Liberty Township trustees voted 2 to 1 against the authorization of an $875 expenditure to purchase the audio recording from RPR Inc. for the August disciplinary hearing of the township’s fire chief.
The official record of the hearing consists of a half-page of minutes compiled by township staff months after the hearing took place.
When the last resolution was presented to the board, chairman of the trustees Melanie Leneghan said, “I’m not going to move on it; you can,” she told trustee Tom Mitchell.
Mitchell made the motion to approve the resolution and trustee Shyra Eichhorn seconded the motion. Leneghan and Eichhorn voted no on the resolution, with Mitchell voting yes.
During the Jan. 17 trustee meeting trustees approved the minutes for the Aug. 8, 9, 10 hearing of township fire chief Tim Jensen. At that time Mitchell expressed concerns about the half-page of minutes and abstained from the vote.
Leneghan and Eichhorn both voted yes on the approval of the half-page notes as the official minutes of the hearing.
Cathy Buehrer, administrative assistant, reported to The Gazette she recreated the minutes from a “list of witness provided by Fishel, Hass, Albrecht, Downey,” the law firm employed by the township in the Jensen hearing.
Mitchell told The Gazette in an earlier report that the township had consulted with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office about the notes before they were presented at the Jan. 17 trustee session. He said they were told the minutes did meet their legal obligation.
Trustees said the cost of the transcripts from the hearing was too costly and Matt Huffman, administrator, was asked to investigate the cost to purchase the audio recording from the hearing.
“Audio cost us less than $1,000,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s important for us to have that transparency.”
“I feel it’s a complete and total waste of taxpayer money,” Leneghan said. “And also demeaning to a good number of our staff that still work for us.”
Leneghan said that the testimonies of employees against other employees “created a horrible environment” in the township. “I don’t see the need to bring it in so the instigators in this township can revisit something that’s very painful to a lot of our staff.”
“I’ve been thinking about this since it was brought up,” Eichhorn said.
Eichhorn said the reasons to have the record would be for the township’s legal obligations, transparency and for historical value. “That brings me to my point based on public records retention request,” she said. “We’re going to pay $800 for an audio that we’re not suppose to keep for more than a year. To me that is a waste of money.”
Eichhorn asked about having one of the township staff listen to the audio and compile the minutes that was not a word for word transcription, but more in the style of the way the township minutes are recorded.
“We record the 30 seconds it takes for us to start a meeting to go into executive session,” Mitchell said. “We don’t record three days of a hearing.”
Mitchell agreed the hearing was painful, but said “this is what you paid for and I think any reasonable person should read what transpired to get an idea what happened during that meeting.”
“In the historical record we have the names of a couple people who were asked questions,” Mitchell said.
Liberty Township taxpayers paid $175,890 in total for the investigation, disciplinary hearing and settlement of the former fire chief, according to township documents.
According to Leneghan the only person asking for the minutes of the August hearing was Mark Gerber, former township fiscal officer.
Gerber and township resident Jim Hurt have filed in the Ohio Court of Claims against the township for being denied documents from the August hearing that township officials contend they do not have.
All parties involved are waiting on a decision from the court.
Jensen took a position as fire prevention officer with the township as part of a settlement with the township last year.
In other business, trustees:
• Heard a presentation from Race Penguin about plans for a 10K and half marathon in Liberty Township, Powell and the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.
• Heard 2016 end of year summary reports from the township departments.
• Authorized the trade in and purchase of a backhoe for the parks department at cost not to exceed $62,519.
• Authorized a request for the road department for help from the Delaware County Engineer’s office for a study on Creighton Drive.
• Approved a renewal agreement with SourcePoint for a service coordinator.
• Approved a payment of $12,322 for membership dues to the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.