Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Mary Stanforth, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris and Lee Koogler. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Mary Stanforth, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris and Lee Koogler. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro city council voted 5-2 to approve a proposed “drug dealer liability ordinance,” drafted to “provide a civil remedy to the citizens of Hillsboro for injury caused by an individual’s use of an illegal controlled substance,” at their Sept. 10 meeting.

In addition to the four council members who introduced the legislation – Wendy Culbreath, Claudia Klein, Brandon Leeth and Ann Morris – council member Mary Stanforth also voted in favor of the ordinance. Justin Harsha and Adam Wilkin voted against the legislation.

 


The ordinance was drafted to “provide a civil remedy for damages to persons in this community injured by an individual’s use of illegal controlled substances. It establishes a cause of action against drug dealers for damages for monetary, noneconomic and physical losses incurred as a result of an individual’s use of an illegal controlled substance. This chapter will shift the cost of the damage caused by the marketing of illegal drugs to those who illegally profit from that market, as well as deter others from entering the illegal drug market by subjecting them to substantial monetary loss. This chapter will also provide an incentive for individual users to identify illegal drug marketers and recover from them the costs of their own drug treatment.”

According to the ordinance, “a parent, legal custodian, child, spouse or sibling of the individual user; an individual who was exposed to an illegal controlled substance in utero; an employer of the individual user; a medical facility, insurer, employer, governmental entity or other legal entity that funds a drug treatment program or other employee assistance program … [or] a person injured as a result of the willful, reckless or negligent actions of an individual user” may seek damages.

Those “against whom actions may be brought” are any “person who sold, administered or furnished an illegal controlled substance to the individual user” or “a person who knowingly participated in the marketing of an illegal controlled substance” under certain circumstances.

Recoverable damages include “economic damages, noneconomic damages, exemplary damages, reasonable attorney fees and reasonable expenses for expert testimony.”

If an individual drug user wishes to seek damages, they must “personally disclose to narcotics enforcement authorities all of the information known to the individual regarding the individuals sources of illegal controlled substances” within six months before filing; must have “not used an illegal controlled substance within 30 days before filing the action;” and cannot use “an illegal controlled substance during the pendency of the action.”

The amount of damages an individual “participating in the marketing of illegal controlled substances” would be subject to pay would range from 25 percent for a level one offense to 100 percent for a level four offense.

There is also a section allowing for “multiple parties to action,” in which “two or more persons may join in one action … as plaintiffs if their respective actions have at least one market for illegal controlled dangerous substances in common and if any portion of the period of use of an illegal controlled dangerous substance is concurrent with the period of use of an illegal controlled dangerous substance for every other plaintiff.” Two or more persons can also be named as defendants “if those persons are liable to at least one plaintiff.” If this occurs, “judgment may be given for one or more plaintiffs according to their respective rights to relief and against one or more defendants according to their respective liabilities.”

The legislation provides for a “joinder of claims and persons,” in which “a person may seek recovery … against a person against whom a defendant has asserted a joinder action.”

According to the standard of proof outlined in the legislation, any person “who has been convicted of the distribution of an illegal controlled dangerous substance” will be unable to “deny participation” in marketing said substance, and said conviction will be used as evidence of the defendant’s participation. However, “the absence of a criminal conviction of a person … against whom recovery is sought does not bar an action against that person.”

The limitation of cause of actions as set by the ordinance says that “a cause of action expires in one year after a defendant furnishes the illegal controlled substance or a cause of action accrues under this chapter when a person who may recover has reason to know of the harm from the use of an illegal controlled substance.” The limitation of a cause of action against a defendant is “tolled until one year after the individual potential defendant is convicted of a criminal offense involving an illegal controlled substance.” An allowance is also made in case of a continuance for a criminal investigation or prosecution.

There was no discussion prior to the vote Monday. When the legislation was originally introduced, Klein said that she wanted to suspend the three-reading rule “so it’s in effect before the … supposed opening of the medical marijuana shops.” (As previously reported, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has approved a license for a medical marijuana dispensary on North High Street in Hillsboro.)

However, the ordinance notes that the lone “defense to any action brought pursuant to this chapter [is if] that the person who possessed with the intent to distribute or distributed an illegal controlled substance did so under the authority of law as a licensed physician or practitioner pursuant to a lawful prescription and was otherwise so authorized by law.”

A motion to suspend the three-reading rule also failed during the August city council meeting.

• • •

With the absence of reports by Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie and the Hillsboro planning commission, the remainder of the city council meeting was “almost a record for time,” as noted by city council president Lee Koogler. City administrators neither attended nor submitted reports for the meeting Monday.

Harsha reported that the finance committee met to discuss and review the lodging tax and salaries of public officials. The committee determined that the issue of the lodging tax “needs more research and information.”

