Town councilman sworn in despite angry calls over criminal past
May. 16, 2006 01:55 PM
Youngtown's newest council member will attend his first meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Youngtown Clubhouse, 12033 Clubhouse Square.
Michael Leija, who was tapped by the Town Council to fill a vacant seat, was sworn in Friday in front of his four daughters, wife and mother.
A stay-at-home father of five, Leija was convicted of possessing marijuana for sale more than a decade ago, The Republic first reported last week. Leija said he has since cleaned up his life and has testified against gangbangers, mentored troubled teens and coached youth soccer. advertisement
Town Clerk Shaunna Lee-Rice said she fielded about a dozen calls from residents after it was disclosed that Leija was charged in April 1995 with possession of marijuana for sale and two other drug- and firearms-related offenses. He pleaded guilty to the first drug offense, a felony, and the other charges were dropped.
"Most people wanted to know how that could have happened, why the council doesn't run background checks on potential applicants," said Lee-Rice, who referred calls on the matter to the mayor.
The city has no policy requiring the city to perform criminal background checks on prospective members, Lee-Rice said, adding that vetting is up to sitting council members and the voters.
"They are the people who live here," she said. "That's not something that we obviously want to take on."
Leija is the council's only Hispanic and sole member from Youngtown's new Agua Fria Ranch subdivision. He also is the swing vote on a body that has been divided on issues.
That will be key on Thursday, when the council is to vote on who should become vice mayor. The position has been empty since February, when Vice Mayor Janice Beck died.