CC BY-SA 2.0.