In an attempt to gather details on a deal reached between the Orange Township Board of Trustees and the township’s former assistant fiscal officer, The Gazette has had trouble getting its public document requests from Orange Township. Past requests have been received within a couple of days.
The Gazette reported on a special meeting held by trustees Monday, May 14, where the board approved a settlement with Patti Lewis, former assistant fiscal officer, to drop charges she had filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Since the article was published, the township has seen an increase in public document requests.
Lee Bodnar, township administrator and public document custodian, said he “couldn’t speak” to the fact that The Gazette’s articles about the settlement sparked the surge in public document request, “but the records requests cover a lot of the same things in the articles.”
However, since publishing of the articles, the township has also hired an attorney to coordinate the public document request.
“The township received over 50 records requests last week, as a result, has engaged the services of an attorney to assist in coordinating the responses,” Bodnar said.
Trustees approved a resolution Monday in their regular meeting to hire attorney Brian Zets to scrutinize document requests before release.
The Gazette reported Tuesday, May 15, that according to the approved agreement, Lewis will resign from her position as assistant fiscal officer and then accept a newly created position within the township at a pay rate of $24.48 per hour; receive the standard employee benefits package for a full-time, non-union employee; keep the 240 hours of vacation leave she has accumulated and her 40 hours of sick leave; and the township would accept the eight years, seven months, and six days that she has worked in the fiscal office to determine her vacation time.
However, Lewis will also receive $5,000 in addition to the aforementioned items.
The Gazette discovered in a previous settlement with the township’s former administrator that every dollar paid out had a description listed with the amount as to what it was for.
In the agreement with Lewis, nowhere is there a description listed other than “the fiscal officer is directed to establish a purchase order … in the amount of $5,000 for the purpose of fulfilling an obligation of the settlement and release of all claims.”
When questions were asked about the $5,000 payment, “no comment” became the standard answer.
Hoping to get answers to questions, The Gazette placed a public records request for emails between the dates of Jan. 1 and May 14 between Lewis and the trustees concerning the OCRC and the EEOC charges to find answers to the questions that surround the payment.
According to the Ohio Sunshine Laws, which govern public document request, “There is no set, predetermined time period for responding to a public records request. Instead, the requirement to provide ‘prompt’ production of records for inspection and to make copies available in a ‘reasonable amount of time’ have both been interpreted by the courts as being ‘without delay’ and ‘with reasonable speed.’”
A week after making the requests, they still go unfulfilled by the township.
When checking on the status of the request, the response from the township has been and continues to be, “Your records request is very important to us and will be addressed as soon as is reasonably possible,” states Bodnar in his reply emails.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902 or follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.