web page consultants:
|02-19-03: Steely glare may turn to lawsuit
|Rockford administrator threatens suit in dispute with councilor
By TIMOTHY COX
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
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
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
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
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.
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