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University threatens legal action against Village

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As of Tuesday, May 6, there was still no decision regarding the ongoing negotiations between the Antioch University Board of Trustees and the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or AC3, regarding the AC3’s proposal to keep Antioch College open.

Because of an information embargo around the negotiations, university offficials, including Chancellor Toni Murdock, were not able to comment, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk this week.

Last week Antioch College faculty members received a statement from trustees Art Zucker and Dan Fallon and AC3 members Eric Bates and Francis Horowitz, stating that they are a liason group managing discussion between the trustees and the board.

“We want to assure you that we are working urgently to reach an agreement that may prove satisfactory to both AUB and AC3, meeting the goals of each,” the statement said. “Our ongoing meetings have given us hope that we will be in a position soon for both AUB and AC3 to make a common announcement that could affect the status of Antioch College in the academic year 2008–2009.”

Last week Antioch University threatened legal action against the Village of Yellow Springs in response to the Village’s request that the university dismantle an unauthorized air conditioning unit. According to the university’s attorney, the Village’s request was an inappropriate attempt to influence the university trustees’ decision-making about the future of Antioch College.

The university threat came in response to a letter from Village Solicitor John Chambers to Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock dated April 17. In that letter, Chambers stated that the university never obtained a building permit for the air conditioning unit outside the college’s student union, which has been the cause of noise complaints from neighbor Jerry Papania and others for several years. Chambers requested that the university remove the unit by June 30.

In response, university attorney Lauren Ross of the Springfield firm Martin, Brown, Hull and Harper, stated in an April 29 letter that “the timing of the letter and its raising of new issues about zoning and building permits for the air conditioning unit years after its installation and years after Court litigation between the Village and the University about the air conditioning unit, strongly suggest that the Village is attempting to put pressure on the University Board of Trustees to make decisions about the operations of Antioch College.”

The connection between the air conditioning unit and a perceived attempt by Council to influence the trustees’ decision was evident, according to Ross, because the Council meeting of April 7 included discussions on both the discovery that there was no permit for the air conditioning unit, and discussions on the continuation of the college. According to the Ross letter, at the April 7 meeting Council “permitted persons supporting the continued operation of Antioch College to speak and then unanimously passed a motion that ‘Council write a letter in which they urge Antioch University Board of Trustees to meet with Antioch College Continuation Corporation as soon as possible.’”

Ross also requested that she be provided with five years’ worth of the Village’s voice mail messages, e-mails, electronic records and print materials related to the issue by May 14.

According to Chambers in an interview this week, the air conditioning unit “is an old issue that we’ve been dealing with for some time. It is not in any way connected with the status of the school. That was a coincidence at most.”

Because the legal issue is ongoing, he could not comment further, Chambers said. Council met in executive session following its May 5 meeting regarding an issue of pending litigation. Council President Judith Hempfling stated this week that she could not comment on the situation.

Murdock was not able to comment this week because the issue is an ongoing legal matter, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk on Tuesday. Board President Art Zucker and attorney Ross did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The University’s letter to the Village said the demands made “are unlawful actions for a number of reasons, including the complete lack of due process and compliance with Village ordinances, the imposition of double jeopardy after the Village’s failed attempt to have the University found criminally liable, and the improper and ultra vires motivation of the Village Council. The University will take all necessary legal actions to resist these unlawful actions of the Village.”

The problem of excessive noise in the neighborhood adjacent to the Antioch College student union has been brought to Council repeatedly in the past four years by Papania, whose home abuts the college property. Papania came to Council March 17 to say he had discovered the university never acquired the necessary building permit for the air conditioning unit. At Council’s April 7 meeting, Chambers verified that the university never received the required building and zoning permits before installing the air conditioning units several years ago.

While the Village took the university to court several years ago regarding the noise from the air conditioning unit, the university won the case by maintaining that the Village’s noise ordinance was not enforceable. According to Village Police Chief John Grote at the March 17 Council meeting, the police department does not have sufficient funding to supply appropriate training and equipment to accurately assess the noise level of the unit, and so consequently it has not been able to cite the university for noise violations in recent years.

According to Chambers this week, attempts to mediate the situation between the university, the Village and the neighbors have been unsuccessful.

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