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What's going on with Poland Forest's Mauthe Bridge?

After raising $70,000 for the repair of the Mauthe Bridge, Poland Forest Foundation President Charles Rumberg resigned, unable to get answers from the village about the future of the project.

POLAND — When the Mauthe Bridge repair stalled once again, Poland Forest Foundation President Charles Rumberg found himself in the uncomfortable position of sitting on $70,000 in donations and having no answers for donors on the future of the project. 

After repeated attempts to get answers from local officials — and failing — Rumberg resigned Nov. 7. 

"I'm not going to do all this work and spend all this money and not even get a straight answer," Rumberg said about his resignation. "This isn't an impeachment hearing. This isn't Nixon and Watergate."

In an initial review July 27, 2018, MS Consultants of Youngstown recommended the closure of the bridge, which was built in 1959. MS Consultants conducted a more comprehensive review of the bridge, created the design for a new bridge and put together a bid package, all of which cost the village $16,300.

Bids were due for the project Aug. 21. The lower bid came from Murphy Construction for $86,500. 

Before a bid could be chosen, a complaint was filed arguing that the design must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

Village council — which owns the forest — and the mayor-appointed Poland Municipal Forest Board have argued that the bridge repair project is exempt from the law. 

Councilman Michael Thompson, who is an attorney, explained at a meeting in July that everything on both sides of the bridge is accessible. He said when it comes to wilderness areas, ADA compliance is required where public lands offer programs and services.

For example, if the bridge was the only route to a public basketball court, it would have to be accessible. 

After the complaint was filed, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney met with Thompson and Solicitor Jay Macejko, Mayor Tim Sicafuse confirmed. 

Since then, officials have been silent.

"The amount of money the community received for this bridge reminds me of how much that bridge is beloved by Poland," said Rumberg. 

One of his concerns was that, if the project could not proceed as expected, donors would need their money back by year-end for tax purposes. 

Rumberg first reached out to council, the mayor and the solicitor via email Oct. 16.

When Macejko responded the next day saying that conducting a discussion of the issue via email could constitute a violation of Ohio Sunshine Laws, Rumberg emailed him separately. 

Macejko responded: “I am sure you can appreciate that I cannot answer your questions at this time and the reasons why.”

Rumberg was confused by Macejko’s response and said so. 

“You are the solicitor of the village, and the village owns the forest, whom else would I seek an opinion? And my three attempts to ask both council and the mayor were thwarted, and I didn’t hear back from any of them. I am just trying to get answers to legitimate questions concerning the bridge and the forest,” Rumberg wrote. 

"They were there in the woods with the feds," Rumberg told Mahoning Matters. "What was said?"

In an email to trustees of the Poland Forest Foundation Nov. 7, Rumberg said, “At this point, I can no longer work with our village officials who offer no cooperation with our organization. I therefore regretfully resign my position as foundation president.”

On Nov. 14, Mahoning Matters requested access to elected officials’ emails regarding the accessibility issues. 

Macejko’s response included, “You should expect that most if not all records in my personal possession will be statutorily exempt as subject to attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine, and/or trial preparation records.”

“I don’t comment on rumors,” Macejko told Mahoning Matters after refusing to confirm his presence at the ADA meeting when interviewed on Tuesday night (Nov. 19).

Rumberg fears that now people will be hesitant to donate to village projects. "You just build bad relationships that way," he said. 

"This should be transparent. There should be a public update as to what the findings have been thus far," said Rumberg. 

"It is frustrating, but we don't know anything to tell anyone," said Sicafuse. "We're stuck spinning our wheels."

The next meeting of the Poland Municipal Forest Board will take place Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. at village hall. 

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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