web page consultants:
|02-05-03: Rockford councilors question loan
|By TIMOTHY COX
The Daily Standard
ROCKFORD - Village council members are questioning a loan village
administration officials extended to a local business.
Village Administrator Jeff Long in a letter dated Jan. 14, 2002,
outlines a prospective deal with James Kahle, a local artist, to loan Kahle's business
$1,619.84 to pay for installation of a natural gas line to the property at 103 S. Main St.
The letter says Kahle was to repay the loan within one year.
Rockford Clerk-Treasurer Amy Lyons said Kahle repaid the debt Tuesday.
Council member Keith Rutledge brought up the issue at Tuesday's regular
meeting. Rutledge said the loan appears to be improper, based on a recent legal opinion
the town received on an unrelated issue and Rutledge found support from other council
Lyons said the deal was struck after a meeting between Long, Kahle and
former Mayor Jeff Armstrong.
"I don't know any of the particulars," Lyons said.
The town apparently paid Con-solidated Hunter Plumbing, Heating &
Air Conditioning in Celina to do the work at Kahle's business. Long's letter does not
address whether Kahle was to pay interest on the loan.
"What other kind of sweetheart deals are out there that we don't
know about as council?" Rutledge asked. "We have an opinion from our solicitor
that this is wrong to do."
Rutledge was talking about an opinion authored several weeks ago by
Solicitor Judy Koesters when village officials were considering assisting Ross Automotive,
Celina, in opening an auto parts store in downtown Rockford. Ross had wanted the town to
buy the former Riley Chevrolet building on Main Street and then lease it to him.
Officials appeared close to a deal but it eventually fell apart.
Ohio law "specifically prohibits any county, city, town or
township to loan its credit to, or becoming owners in private corporations or other
associations," Koesters wrote in the one-page opinion.
Some council members said Armstrong had the authority to authorize the
deal. But Rutledge noted that Long's name, not Armstrong's, is on the letter.
"I have a problem with the current village administrator being
involved. He shouldn't be doing unlawful acts," Rutledge said.
Council President Eugene Steiner said he would like to hear from Long
on the issue. Long did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
"None of the rest of us were there. We don't know what went
on," Steiner said.
Councilor Nick Sell said village administration officials should be
advised not to enter any similar deals in the future.
Long this morning told The Daily Standard that he and Armstrong
approved the no-interest loan to help downtown business development. Without the loan,
Kahle would have been "hindered" in his efforts to open the business and may not
have been able to do so, Long said.
Long said Rutledge has been aware of the deal and simply was waiting
for the opportune moment to exploit the issue.
"Keith's just on his high horse again. The only improper thing
about this is that Keith is on council," Long said.
In light of council's reaction to the loan, Long said he would bring
any similar requests in the future before council. There are no other such loans in place
now, he said.
Also Tuesday, councilors stated their intentions to repeal the town's
sidewalk ordinance and eventually replace it with new legislation.
Rutledge complained that the existing ordinance has never been evenly
enforced. Some property owners have been forced to replace or install new sidewalks while
those who have resisted have not been forced to do so, he said.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it," Rutledge said.
Sell said he does not believe the village should force anyone to
install new sidewalks, especially in areas where there is little or no pedestrian traffic.
Other council members said any new ordinance should be all-inclusive and enforceable.
In other business Tuesday, council members formally pulled the plug on
a plan to remodel the town hall and to build additional storage area at the wastewater
plant. Rutledge said that with national and statewide economic uncertainty, the town
should not be diving into the $30,000-plus project.
"Our finances can't be far behind," he said.
Council members unanimously supported a motion to call off the work.
A broken sewer line that is expected to cost more than $150,000 to
replace also played into council's decision. They had delayed action on the remodeling
plan last month due to the sewer problem. Village officials have since learned that half
of the repair will be covered by an emergency grant; the remaining balance apparently will
SUBSCRIBE TO THE DAILY STANDARD
(419)586-2371, Fax: (419)586-6271
All content copyright 2003
The Standard Printing
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH