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Chardon Council seeks snitch in its midst
Chardon Council seeks snitch in its midst
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Chardon City Council members are looking into whether one of their colleagues betrayed their trust.
Council unanimously passed a motion last week to conduct an investigation into which council member may have undermined labor negotiations with service department workers by revealing the city's position. The motion called for an independent, third party to conduct the investigation.
"It undermined the strategy of our labor-relations attorney, and it did cost us money and extracted negotiations," Councilman Philip King said. "The bottom line is what's discussed in executive session has to stay there."
Council also passed a motion on a 4-3 vote to offer a $5,000 reward to anyone providing "actionable evidence" on whoever revealed what was discussed in private sessions. Council members Jefferey Campbell Jr., Mary Bramstedt and Deborah Reiter voted against the measure.
Mr. Campbell questioned whether the amount was adequate to accomplish its intent. He said offering a reward set a "dangerous precedent."
Council learned of the possible wrongdoing in a June 10 memo from City Manager David Lelko.
"As for specifics, a union spokesman for the service department employees reported on information provided by a member of council regarding the city's actual position on a contract provision under negotiation," Mr. Lelko said. "He advised that a member of council spoke directly with a bargaining-unit employee and discussed council's position and expectations with respect to a critical issue in negotiations. The information provided was very specific and could only have come out of executive session."
Mr. Lelko said that, after learning of the situation, he, along with Finance Director Jeffery Smock, labor negotiator Jeff Miller and Law Director James Gillette questioned a union representative. The union representative would not disclose the name of the council member involved, only that the source was "one of three," he said.
Mr. Lelko said the identity of the person remains unknown.
He said the disclosure "thwarted" city strategy, and negotiations were "damaged" because of the leaked information.
Councilman Robert Cromwell said he had two emotions when he read Mr. Lelko's memo. "One was extreme disappointment, and the other was even more extreme anger," he said.
"To think that someone who sits here with us would compromise the city and the trust that's been entrusted to them in the way it's being suggested here is inexcusable."
Mr. Cromwell, who suggested the reward, asked that it be offered anonymously to whomever provides evidence.
However, Mr. Gillette said, the issue could not remain anonymous, because it involves public funds. He said a reward, however, would be deemed a "proper municipal expenditure."
Mrs. Reiter questioned the validity of the report, saying council has "to consider the source." She said the reference to "one of three" was vague. "Which three are we talking about?" she asked.
Mr. Campbell said, if city officials were unable to ascertain the person responsible for the leak, he was not sure an investigator could do more without compelling people to talk. And that could create bad feelings with city employees, he said.
Mr. Cromwell said the reward was offered as an incentive.
Mr. Campbell questioned how much the investigator would cost, as well as the whether the reward amount was adequate.
Councilwoman Leslie Bednar said money should not be the issue. She said the city has had similar ethical issues before, referring to the adoption of a code of conduct for council members in 2007 after information was leaked from an executive session on negotiations involving Munson Township over a tax-sharing plan.
"It's recent history," she said. "It has to stop. Something has to be done," Mrs. Bednar said.
"If money is the concern -- to me, ethics is the concern, violation of the law is my concern. Five thousand dollars, to me, is a very reasonable amount."
She said there is a simple solution to avoid spending the money. "Whoever did it could save us a lot of money and just write a letter of confession," she said.
Mr. Campbell said the city in the past had conducted investigations and spent thousands of dollars doing so. Nothing came out of those investigations, he said.
Mr. King said Mr. Lelko's memo "points to a truth" that someone on council revealed the confidential information. He said the only unknown is who did it.
Mr. Smock said the information provided by the union representative was specific enough that it could only have come from an executive session of council.
Council President Karen Simpson read from the first sentence of council's code of conduct, which states, "The citizens and businesses of the City of Chardon are entitled to have fair, ethical and accountable local government which has earned the public's full confidence and trust for integrity."
She said she agreed with Mr. Cromwell's feelings. "I am disappointed and angered that the public's confidence and trust for integrity is compromised."
Mr. Cromwell said it is time to determine who betrayed that trust. "Let's go get whoever did this," he said.
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