Bigham resigns; Foster motions to censure Kowalski for a second time

by Judy Stringer

Jan. 17 city council meeting

At Hudson City Council’s first regular meeting of 2023, council member Beth Bigham resigned, and council President Christ Foster sought a second censure against council member Nicole Kowalski. 

Bigham, who has served on council since May 2016, said she’s leaving her public post immediately to join the staff of freshman Ohio Senator J.D. Vance.

“My private career and my election campaigns have put me in a great position to work with Senator Vance and collaborate with local and state leaders across Northeast Ohio,” she said.

Bigham added that while she did not have to leave council to work for Vance, she believed “it will be more favorable to resign my local position” in order to represent Vance regionally.

Council is accepting applications for the unexpired Ward 4 term until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13.

As for Foster’s second motion to censure Kowalski, it failed. But the tension will not likely subside anytime soon given Kowalski’s Dec. 21 filing of a lawsuit against council for the initial censure, which occurred on Dec. 6.

Kowalski’s suit seeks to overturn the censure, claiming that council did not have legal authority “to censure or publicly admonish” her; that her conduct did not warrant censure; and that she was deprived of the right to a fair hearing and to present evidence on her behalf; among other assertions. The suit also seeks to compel the city to comply with a public records request for unredacted copies of a 46-page document Foster provided to council on Dec. 6, as evidence for censure.

That document is also at the heart of his latest motion to censure Kowalski. City Solicitor Marshal Pitchford alleged that Kowalski breached attorney-client privilege by emailing a copy of the unredacted document to a resident. While council voted to waive attorney-client privilege at the Dec. 6 meeting to publicly discuss the censure, he said, the allowance did not cover all of the document’s contents, particularly a legal analysis and discussion of the constitutionality of Hudson’s campaign finance laws.

Foster added that in the email with the unredacted document, Kowalski told the resident to seek the documents “through the proper means.”

“She realized that what she was doing was potentially illegal, wrong,” he said.

Kowalski said council agreed to waive privilege – which she and council member Kate Schlademan voted against – without “putting any scope or limitation upon the waiver of these documents and topics.”

“Counsel sought to censure me by waiving attorney-client privilege with respect to those topics [on Dec. 6], and now seeks to prevent the public from seeing the full documents relating to those topics,” she said.

Schlademan suggested the scope of the waiver was unclear to her.

“In the actual motion, it says, ‘to the narrowest extent possible,’” she explained. “None of us are lawyers up here, so how are we supposed to know what that means? And what does that mean? I still don’t know.”

Kowalski, when asked directly, declined to confirm or deny the claim she had emailed the unredacted document to a resident, citing the ongoing litigation. The city has hired an outside attorney to defend the city and council against the suit.

Calling Kowalski’s emailing of the document “less than ethical,” Sutton said he would abstain from the censure vote because he was uncomfortable with discussing an issue that is part of a lawsuit.

Ultimately, Bigham and council member Chris Banweg joined Sutton in abstaining. Foster was the lone “yes” vote, and Schlademan and council member Karen Heater voted against the censure.

Veterans’ commission

As part of its legislative agenda, council passed, 5-2, legislation that creates a military and veterans’ commission within the city. Banweg, who sponsored the legislation, said it was drafted in response to “significant interest from Hudson veterans and the community at large.” Among the benefits he envisions are coordinating military and veteran’s events, like the Memorial Day parade, and promoting Hudson as a military-friendly community. The committee will be made up of four to six members who serve three-year terms.

Sutton and Schlademan voted against the legislation, citing concerns over recruiting board members and “board bloat,” an already high number of committees in the city.

 The board passed a number of items in its consent agenda including the acceptance of an $8,000 urban canopy grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The city will match the grant. It also authorized the city to advertise for bids and enter a projected $250,000 contract for pedestrian signals to be installed at various locations including the intersection of Hudson-Aurora Road and Herrick Park Drive. ∞