The salaries of city auditor, treasurer, council members, mayor and law director were also discussed. Although Harsha said it has been approximately 10 years since these salaries were adjusted, the committee is waiting until a decision has been made regarding discussions to join the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, when they will “have a better grasp on the budget.”

Wilkin, who chairs the street and safety committee, spoke about a joint meeting of his and Harsha’s committees to discuss joining the fire district.

“Many people spoke, offering their thoughts and concerns on joining the district,” Wilkin said. “Some of the positives of joining the district include being a voting member of the district, certainty in having continual excellent EMS coverage, no longer having to deal with negotiations on a yearly basis as they would most likely arise, as well as the city having extra money to complete improvements throughout our city.

“However, there is one major concern. By joining the district, property taxes will have to be raised. This is an understandable concern with property owners in the city as many – and rightfully so – believe they already pay enough taxes.”

Discussions on joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District are ongoing, according to Wilkin.

• • •

Council voted 7-0 Monday to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt an ordinance vacating an alley at the firehouse property, following consultation with city law director Fred Beery.

After council clerk Heather Collins read the ordinance, Koogler excused himself to speak to Beery.

“Typically, alley closures require us to hold a public meeting before we actually close them,” Koogler told council.

Beery returned with Koogler and told council that his “understanding is that if the adjacent property owners consent … there is no need for a public hearing.”

“There aren’t any existing alleys in this, are there?” Harsha asked.

“That’s right,” Beery said.

“What’s there now?” Leeth asked.

“This is the firehouse property, correct?” Harsha asked. “So there’s no alley on the firehouse property. You’ve got the playground and the fire department.”

“Well, they’re platted,” Koogler said. “So, Mr. Beery, your legal opinion is at this point, council can go ahead and enact this legislation this evening?”

Beery agreed, saying, “As long as you find that its closure, which won’t exist, will not be injurious to the public.”

• • •

In other action, council approved and adopted the following resolutions:

• Council voted 7-0 to approve a resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the Budget Commission and authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county auditor.

• Council voted 7-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and voted 7-0 to adopt a final resolution for the US Route 50 (Project PID 95563) resurfacing project that outlines an agreement between the City of Hillsboro and Ohio Department of Transportation.

• A resolution authorizing the City of Hillsboro to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement and/or local transportation improvement program(s) for North East Street Reconstruction Phase III and to execute contracts as required.

• A resolution authorizing the City of Hillsboro to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement program(s) for trunk line improvements from Spiegle to Northview and to execute contacts as required.

• • •

During the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, council heard from Virginia Purdy. Purdy attended the meeting on behalf of the Christian Science Society, which meets Sunday mornings at the corner of South West and West Walnut Streets, along with two other churches in town.

Purdy said that in the 1980s, when the city placed signs limiting parking to one side of the street, “the membership was told that we would be permitted to park on Sunday mornings during our services.” However, several members of the Christian Science Society in Hillsboro were recently issued parking tickets.

“On July 29, during our service, four cars parked in front of the church were ticketed,” Purdy said. “With the history, I assumed that perhaps it was a new officer or there was a misunderstanding.”

Purdy said that she told the officer that members of the church had been parking there for 40 years and had “verbal permission to do so,” but the officer who issued the tickets told her “he was not alive 40 years ago, and that as far as he was concerned, no parking meant no parking.”

“I would like to request that you consider doing whatever’s necessary to permit us to park in front of our church for the hour and a half to two hours that the services are on Sunday morning,” Purdy said.

Koogler said that he would “make a request of administration.” Purdy said that she already spoke to administration and that they told her request was “too narrow.”

“We’ll start there,” Koogler said. “If we don’t agree with their opinion, there are statutory things we can do after that.”

• • •

Hillsboro resident Dale Campbell also spoke to council about his concerns with his neighbor having a “junkyard” in his yard. Campbell began by asking about the protocol for starting a junkyard at his own residence. Koogler explained that there were “statutory provisions” within both the Ohio Revised Code and in the city’s zoning code.

“In a residential neighborhood, it would not be permitted,” Koogler said.

“If I wouldn’t be permitted, then why would [my neighbor] be?” Campbell asked.

Koogler said he was not familiar with the property in question, but city auditor Gary Lewis said that the city assisted in clearing the property about a year and a half ago.

“They hauled six dump truckloads away from the place, plus two pickup truckloads away,” Campbell told Koogler.

Lewis said the neighboring property was also condemned.

“I just wondered if he’s making a fool out of the city or whoever,” Campbell said. “He’s living in there.”

Koogler said that he would pass Campbell’s concerns on to city administrators and “see what can be done.”

• • •

Under new business, Koogler said that council members had intended to enter an executive session to continue discussions on joining the Paint Creek district, but since there is “no administration to report to us,” council instead adjourned for the evening.

Koogler concluded the meeting by thanking council members for “their service and the time you give to council.”