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Chardon affirms spending to identify leaker
Chardon affirms spending to identify leaker
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Chardon City Council wrestled with funding an investigation Monday but came away with the votes needed to keep the money flowing.
Council voted 4-3 to continue to fund the investigation that seeks to determine who among its members may have released privileged information during a labor-union bargaining session.
Officials have said the information leaked from a closed-door meeting of council hampered negotiations and cost the city money.
But some members said the price for the investigation, for which $15,000 was allocated, was too high.
"I do not think that, when council passed the ethics code, that anyone envisioned spending tens of thousands of dollars to uphold the code," Councilman Jefferey Campbell Jr. said. "This has turned into a very expensive investigation into innuendoes, rumor and hearsay."
Mr. Campbell said he has respect for every member of council, and, when they said they did not leak any information, that is the truth.
"The money and time that has been wasted on this issue could have gone toward repaving our road, lessening the impact of water and sewer costs or pushing along construction of our new service garage," Mr. Campbell said.
But Mayor Karen Simpson said the investigation would restore confidence in the local government. "One of the issues to be addressed is getting integrity back on this council," she said.
Councilwoman Deborah Reiter said she was upset about how the whole investigation has been handled so far. "It was handled wrong from the beginning," she said.
Mrs. Reiter said she has been unable to get any information on the investigation. She said City Manager David Lelko chose to select certain information to release that harmed her reputation. In particular, she said, he quoted a union source that "one of three" council members was involved in the leak, and that caused people to question her credibility.
Councilman Robert Cromwell said it is not one person whose credibility is in question, but the entire council. "All seven have a dark cloud over us now, and the city has a dark cloud over it," he said.
He said council asked the public to give its opinion on spending on the investigation, and last week all seven citizens who appeared said they were willing to spend as much as it takes. "We have to go forward," Mr. Cromwell said.
Mrs. Reiter, who called for the public input, said, while she heard the seven residents urge council on, she also has talked to people who were not comfortable with speaking in public. She said those opposed to the spending ran 10 to 1 against those urging the spending.
Councilwoman Leslie Bednar asked whether the city had received any correspondence indicating more opposition to the spending, but the administration said no letters or e-mails arrived at City Hall.
Mr. Lelko said those blaming him for bringing the issue to light were basically accusing him of doing his job. "I did exactly what I was paid to do," he said.
He said he was told by a union representative that one member of council had possibly done something unethical or illegal, and he brought the information to the council president. "It is not my responsibility to police this council," he said.
Mr. Lelko said he would not change how he handled the situation if he had to do it over again. "If you want to criticize me for that, so be it," he said.
Resident Richard Haynes said the investigation should have been halted when the union representative failed to provide a name with the accusation. He said Law Director James Gillette would not bring a case to court if he could not be provided with the name of a guilty party in a case.
But Mr. Gillette disagreed, saying he would call for an investigation in that situation.
Mrs. Bednar asked whether Mr. Haynes would feel the same if the offense was embezzlement or theft. "Should we not investigate that?" she asked.
Resident Jacob Park said all council members are guilty as long as the issue hangs over the city. He said all face possible losses at the ballot box until the issue is cleared up.
Resident Daniel Meleski, who spoke in favor of going forward with the investigation, said he waited two hours to voice his opinion on the matter. It was time, he said, that he could have been spending painting his house, but he believes it's an important issue.
He said attempts to "throw Dave under the bus" and criticize the investigation were merely intended to "sidetrack" the real issue at hand.
He said he chose to live and raise his children in Chardon and wants a community where ethics are valued. "How much is ethics worth?" Mr. Meleski asked. "How do we get back our trust, or should we just let it go?"
Kenneth Miller, chairman of the city's planning and zoning commission, said he followed the guidance of former Mayor Robert Eldridge, who "guided, directed and browbeat council whenever there was the slightest breach of ethics."
Mr. Miller called on council to forego further executive sessions, private meetings, until the issue was resolved.
William Niehus, another commission member and former police chief, said he has been an investigator for 30 years and believes that one should proceed until a conclusion is reached.
Resident Joyce Campbell, Mr. Campbell's mother, said she's against spending any more money on the investigation.
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