Liberty Township trustees put its collective credibility at risk over an $875 expenditure this week.
The trustees, in a 2 to 1 vote, decided against the authorization to purchase the audio recording from RPR Inc. for the August disciplinary hearing of the township’s fire chief.
We believe the trustees who voted against spending the money made a huge mistake, and this decision does little to win public trust of the township’s residents.
Keep in mind, this is a township that spent thousands of dollars pursuing an investigation of its former fire chief Tim Jensen last year. On Monday night, trustees Melanie Leneghan and Shyra Eichhorn voted no on the resolution, with trustee Tom Mitchell voting yes.
Liberty Township taxpayers paid $175,890 in total for the investigation, disciplinary hearing and settlement of the former fire chief, according to township documents.
Also, keep in mind that the official record of the hearing consists of only a half-page of minutes compiled by township staff months after the hearing took place. That’s it. Hours of testimony and only a few scrawled notes serving as public record.
We do not understand why the two trustees would not want the transparency of this matter resolved. Public trust is vital to government operations. There are some who believe that township government is the purest form since it is closer to residents than any federal, state or even county jurisdictions.
During the Jan. 17 trustee meeting trustees approved the minutes for the Aug. 8, 9 and 10 hearing of chief Jensen. At that time Mitchell expressed concerns about the half-page of minutes and abstained from the vote.
Cathy Buehrer, administrative assistant, told 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.
While we do not question the legality of this decision, we strongly disagree with it. Any time a public body appears to be less than fully transparent its credibility is called into question.
We applaud Mitchell for his efforts at achieving that transparency. Leneghan called purchasing the audio “a complete and total waste of taxpayer money.”
Quite the contrary. We believe spending the money and allowing the full recording to become part of the public record would have been the correct course of action.
A transparent and public process is worth a great deal more than an $875 expenditure.