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02-19-03: Steely glare may turn to lawsuit
Rockford administrator threatens suit in dispute with councilor

The Daily Standard
    ROCKFORD - A personal dispute between Rockford Village Council member Keith Rutledge and Village Administrator Jeff Long boiled over at Tuesday's council meeting.
    Long, responding to criticism heaped on him by Rutledge at the Feb. 4 meeting, said he has been the "brunt of personal attacks, slander, unwarranted accusations and harassment."
    Long for much of the meeting he sat across the council table from Rutledge with a steely glare locked onto him.
    Long called on council members to remove Rutledge based on alleged violations of council's code of conduct. If the situation is not remedied, Long suggested he might file a lawsuit against the entire council.
    "Councilman Rutledge is repeatedly in violation of your own resolution," Long said.
    Specifically, Long charged that Rutledge has violated four separate sections of the code of conduct. Long alleged that Rutledge has failed to "act in a manner that enhances community confidence," has committed acts or made comments to bring embarrassment to the town, has made remarks which are "derogatory, degrading, belittling, sarcastic or malicious" and has made "unseemly or derogatory" allegations in a public forum.
    "When an individual has no benefit ... and only desires to bring the team down, it's time to remove that person from the team," Long said.
    The latest scrape between the two men stems from a Feb. 4 discussion on a no-interest loan village officials extended to a local business about a year ago. Long was absent from that meeting where Rutledge accused him of acting improperly by granting the loan.
    Council members could rebuke or otherwise punish Rutledge or anyone else deemed in violation of the conduct standards. A two-thirds majority would be necessary to remove a council member.
    Rutledge attempted to reopen the discussion about the business loan that was extended to James Kahle. But council members, citing the fact that the loan has been repaid, opted to move on.
    The story of the loan remains somewhat of a mystery. At the Feb. 4 meeting, Clerk-Treasurer Amy Lyons suggested that Long and former Mayor Jeff Armstrong had approved the deal.
    But in a Feb. 18 letter to Solicitor Judy Koesters, Armstrong denies having been a part of the decision-making process regarding the loan. In the letter, Armstrong calls the loan a "misappropriation of funds," and said allegations that he approved the deal are "complete fallacy."
    Armstrong said he mentioned a loan for Kahle only once and said he was talking about revolving loan funds through the Mercer County Community Development Department.
    Long disputes Armstrong's claim and says the former mayor was part of the loan discussion.
    But Long also disputes that the loan was improper. The approximately $1,500 was loaned from money appropriated for economic development purposes, he said.
    Further discussion on the loan was thwarted by council members apparently growing weary of the verbal sparring between Rutledge and Long.
    "This is a waste of council business," said council member Randy Gutierrez, urging Mayor Bob King to move on.
    But Gutierrez also lashed out at the meeting, directing his ire at The Daily Standard. Gutierrez said the newspaper inflamed the situation between Long and Rutledge by focusing on "negative points of view." He also criticized the newspaper for not reporting on a donation to the village Tree Commission and said the newspaper was guilty of personal attacks on Long.
    After the meeting, Long said he does not believe he was attacked by the newspaper.
    The donation Gutierrez mentioned was announced briefly at the Feb. 4 meeting with no other discussion. Minutes of that meeting do not even show the amount of money that was donated. Council members spent the bulk of their time that evening discussing the loan to Kahle, not Tree Commission donations or any other issue.
    Gutierrez intervened again later in the meeting when words between Long and Rutledge were again becoming heated.
    "Gentlemen, if this is leading to another argument, I do not wish to hear it," Gutierrez said.
    In other business Tuesday, council members:
    - Passed an emergency resolution to contract with Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina, for engineering and design work to replace a broken sanitary sewer force main that runs under the St. Marys River. Cost is not to exceed $9,000.
    - Passed an emergency resolution to apply for a no-interest loan from the Ohio Water Pollution Control Fund to help pay for the sewer replacement project and to buy some aeration equipment for the sewer plant.
    - Delayed action on rescinding the town's sidewalk ordinance until replacement legislation can be drafted and considered by council.


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