By LYDIA BAULER
Fostoria is taking steps to join local government efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies and wholesale drug distributors accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.
During tonight’s city council meeting, the council will hear the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the Director of Law, Tim Hoover, to enter into a contract for legal representation in order to “seek damages inflicted upon the City of Fostoria by the pharmaceutical companies, and others, relating to the ‘opioid crisis,'” according to a copy of the ordinance.
The ordinance proposes to hire John Murray of Murray & Murray Co. L.P.A. and Alicia Roshong to represent the city and “to pursue all civil remedies against those in the chain of distribution of prescription opiates responsible for the opioid epidemic which is plaguing the City of Fostoria,” said a copy of the yet-to-be-signed contract between the city and the legal representatives.
This move aligns with the Seneca County Commisioners recent resolution to join in a national lawsuit against America’s three largest wholesale drug distributors and five pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids.
The county commissioners voted unanimously on Jan. 31 to hire the Huntington, West Virginia law firm of Green, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey and Tweel to represent them in a lawsuit, and a formal civil complaint has been readied for filing in Seneca County Common Pleas Court.
According to the released contract, the civil lawsuit is “intended to address a significant problem in the community” and focuses on the wholesale distributors’ role in “the diversion of millions of prescription opiates into the illicit market which has resulted in opioid addiction, abuse, morbidity and mortality.”
The agreement also said the “the purpose of the lawsuit is to seek reimbursement of the costs incurred in the past fighting the opioid epidemic and/or recovery the funds necessary to abate the health and safety crisis caused by the unlawful conduct of the wholesale distributors.”
Pursuing the civil lawsuit will likely be challenging with “no easy solution” or “no precedent for such for such an action against this sector of the industry,” said the contract. Further, according to the document, many of the facts of the case are locked behind closed doors with the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry denying liability.
As a result of the anticipated barriers, the attorneys will be reimbursed depending on the success of the lawsuit.
City Council will also hear the first reading of an ordinance to create the position of “Compliance Officer/Project Coordinator.”
The position is part of the reorganization of the Zoning and Engineering Offices, which began in November with the laying off of former zoning inspector Sandy Coleman and former city engineer Dan Thornton.
“We’re making changes and moving forward and we thought some changes needed to be made.
“We’re just going in a different direction and this was part of the first step, shutting things down a bit,” Mayor Eric Keckler had said.
The compliance officer/project coordinator will handle office work, such as zoning permits, compliance with mandates and ongoing projects, according to Keckler.
According to the proposed job description, they will serve as “technical advisor to the city on regulatory compliance matters; coordinate project activities and recommend projects to better the City of Fostoria infrastructure” while “work[ing] closely with the Safety Services Director.”
Additionally they will be required to maintain a thorough familiarity with the City of Fostoria Zoning Ordinances and all related forms; be responsible for the overall administration of the zoning ordinances; accepts and reviews building permit applications and determines their compliance with the provisions of the zoning ordinance and the completeness of the applications; issue appropriate building permits when all provisions of the ordinances are in compliance and maintain a complete file of permits issued; notifies applicant, in writing, if the proposed use is not in compliance with the ordinance standards, and assists with the appropriate alternative procedures, appeals, or any other administrative remedies necessary to attain compliance; attends Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals meetings, to report on zoning issues and advise on issues related to zoning administration; develops recommendations regarding zoning and other ordinance amendments, zoning permit fee structures, and zoning forms; uses good written and verbal skills to communicate with permit applicants, related governmental agencies, and other offices as necessary; assist in the development of various reports as required in the Consent Decree; submit all reporting to the USEPA, OEPA and like reporting; supervise professional consultants on projects; regularly communicate with city administration on project updates; maintain all records of projects; review all reports and submittals from professional consultants; coordinate efforts to improve wastewater treatment plant and sewer system operations; and work cooperatively with all regulatory agencies.
The compliance officer/project coordinator will be a full-time position at 40 hours per week Monday through Friday with a salary of $48,500-$60,000, depending on experience, and is eligible for benefits, according to a proposed job listing.
In other business:
• Council will also hear the first reading of an ordinance to annex a property owned by city council member Brian Shaver. Shaver had asked, as a citizen during the public’s time to speak, that his Jackson Township property be annexed into the city.
• An ordinance to continue support by the City of Fostoria to the Fostoria Economic Development Corporation in order to promote economic development and growth will be heard for the first time.
• The oridance to adopt an amendment to the financial recovery plan will be heard a second time.
• A second reading of the Amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 permanent appropriations will be heard.
Mayor Eric Keckler did not return calls for comments on city council’s current business before press time.