Village Council | Residents question recent staff changes
- Published: July 22, 2022
At the most recent Village Council meeting on July 5, several residents asked Village Council members pointed questions about the Village solicitor, finance director and an ongoing state investigation into the Village’s credit card use.
Villager Jill Eggleton commented on the minutes of the June 21 meeting, asking Council if the current solicitor, Breanne Parcels, would continue in her role.
“I’m extremely curious about Breanne’s job,” Eggleton said. “Is she being forced out?”
Parcels was hired by the Village in 2020; according to her contract with the Village, she was paid a $4,500 monthly retainer, or $54,000 annually. At the June 21 meeting, Council voted to contract with Parcels at an hourly rate of $185 with no limit to billable hours.
Council President Brian Housh said that Parcels was one of several candidates being considered for the position.
“We had planned for interviews for three, [as] potential legal support,” Housh said. “Those folks weren’t available.”
In a follow-up interview, Parcels said she had proposed a contract extension that would last until Council completed their search.
“I wanted to give them an opportunity to complete the RFP [request for proposals] process,” Parcels said. According to the purchasing section of the Village administrative code, the RFP process is required for any expenditures over $30,000. However, there are several exceptions, including if “the purchase substantially involves services of a personal, professional, highly technical or scientific nature, including, but not limited to the services of an attorney, physician, appraiser, investigator, court reporter, adjuster, consultant or licensed broker, or involves the special skills or proprietary knowledge required for the servicing of specialized equipment owned by the City.”
In a follow up interview, Housh said that Council members interviewed three candidates, including Parcels for the Village solicitor position. According to Housh, the other two candidates come from law firms that have provided Council with outside legal counsel.
“We have worked with both firms in the past two years,” Housh said.
Along with Parcels, the candidates are Joelle Khouzman, with Bricker & Eckler, and Amy Blankenship, with Frost Brown Todd, LLC.
Housh said Council will consider the three candidates and the Village’s needs in an executive session prior to their Monday, July 18, meeting.
“In the past we worked with law firms at their hourly rate, and when I came on Council the solicitor was not present at every meeting,” Housh said. “Do we still need the retainer model?”
Housh said that after Council discusses their needs in executive session, they will deliberate in open session.
Villager Lindsay Burke asked for an update on the state’s investigation into the Village’s finances and the open finance director position.
“I don’t think we’ve seen any transparency around that [finance director] issue,” Burke said.
Village Clerk Judy Kintner said that former Finance Director Matt Dillon’s resignation was addressed at the June 21 meeting, and that no further discussion was required.
Later in the meeting, Village Manager Josué Salmerón said that the finance director position was advertised, but that he did not find any satisfactory applicants. In a follow-up email, Salmerón said he reopened the position, offering up to $85,000 and expected to keep the applicant portal open for two additional weeks, or until the end of July.
In response to Burke’s question about the credit card investigation, Housh said that he was open to talking about the investigation, which included issues that Housh called “a stretch.”
“I’m happy to talk about the five issues. There’s nothing in my mind that needs to be a secret,” he said.
Housh gave several examples of issues, including a jewelry purchase for a key to the city; an accidental purchase of Unicorn Snot, a personal item, using the Village’s credit card; and a question about the Village manager’s remote work.
“I’ll say I was particularly shocked that the state auditor said ‘how can you say Josué is working those hours,’” Housh said. “They were basically deciding how we should manage the Village.”
Housh said that nothing that came up was criminal, and that he does not know who filed the complaint, saying the issues were “silly.”
In response to a question from Eggleton regarding Council’s purchases, Housh explained that there was a “lack of clarity” around the credit card policy. He said that he used the card to purchase a commemorative piece of jewelry for a long-time public servant.
“I took the credit card from Judy, went and picked it up, and gave it back to her,” Housh said. “I was available to drive down to Centerville and pick that up.”
Salmerón added that there were allegations that the jewelry purchase was done without a requisition, but there were two requisitions written. The News was able to confirm through a public records request that the two requisitions exist.
Council member Marianne MacQueen suggested that Council prepare a report to assuage villagers’ concerns, but said there were more important things to be worried about. In response, Eggleton said that as a taxpayer she had every right to be concerned when the Village was being audited as the result of a complaint and the finance director unexpectedly resigned.
“I know you guys think it’s funny and you’re blowing it off,” Eggleton said. “Of course I’m going to be concerned. It’s not a laughing matter.”
Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels said that the state would prepare a report when they complete their investigation.
“It is premature to characterize anything as ‘silly’ when the auditors have not completed their investigation,” Parcels said.
In other Council business, July 5:
Village Council members voted to hold off on the use of herbicides in the pond at Ellis Park. This decision follows recent reporting from the News saying that Village Manager Josué Salmerón was contracting with a company to treat the pond with a chemical that would kill the algae without harming the wildlife found in the pond.
