THORNVILLE- – Mayor Gavin Renner believes it’s “time to set the record straight” following a Letter to the Editor appearing in the Aug. 27 edition of The Beacon. “There is a lot of misinformation and rumors flying around lately,” he said. “We need to start focusing on the facts.”
In an email to The Beacon, Renner said, “I note that a recent letter to the editor demands ‘fiscal accountability’ from our elected officials. I’m perfectly happy being accountable for the financial responsibility the village has shown over the last 10 years. I’m sure the rest of the employees and council are likewise proud, and so should the community. Our budget and finances are secure. We’re reducing costs to residents by reducing the sewer bills by $8. While others are struggling, we’re doing fine. I’d like to remind everyone that a decade ago we were in the red. Only the hard work and dedication of a coalition of residents, elected officials and employees turned that around.
“We’ve operated in the black by carefully managing expenses. The State of Ohio apparently agrees. They have audited the village. We’ve passed with flying colors. All the audits are available online from the state. Our budgets, appropriations and receipts are likewise available by request from the Village Office. We’ll be discussing audits in our September meeting.
“The village finances have a perfect rating thanks to efforts by employees such as (Fiscal Officer) Melissa Tremblay and (Administrator) Beth Patrick. They monitor what is spent on a daily basis and do an amazing job.
Jay, our streets person is always respectful, friendly and engaged with all residents. He’s the kind of person that stops to remove his hat in respect when a funeral procession drives by. Scott and Matt are our Water/Sewer employees. I’ve personally witnessed them and Jay work through the night to fix a water main break during freezing temperatures. Our employees do a lot more than is what in their job description. Anna does much more than just run the water bills and act as Administrative Assistant. The people in the office donate Halloween candy and make gift bags for the kids in school. All of our employees go above and beyond the call of duty for the village. We’ve got a great team here. Unfortunately, some people simply don’t understand or respect the job they do and that’s demoralizing.
“The village has sufficient budget to repair potholes and crack-and-seal surfaces. So far this year we’ve purchased about four tons of hot mix to fix various areas around town. We plan on doing more repairs in September. If anyone knows of a pothole in an alley that we don’t know about already, contact the Village Office and we’ll get on it. We don’t repair potholes on private roads or parking lots.
“As far as the parks and recreation budget, we have to work within the amounts that residents give the village through levies. It’s illegal and irresponsible to spend more than you have. The money currently goes to maintenance, repairs, salaries and facilities. For your money, you get an operating pool, a shelter house, playground equipment and multiple parks in the community. We have a lot for a community our size.
“We also benefit from a lot of volunteerism in our community. This year we had three movies in the park. The Lions Club provides ice cream. We even had our first food truck at the park. Various people volunteer to improve facilities. TYRA updated the ball fields. The local Clothes Closet is donated space above the Village Offices. Every year I see people put in the flags, holiday decorations, plant flowers in the public pots and water them. Churches and private parties use the shelter house in spring, summer and autumn to host their events. We have worship in the park. We have the country fair. We have the 4th of July parade. People sacrificing their personal time provide all of these events.
“Council, in partnership with input from residents decided to stop trimming trees and mowing people’s front area a while ago. This isn’t just about saving money. It’s not fair to provide a service for a select few individuals. Why should one property owner get a perk while another gets a ticket? Unfortunately, that was happening. Now it’s not. Somehow I doubt that residents want to pay for a tax hike to provide mowing services up and down every street in town.
“We’re required by law to have legal representation. Instead of paying for a full-time person, council decided that we should pay as you go. Sometimes the bills are high (such as the bill from May) other times they aren’t. Our costs depend on how much people want to fight over issues. We find ourselves dealing with things like firehouse ownership, easements, weeds and grass, livestock, social media policy, petitions, records retention, contract disputes with the county, water tower upgrades, etc. The more people want to fight, the more our solicitor gets paid; It’s that simple. Pataskala, just as an example, currently pays a flat fee of $12,500 per month for their legal representation. That’s $150,000 per year. We don’t pay nearly that much. We’re well within our budgets and costs. We’re actually pretty lucky to get the same level of expertise for the money.
“Our solicitor would like you to know that he does not send a simple invoice with only a monthly total. While the invoice is not separated by ‘topic,’ it provides a detailed description of every task completed. The invoice identifies who did the work, what day the work was done, exactly what work was done, and how long it took the attorney or paralegal to do the work. These descriptions/ detail, however, are protected from disclosure because they are protected by attorney-client privilege.
“Let’s talk about the livestock survey. Susie and Jennifer on the Zoning Commission value your input and they want to hear from all of you. We post the meetings in-line with the law, but we try to do one better by posting on Facebook and getting things out there earlier than the minimum 24 hours. However, we recognize not everyone can attend the meetings given their busy schedules and family obligations. A survey seems like a simple way to collect more information from more people. If for any reason, you did not receive a copy of the survey, please stop by the Village Office and pick one up! Survey deadline is Sept. 2.
“We like getting input from as many residents as possible. One thing council is currently working on is changes to the weeds and grass ordinance. We’ve heard there is interest in things like natural areas from some people. We think the residents should weigh in on whether they’d like to see that in their neighborhood or next door. We’d like more input from residents about what they’d like to see in their community.
“I think it’s important to note that our council members are regular people who are also residents of the community. While they get paid they are pretty much are volunteering their time to the village and its residents. Likewise, other members of the community have stepped up to participate in the planning commission on their own free time. They are all your conduit to the government and are available to talk and listen to issues. We can always strive to do better but things here are pretty great.
“I think given all the great things we’ve got going on in our community, we live in a great place. People here take pride in their community. We have a mix of families. Some have lived here for generations and there are newer families who like the small-town atmosphere. My wife and I moved here because we came from a small town and appreciate a place where neighbors know each other and care for their community. People here watch out for each other. We’re blessed to live in a safe community close to excellent schools and churches.”
In other village news:
• Aug. 22, it was questioned whether two informal polls council member Olivia Newbold conducted – one regarding possible changes to the village’s weed and grass ordinance, and another asking if the public should be able to comment during a specific special council meeting– were public records.
Council member Mary Renner, who was not present for an Aug. 8 special meeting where Newbold discussed the polls, asked to have copies.
“If that’s a public records request,” Newbold said. She said they were just informal polls. “I do not believe either document constitutes a public record,” Newbold said. “What precedent are we setting here?”
Council member Lynn Snider said nothing should be brought to council that’s not intended to be discussed formally with council members.
Newbold said her polls were ignored and not used to make any decision; no one voted to see them when she asked to discuss them during the Aug. 8 meeting. “Nobody at the table relied on those polls to make any type of decision,” she said. “The polls didn’t make a difference by being here.”
Renner said once a document is submitted for discussion during a public meeting it’s subject to the Ohio Public Records Act whether it’s voted upon or not.
Village Solicitor Brian Zets agreed, saying it didn’t matter if council used it to vote. “On the surface I would say that it seems to be a public record,” he said.
Newbold said she appreciated Zets’ comments because she has no way of personally contacting the solicitor.
Renner said she simply wanted to look at them.
Newbold asked, “Why didn’t council want to look at it before?” She said she offered the petitions to council members, who were not interested.
Renner said she wasn’t at that meeting.
“If you were out giving a poll as a council member, that’s public business,” Zets said.
Newbold said she would consult her attorney about the matter.
“I am your legal council for things village related,” Zets said.
“I just wanted to get your side of it,” Renner said, adding that it appeared as though Newbold worked hard on the petitions. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to share it,” she said.