City government is not working

By Paula Durbin

Paula Durbin

Paula Durbin

As City Treasurer, I take my responsibility for the taxpayers’ money very seriously. I am just one of the City officials in this checks-and-balances system of City government. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only watchdog of public funds.

On Monday, July 27th, I was presented a $695,000 check to Sutphen Corporation for purchase of the new fire truck. Prior to signing a check for the City, I review the supporting documentation and I regularly request additional documentation prior to signing the check. In the process of this Sutphen check review, the lack of supporting documentation for this $695,000 check was clearly a big problem. I then, like I normally do, asked for the documentation. Even though I have repeatedly asked for all of the documentation to support that this $695,000 was a proper expenditure of public funds. I never received the requested supporting documentation. However, I did receive an email from City Law Director Palmer yesterday (8/6/2015) stating that my request for the ordinances and the City Auditor’s “fiscal officer certificate” were an “assumption” and therefore were not a public record.

(Mr. Palmer, I am “assuming” these records do not exist, since they were never produced and City Council and the City Auditor constructed these records at the Special Meeting on Wednesday to “redo” the fire truck purchase according to Ohio law. Maybe you need to read the Ohio Sunshine Law manual again —- these records are clearly a public record if they existed.)

Allow me to give the citizens some background information. In reviewing this whole fire truck purchase, the starting point is with Safety-Service Director Swain. In August 2014, the Safety-Service Director entered into a contract with Sutphen for the purchase of the fire truck without an ordinance from City Council and without a fiscal officer (City Auditor) certificate, certifying that funds were available, appropriated, and encumbered for the purchase of the fire truck. I have asked the Safety-Service Director multiple times since last week for the legislation appropriating the funds for the fire truck and authorizing him to enter into a contract for the $695,000 fire truck; and I have asked for the fiscal officer certificate multiple times as well. Neither the Safety-Service Director nor the City Auditor has responded to my multiple requests for the proper documentation.

Ohio Revised Code Section 5705.41 is clear on this subject. If the City entered into a contract without the fiscal officer certificate that contract is VOID and no check (or warrant) can even be issued. The City Auditor should not have even issued a check, as he had no authority to do so.

Although the City Law Director threatened to take me to court forcing me to sign the $ 695,000 check, he did not. Law Director Palmer knew that the whole transaction had to be ‘redone’ and then stated in the press that he chose not to go in that direction (taking me to court). The Mayor, Council President, Law Director, City Auditor, and the entire City Council knew they could not properly document this fire truck transaction. If they had the proper documentation in place, they could have provided it to me instead of having a Special Council Meeting to start the process all over again.

But sadly, this whole incident has given the citizens an insight into how their City government is not properly working. The problem with this fire truck contract transaction was created by the Safety-Service Director, the City Auditor, and the Council, not the City Treasurer. Instead of Council Members contacting me and inquiring about what exactly was going on, Council Members displayed their ignorance by making derogatory comments to the press. I am just doing my job as City Treasurer. Our ‘new’ City government has a serious problem with following the laws and proper procedures. This whole fire truck contract was not properly handled from the beginning, but it was not until last week when the check came before me that I had any involvement in the process.

Citizens want their City government to operate within the law, and any City official who cannot operate within the law should not be in public office. ORC 5705.41 is designed to prevent fraud and the reckless expenditure of public funds. Council Members should ask questions of the other City officials involved as to how such a large expenditure of public funds ($ 695,000) could be so mismanaged. But the City does not have Council Members who ask questions and investigate issues for themselves, which is another problem. Good, functioning City government requires all of the City officials to question and review the matters before them; I am just doing my job as City Treasurer.

There has been some discussion from the City Administration stating if I would attend all Council Meetings, I could have brought this matter up sooner. It is not the City Treasurer’s job to legislate and keep track of legislation. It is the Council’s job with the advice of the Law Director- seven Council Members, a Law Director, a Council President are responsible for the City’s ordinances, not the Treasurer. The Council Members’ vote is at the bottom of every ordinance; the President of Council signs every ordinance; and the Law Director signs every ordinance. The Treasurer is not involved in the legislative process.

Law Director Palmer has also stated that my job as City Treasurer is just ministerial and I had no right to refuse to sign the check. But the controlling law is Ohio Revised Code Section 5705.41, which clearly states that if any contract (including the fire truck contract) is entered into without the fiscal officer certificate that contract is VOID and no check can even be issued.

As City Treasurer, I will continue to question, as this is part of my job as Treasurer of the City of Galion. If I don’t question the transactions, who will?

I want to thank the other elected officials, who (despite bad legal advice) had the integrity to redo this whole fire truck transaction so that it is done correctly and complies with State Law.

And I want to thank the citizens for their support and understanding. Being the ‘lone voice of the people’ and the ‘lone watchdog of public funds’ is a very difficult position. I look forward to a City government where all officials are concerned with the proper expenditure of public funds.

Paula Durbin Durbin

By Paula Durbin