MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Trustee Ralph Zollinger was the man of the hour Tuesday night. Some Millersport Fire Department supporters likely consider him the township’s Man of the Year.
The agenda for Tuesday night’s Walnut Township Trustees’ meeting hinted at the nearly two-hour battle to come. An item titled “Rescind motions, as per violation of Open Meeting Act” appeared just before “Millersport Fire Contract.” The fire/EMS discussion opened with Trustee President Sonny Dupler acknowledging that the prosecutor’s office rejected his proposal for trustees to work out the contract in an executive or closed session. “We could not do that and it never happened,” he said.
Suddenly the champion of working out a contract in secret transformed into Mr. Sunshine, staunch defender of the Ohio Sunshine Laws. Dupler said the special meeting held October 5 in the elementary school auditorium with more than 200 residents present was solely to discuss a joint fire district and a township fire department. “We made several motions that are illegal,” he said.
Specifically, the motions were the ones setting a four-year contract with the Village of Millersport for fire/EMS services, requiring binding arbitration if an agreement can’t be worked out, extending the existing contract if a new contract isn’t approved by the end of the year and designating Trustee Terry Horn as the township’s point person on working out the new contract. When audience members, predominately Millersport Fire Department supporters, protested, Dupler added, “We all knew that (the motions were illegal) and just let it go through.” Horn and audience members protested his characterization. “The whole meeting got out-of-hand,” Dupler said.
The four motions or amendments to motions were then rescinded by a 2-1 vote with Horn dissenting. Discussion and action taken at special meetings is limited to the announced purpose of the meeting. That action started a tense, some 90-minute verbal chess match between Horn and Dupler that occasionally broke into a verbal boxing match.
Horn responded to the rescindtions with, “I’m asking you men to stand on your word. We can make it right now. Are we men of our word?”
“Everyone of these motions can be remade,” Dupler told him. “You are doing the right thing by rescinding those motions,” Thurston council member Jimmy Barber told trustees.
Dupler said he had drafted a contract taking excerpts from the contract Horn drafted with Millersport and adding them to the township’s existing contract with Millersport. He asked Horn and Zollinger if they had any additions.
Zollinger wants to see the Walnut Township name back on the Millersport fire equipment. Dupler said that was to have been done nearly a year ago and was another example of Millersport’s lack of cooperation. Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said the department had quickly agreed to add the name, but hadn’t heard from the township’s legal counsel on whether that move could create any liability issues for the township. “I stand corrected on that,” Dupler said.
He then proceeded to attack Horn, “I don’t feel Terry is talking on our behalf.” That drew more angry protests from the audience.
Horn asked Zollinger when he got a copy of Dupler’s draft contract. Zollinger said last Friday. “I wonder why I didn’t get a copy until Monday,” Horn asked. “I treated both of you gentlemen equal when I passed out information.”
Horn then asked township road supervisor Randy Kemmerer if Dupler and Zollinger discussed the contract last week. “I can’t answer that yes or no,” Kemmerer said. When pressed by Horn, he said, “Yes, they were discussing the fire department.” Kemmerer said he didn’t know if that discussion included the contract or not.
Horn then turned to sell the contract worked out with Millersport to Zollinger. “I believe we took out a lot of the fluff that was intended to punish Millersport,” he said. “This is a fair agreement.” He then moved to approve the Nov. 22 draft plus an addendum clarifying some payment issues. For example, any interest that the Village of Millersport earns from fire levy funds it holds prior to expenditure must be utilized for fire/EMS purposes as long as Walnut Township and the Village of Thurston treat their fire levy fund balances in the same manner.
Dupler objected to the 65 percent allocation to Millersport, stating, “At $347,900 (for Thurston) they can’t afford to pay their paid personnel. They would have to close their doors.”
Barber jumped in, stating that if the Millersport contract is ap- proved, the southern half of the township would lose some of their fire protection. Audience members immediately challenged that assertion and all were ruled out of order by Dupler.
“It (the contract) treats the Village of Millersport as professionals,” Horn told Zollinger. “People will look back at this moment of time and say we did the right thing.” He added that the revenue split could be two-thirds Millersport and one-third Thurston based on the stations operated. “Millersport could say 66.66 percent, but they are OK with 65 percent,” Horn added.
Dupler responded, “We think of Walnut Township. We serve all of Walnut Township,” he reminded Zollinger. “They (Thurston) can’t get out the door with two people.”
Millersport staffs each station with two people 24/7, while Thurston has three 24/7. Reducing Thurston to the Millersport staffing level solves its financial crisis at its 35 percent allocation.