At the July 5 meeting, MacQueen made two motions: one to empower the Environmental Commission to write a herbicide use policy for the Village and another to hold off on chemically treating the Ellis Park pond to remove algae that is covering the pond’s surface.
“I feel that there are times when it is appropriate to use limited amounts of herbicide,” MacQueen said, giving an example of using Round-Up to permanently remove invasive species such as honeysuckle.
MacQueen said that the policy would also acknowledge “human resource” reasons for using herbicide, such as saving personnel hours and increasing the life of infrastructure by applying pesticides at the base of telephone poles.
“If we save a tree, that’s an environmental tradeoff that’s worth making,” MacQueen said.
Council member Carmen Brown said she agreed that there should be some “solid policy” around the use of chemical treatments.
“When and how, how much, what type. Something written that people have to refer to,” she said.
Public Works Director Johnnie Burns, who spoke via Zoom, said he has tried to work with the Environmental Commission in the past, and that he did not see the need for a policy that establishes a practice the Village crews are already adhering to.
“I don’t understand what the policy is for when we are already doing it [avoiding the use of pesticides],” Burns said. “We don’t spray.”
In response, Brown said that a policy would clarify the uses so that Burns and his crew would not need permission on a case-by-case basis.
“This is precisely the reason we need policy, so you and your people aren’t burdened by anything that comes about from unclear communication,” she said.
Housh said it was “concerning” to him that the Environmental Commission was making decisions regarding electrical poles.
“That’s another reason that we should write a policy,” Housh said.
In the discussion of MacQueen’s second motion, a motion to delay the use of herbicide in Ellis Pond, MacQueen said there was little communication between the Environmental Commission and staff about Ellis Pond.
“It was only when this use of herbicide was mentioned that I became concerned,” MacQueen said. “Initially it seemed like the chemical made sense, but then we got the letter from Michele Burns and John DeWine.”
An email from Burns and DeWine, who own Flying Mouse Farms, expressed concerns about the use of chemicals to treat the algae in Ellis Pond. According to the email, Burns and DeWine’s pond is fed from a creek that flows from Ellis Pond. The email reads, in part:
“Our pets swim and drink from our pond and we use it for recreation. Because we know this chemical won’t be contained within Ellis Pond, we feel strongly that it should not be used.”
The email also indicated that Ellis Pond outflows into Yellow Springs Creek, which is used as a water source for cows on a neighboring farm.
Salmerón reiterated the steps the Village team had taken to avoid using herbicides, including securing grants to add aeration pumps to the pond and purchasing barley bales, which are effective in killing some types of algae. He added that a memo was sent to Council in late 2021 detailing the steps taken and informing Council that Salmerón was considering the use of chemicals in the pond.
“We are over 10 months in, and we’ve really exhausted all the nonchemical options,” Salmerón said. “We are not acting with disregard to the environment.”
Salmerón and Johnnie Burns said that they had considered the concerns of downstream neighbors. According to Salmerón, the company would try to alleviate the concerns for downstream farmers by damming the pond during the period in which the chemicals were active.
“They would be contained in the pond,” Salmerón said. “We have been reassured by the professional team that Ellis Pond will be dammed so the chemicals will remain on site.”
Burns said the chemicals have already been secured, and that the company would wait for optimal weather before applying chemicals.
“He will not treat it until we have dry weather,” Burns said. “He wants to make sure there’s no rain in the forecast so [the chemicals] can treat everything in the pond.”
Burns also said the pond expert wanted to treat the pond in sections so the amount of oxygen would not be reduced too quickly; additionally, the pumps installed in the pond for aeration have started to fail due to the plant growth.
“We lost another $2,000 pump this morning due to the weeds locking up [the motor],” Burns said. “We may as well turn the other two pumps off.”
Burns also said that the Village has already spent $14,000 on chemicals and contract labor. In a follow up email, Salmerón said that money was not refundable.
Council ultimately voted 5–4 to delay the use of chemicals. Since that vote, MacQueen and Brown have been working with a group of community members to brainstorm ideas for clearing the pond of weeds and securing funding for future work.
In a follow up email, MacQueen said that she and Brown would be working with members of the Environmental Commission along with John DeWine, who holds a Ph.D. in Restoration Ecology; Yvonne Vadeboncoeur, who teaches at Wright State University; Rebecca Potter, from the University of Dayton Henley Sustainability Institute; Dawn Johnson, who is a city planner; and Florentine Rodreguez, who is working on a Ph.D. at Antioch University and is the Neighborhood Gardens Coordinator.
An update on the group’s efforts will appear in a future issue of the News.
Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 18.