City officials sworn in; council debates committee assignments

by Laura Bednar

Independence began the New Year by swearing in city officials and approving committee assignments for city council members. Familiar faces filled most positions, and Councilperson Kevin Day made his debut in city government.

For Greg Kurtz, 2024 is the start of his 27th year as mayor of Independence. Finance Director Vern Blaze was re-elected to his post, which council previously voted to classify as full time.

Amanda Sharrer was appointed to take Debi Beal’s place as clerk of council.

Other appointments included William Gutermuth as citizen member to the planning commission through 2029, Michael Moreal as citizen member to the civil service commission through 2029, Noelle Ostrowski as citizen member to the board of zoning appeals through 2027 and Pasquale Monteleone Jr. as citizen member to the board of zoning appeals through 2029.

Anthony Togliatti was sworn in as vice mayor alongside Councilpersons Day, John DiGeronimo, Tom Narduzzi, Jim Trakas, Dale Veverka and Chris Walchanowicz.

Togliatti took issue with legislation introduced by Day, DiGeronimo, Narduzzi and Walchanowicz, which proposed standing committee assignments for council members. He said although he appreciates the efforts of council making committee choices, “it is duplicative of the role of vice mayor per council rules” to make committee assignments.

Council rules for 2022-2023 state, “On or before Dec. 7 following the general election, the vice mayor shall propose naming the chairperson and members of all standing committees. As soon as possible thereafter, council-elect shall meet and discuss the vice mayor’s appointments. Such assignments shall be confirmed by council.”

Law Director Greg O’Brien explained council rules expired at the end of 2023. “You’ll be voting on new rules this term,” he said.

Togliatti said it has been custom to approve council rules at the first meeting of the year, but they were not on the Jan. 2 agenda, meaning there was nothing on the books allowing him to make committee assignments.

Said Kurtz, “There were several council members who had questions about the rules, and I think that will take a more elaborate discussion.”

Veverka said going through with the committee list was inappropriate as it was based only on the input of five people. He noted that each member had to submit committee preferences by a deadline and two members submitted theirs late.

Narduzzi later said Togliatti didn’t call a meeting or ask council members about their preferences. He added that he only saw preferences in a compiled list that Beal had created and emailed to council when she was clerk of council.

Committee assignments the four council members introduced were approved 5-2, with Togliatti and Veverka dissenting. Togliatti’s committee assignments were removed from the agenda by a 4-3 vote, Trakas, Togliatti and Veverka voting against.

Council appointed DiGeronimo to the planning commission 5-2, Togliatti and Veverka dissenting. Togliatti said historically, the vice mayor has served as council’s representative to the planning commission, and there was no discussion about appointing DiGeronimo.

“It takes five people [on the commission] working together to represent the city in a way that developers want to come here,” said Narduzzi. “Do you really think that with you and the mayor on the same board, that’s going to happen? Whatever he brings up, you vote ‘no’ on.”

Narduzzi said it is DiGeronimo’s development background that made him a perfect fit for the position. Veverka noted his concern that DiGeronimo had to abstain at least once in the past on building-related legislation, and the appointment could result in a potential conflict of interest. He added that he was disappointed there was no effort to contact him about committee assignments or DiGeronimo’s appointment. ∞

Garfield Heights Municipal Court Judge
Sergio DiGeronimo swears in Greg Kurtz
as mayor alongside his mother Dolores (l) and
wife Lyn (r). Photo by Laura Bednar.

Judge Deborah Nicastro swears in Vice Mayor
Anthony Togliatti. Photo courtesy of Ron Hollowell.

Photo (main / above): Garfield Heights Municipal Court Judge Deborah Nicastro swears in City Councilpersons (l-r) Kevin Day, Chris Walchanowicz, Tom Narduzzi, Jim Trakas, Dale Veverka, and John DiGeronimo. Photo courtesy of Ron Hollowell.