Horn asked Thurston Chief Jim Hite to explain the need to have three people on duty. Hite told him he wasn’t prepared to speak about that at the Nov. 23 meeting and he isn’t prepared now.
Hite said three weeks ago that an engine can’t be operated with just two people and the department doesn’t have enough volunteers to get an engine out the door. He also said that the Basil Joint Fire District and Pleasant Township Fire Department won’t split a crew to provide a third person if Thurston would need one. Horn said he spoke directly with Pleasant Township Chief Jeff Mathias who refuted Hite’s claim. An audience member said Basil Assistant Chief Kasey Farmer also disputed Hite’s statement.
“I don’t believe in robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Thurston Mayor Mary Boring told trustees. “My plea is to do what’s right. Don’t bring entity against entity.”
Horn said the two-person crew issue will be handled like Millersport does now. Both two-person crews – Fairfield Beach and Millersport – generally respond to all calls except those known to be routine like assisting someone into bed. One Millersport crew will respond with Thurston on their runs. Thurston can also get help from Basil and Pleasant Township, Horn noted.
Millersport Council member Shane Wise said the contract keeps the village fiscally sound. The need to back up Thurston runs “forces us to work toward a joint district concept,” he added. “This contract sets the foundation.”
“There’s been a wedge put between these communities,” council member Dave Levacy said. He also pointed out that Millersport wears out its equipment faster because it makes more runs than Thurston. Levacy said the relationship with Thurston needs to be restored.
This discussion was going on while Zollinger was considering whether to second Horn’s motion to approve the contract. Just as Dupler announced “no second,” Zollinger said, “I will second it on the condition that we work for a fire district as quick as we can get it going.”
Dupler looked like he was going to have a stroke, but quickly countered, “At the Nov. 9 meeting we passed a resolution that we will roll over the Thurston contract.” Horn responded, “That was in the context of not having a contract.”
“You can’t possibly pass this motion,” Dupler persisted, claiming the township couldn’t fund both contracts. “This is independent,” Horn said, adding that both could be funded in 2011 using the township’s carryover in its fire fund. Dupler told him that wasn’t going to happen.
“I don’t think we can legally do it,” Dupler maintained. “I say we table this.” Several audience members urged Horn to call the question on his motion, but he elected to withdraw his motion. He immediately moved to rescind the motion to fund Thurston at the 2010 level in 2011. Zollinger seconded it and it was approved by a 2-1 vote.
Horn immediately moved to accept the contract with Dupler contending that he started to make a motion before Horn. Horn had clearly spoken first and the audience agreed. Horn’s motion included Zollinger’s condition as a notation. Zollinger seconded it again.
“I think it is completely out-of-line that we don’t even consider a contract that we have used for nine years,” Dupler said. “How narrow minded can you be? This will haunt you (Horn) down the road.”
The 2-1 roll call vote to approve the contract was greeted with applause and some thank you’s to Zollinger.
“I have two clean contracts to sign tonight,” Horn announced. He wrote Zollinger’s condition on each copy – “We will work toward a joint fire district as soon as possible.” Horn, Zollinger and fiscal officer Lynn Kraner signed the contracts. Horn presented them to Millersport Mayor Dean Severance.
Millersport cancelled its monthly council meeting set for Tuesday night so officials could attend the trustees’ meeting. That meeting has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21, at the village office. Unanimous approval of the contract is expected.
In other business Tuesday night, trustees unanimously appointed Janet Barnes as the township administrative assistant to replace Karen Kentosh who resigned. Four candidates were interviewed after Kraner selected the finalists. She quickly corrected Dupler when he said, “We had a secret ballot.” Kraner explained that she asked each trustee individually for their first choice and each named Barnes.
Trustees also unanimously agreed to spend $500 for a used 70KW natural gas-fired backup generator. Kemmerer said the township had been looking for one for quite awhile. “New ones are $20,000,” he said. This one probably dates to the 70’s, but Kemmerer said it has been well maintained and runs. He also anounced that the Fairfield County Commissioners have accepted the streets in the small Crescent Cove subdivision. That means the township will now be responsible for maintaining the .3 miles of streets, bringing the township’s total to almost 60 miles. Kemmerer said a couple of drainage and signage issues need to be worked out.
Trustees also unanimously formally approved a contract with Darby Creek Excavating for Phase 2 of the Cherry Lane rehabilitation project. They also approved a Notice of Commencement for that project.
Trustees’ next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28.