Created on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 Written by REUBEN MEES
Belle Center’s village officials are weighing their options on how to keep the town operational after a key employee walked off the job Monday.
Citing recent arguments with Mayor Rhonda Fulmer and the latest letter from the mayor, Fiscal Officer Cindy Longbrake turned in her keys to the office to Council President Rick Bednarki on Monday morning and says she has no intention of returning to the job.
“She (the mayor) is not going to belittle my name and accuse me of every little thing,” Ms. Longbrake said in a telephone interview. “There’s no way I’m going to do this job unless they get rid of her (Mayor Fulmer).”
An emergency meeting to approve an appropriation from the general fund to the sewer operating fund, an issue that is key to Monday’s developments, was scheduled and later canceled because council members did not have a full 12-hour notice, Mr. Bednarki said. It was rescheduled for 6 p.m. today.
Ms. Longbrake took over as fiscal officer about two months ago after the former fiscal officer, Bill McCormick, left abruptly citing similar concerns over the mayor’s dealings with him.
Prior to his sudden departure, Mr. McCormick, a longtime employee, had announced his official retirement for this week.
Ms. Longbrake said during the past two months, arguments with the mayor have escalated, and said in an incident last week, the mayor pointed her finger in Ms. Longbrake’s face, was abusive and threatened to file criminal charges against the employee.
In a letter dated Sunday and left for the fiscal officer to read Monday morning, Mayor Fulmer outlines her position and indicates she planned to conduct an investigation into how sewer operating funds are managed.
“If the fund revenues for the sewer payments do not come in and a supplemental or transfer is needed, I am considering bringing in people as stated on this ORC 705.79 statement,” the letter begins. “I’m not totally convinced sense (sic) you took over in April if all revenues are being credited to the sewer fund.”
Section 705.79 of the Ohio Revised Code defines the powers and duties of a municipal mayor and Paragraph E states, a mayor can “Appoint competent, disinterested persons, not exceeding three in number, to examine without notice the affairs of any department, officer, or employee, and report the result of such examination to the mayor, and such result shall also be transmitted by him to the council without delay.”
In a brief telephone interview Monday, Mayor Fulmer said she did not intend to begin an investigation into Ms. Longbrake’s handling of sewer funds, but declined to comment further until after speaking with other parties.
The one-page handwritten letter continues to discuss the sewer fund and how it has dropped to a level that the fund no longer can support the Indian Lake Water Pollution Control District’s monthly fee for treating waste in the village.
The mayor then asks the fiscal officer to make a detailed list of people and households making payments “or better yet, copy the bill for the receipts this month.”
Ms. Longbrake said the constant demands for reports and the mayor’s attitude have left her no options but to leave the job.
“If she wants people to come in and go over my books, that’s fine. I will help them, but when they get done, she is going to owe me a formal apology,” Ms. Longbrake said. “She’s on her own. If she thinks she can run this town, then more power to her. I don’t think anybody in their right mind will take this job. I say let the state run it.”
Without a fiscal officer, not only will a fund appropriation to the sewer fund be moot, but it is questionable whether anyone has the authority to sign payroll for village employees.
Mr. Bednarki said the legal status of any meeting to be conducted this evening is also questionable without a fiscal officer in place.