Trustees pay off employee to drop charges


By D. Anthony Botkin - abotkin@aimmediamidwest.com



In a special meeting Monday morning, the Orange Township Board of Trustees voted 2-1 in favor of approving an agreement with the assistant fiscal officer to drop charges she had filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Assistant Fiscal Officer Patti Lewis, who has been on leave since March 12, filed charges with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Oct. 16, 2017, and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in 2014, according to Lee Bodnar, township administrator.

According to the approved agreement, she will receive $5,000 and resign from her position as the assistant fiscal officer to Fiscal Officer Joel Spitzer by May 16. She will then be hired back by the township to serve in the newly created position of documents, website and cemetery coordinator under Bodnar and the board of trustees.

The new position will pay Lewis $24.48 per hour; she will receive the standard employee benefits package for a full-time non-union employee; she’ll start her new position with 240 hours of vacation leave and 40 hours of sick leave; and the eight years, seven months, and six days that she has worked in the fiscal office will also be accepted to determine vacation time.

When trustees were asked what the complaint encompassed, Michael McCarthy, township attorney, not wanting anyone to overstep their bounds, said: “It’s all a matter of public record or it will be.”

“The bottom line is that Mr. Spitzer is difficult to work for and her leave reflects that,” said Trustee Lisa Knapp.

Knapp said at one time Spitzer had wanted to fire Lewis.

“Patti left immediately following an email exchange where Knapp attacked employees,” Spitzer said Monday afternoon. “Any suggestion that I am hard to work for is a deflection for the real reason this became an issue which is Knapp’s culture of conflict. This is actually Knapp’s direct responsibility.”

Knapp said her attacking employees is only a rumor, and most of her employees like working with her.

Spitzer said the emails paint a clear picture of the culture within the township offices, and he added he is forwarding the emails to The Gazette for review.

“This was all her,” he said. “Knapp attacks employees. Two employees leave. One resigns then returns. One goes on leave citing (work) environment in the township.”

According to Spitzer, Knapp has voted against approving any kind of settlement in the past.

“It’s a payoff to hide where the true cover-up is,” he said. “Ms. Knapp has created a culture of conflict at the township hall.”

The meeting was called to order at 10:01 a.m. and immediately moved into executive session behind closed doors.

Upon returning to the open meeting, “We are now going to be hiring an employee to work with trustees that previously worked with the fiscal officer,” Chairwoman Knapp said. “This is a great idea because it will resolve an ongoing issue with the fiscal office. It will help protect the township of any future liability, it will help resolve a pending legal situation, and we’ll be hiring a good employee back to work with the township.”

When the vote was taken to approve the agreement, both Trustee Ryan Rivers and Knapp voted in favor, while Trustee Debbie Taranto voted against it.

“I disagree with all the statements claimed by Ms. Knapp,” said Taranto. “It’s totally her opinion. It’s an irresponsible piece of legislation. I vote no.”

Knapp then moved to the resolution to create the new position of documents, website and cemetery coordinator.

Knapp and Rivers both voted in favor of creating the new position, while Taranto voted against it.

“I would like to state for the record, Mr. Spitzer has been contacted with this and apparently he is okay with all this,” Knapp said.

Spitzer was not in attendance at the morning meeting.

“I was not contacted nor was I consulted,” he told The Gazette Monday afternoon. “Not one single time.”

Spitzer said he had also been left out of the executive sessions where the matter had been discussed.

Knapp then moved to appoint Lewis to the new position.

Knapp and Rivers voted in favor to approve Lewis to the position.

However, before Taranto voted no on the matter, she added, “Mr. Spitzer was not included in this decision, and he was left out of every executive session.”

Knapp continued to insist that Spitzer “had been informed of this several times.”

“Part of how this happened is that Mr. Spitzer called all of us a couple of months ago and specifically to me said he was going to fire Patti,” Knapp said. “I was like, oh my God she is out on approved sick leave, she has an EEOC complaint, and I was like she is going to sue us for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That made me think maybe she should come back in a different role. He was so upset about it, but I think I talked him out of it.”

“These are all employment issues, very sensitive, tons of liability, so I’m going to chose to keep my feelings and opinions to myself,” Rivers said after the meeting. “I want to see us move forward, any liability and risk issues put those in the past, and have a productive and positive work environment. That’s what I want.”

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By D. Anthony Botkin

abotkin@aimmediamidwest.com

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902 or follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902 or follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.