Beachwood City Council voted 6-0 to authorize Mayor Justin Berns to hire Minc Law in Orange “to investigate anonymous, defamatory, and threatening emails and online postings addressed to or about senior administrative staff,” at following a 90-minute executive session on November 10.
The vote on the contract, which authorizes spending up to $25,000, was placed at first reading. It was the second time in a week that the council had raised the issue.
The Nov. 10 meeting was a special council meeting, following the regular Nov. 7 council meeting, when council debated the matter for over an hour. The request for the order came from the city’s chief legal officer, Stewart Hastings, who described the language in the emails and postings as “explicit” and “outrageous.”
Council Chairman Alec Isaacson offered to participate in the executive session based on “ongoing or imminent legal action.”
City department heads and Aaron Minc of Minc Law attended the special council meeting.
Following the executive session, Isaacson moved a motion to authorize the mayor to engage with Minc Law and declaring it an urgent measure, meaning with immediate effect. Councilor Barbara Bellin Janovitz seconded the motion.
Board members Mike Burkons, Joshua Mintz, Danielle Shoykhet and Eric Synenberg joined Isaacson and Janovitz in support of the motion. Councilor June Taylor was absent.
After the executive session, Isaacson addressed the issue at the special board meeting.
“Our employees came forward and told us they thought there was a hostile work environment in our city,” Isaacson said. “They went through the existing human resources process, went to our legal department, went to our human resources director and went through the proper process and procedure.
“Unfortunately, because the person(s) who appear to be creating them appear to be creating the work environment are anonymous, but claiming to be employees of the City of Beachwood, the process has hit a snag, the process has reached a sticking point. .”
Council members had previously asked about the status of any investigation that had already taken place in the city.
Isaacson said this is a unique issue that requires additional resources.
“Whether or not that’s a problem, I really don’t think that’s our decision as advice to make,” he said. “It’s the call from HR and the legal department. They tell us that the city is in danger. They take steps to mitigate this risk. And it’s up to us, as a council, to provide them with the tools. We had a long and sincere discussion during our executive session. Some of us… want additional details to help understand the nature of this. However, we are going to take the first step to give the administration the tools it has asked for tonight.
Isaacson said he hopes the city council will suspend the three-reading rule, meaning the second vote on the matter would also be the final vote on the matter.
“By then, those of us who are looking for additional information may collect that information,” Isaacson said, referring to the upcoming meeting. “We’ll be back. We’ll vote again on Monday night. And hopefully by then we’ll be able to break the rules and get this over with.
Two special city council meetings were posted on the city’s website regarding the ordinance: one for Nov. 14 immediately following a 7 p.m. legal and staff committee meeting and the other at 7 p.m. november.
The Cleveland Jewish News filed for public record all letters of demand and/or formal threats of lawsuits the city may have received, as well as emails and internet postings deemed defamatory and threatening .
Beachwood’s legal department denied the claims in two emails on Nov. 10.
Regarding a request for letters of demand, the legal department wrote: “There are no files responding to your request.”
Regarding the web posting and email request, the Legal Department wrote, in part, “These communications do not meet the definition of a public record. … The definition of ‘record’ does not not include every piece of paper…or every document received by a public office.
Editor’s note: Aaron Minc is a member of the board of directors of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company.