By Timothy Cox
ROCKFORD -- A dispute regarding residency between village officials and a town employee was set aside for at least 90 days when the issue could come up again.
After a contentious 45-minute debate on the issue, village council members on Tuesday took the issue to a private executive session. About 15 minutes later, they agreed to grant a three-month extension to general laborer Andy Heppeard to establish residency in the town. But Heppeard was left wondering exactly what he must do to satisfy town leaders.
Heppeard came to council after he was asked to provide a written, notarized statement that he lives within the village limits. His personnel file reflects a Rockford address along with his driver's license and other official documents, Heppeard said.
But that was not good enough for some village officials, especially Village Administrator Jeff Long and Councilman Keith Rutledge. That pair, who have clashed on a number of issues through the years, found themselves in complete agreement on Heppeard's shaky residency status.
Some village officials allege that Heppeard is only spending part of his time at a home on Front Street owned by his mother and stepfather. "In my book, it's not sufficient," Long said.
"Staying with your parents is not residency," Rutledge said. "He's skirting the issue."
Rutledge told Heppeard that "contacts" have told him Heppeard spends much of his time in nearby Ohio City.
"I can't believe you have contacts on a guy who makes $10.49 an hour," Heppeard said, openly wondering how much time village officials are spending worried about his personal life.
The village's pay ordinance requires all full-time employees to be residents of the town but does not define residency. Council members offered varying views of what constitutes residency. Heppeard admitted he has not slept at the Front Street home for more than three days in a row recently.
Rutledge said he believes residency involves "an investment in the community." Heppeard said he cannot afford to buy property or rent his own apartment. He accused village officials of trying to push him into bankruptcy.
A period of shouting among the sides ensued and during the tirade, Rutledge even took a potshot at President George W. Bush, saying maybe Bush is trying to push Heppeard into bankruptcy.
Village officials finally took the issue into a private executive session but may not have done so properly. The executive session was called to discuss the discipline of a public employee but village officials did not follow the full stipulations of the law.
Ohio's Open Meetings Law allows executive sessions for specific purposes but also includes other requirements. When discussing a discipline issue, for example, the law allows for the accused public employee or official to request a public hearing. Heppeard was not offered the chance to keep the meeting public.
Village officials first called the executive session to discuss "personnel." When told by The Daily Standard they needed to be more specific, council members chose "discipline" as their reason but failed to mention a public hearing.
After the private session, the issue only grew murkier.
Heppeard was given three more months to establish residency but was given no definitive terms of how to do that. Attorney Judy Koesters said residency is established through "a pattern of behavior."
Heppeard should begin and end most workdays at the Front Street residence, council members said. It was not clear whether someone will be following Heppeard to make sure he conforms to the residency requirement.
Some village officials said they should not be involved in the personal lives of employees, but Long said there is no way to enforce the ordinance without checking the situation.