The village of Mount Sterling’s six public employees received raises last year ranging from 10 cents to $7.25 an hour — all given by then village administrator John Martin without approval of village council.
That was the reason given at Monday night’s village council meeting for the termination Oct. 16 of Martin during a special council meeting where no explanation was given for council’s 5-0 vote. Martin is the second village administrator removed from this village of approximately 1,700 residents since early 2016.
It is estimated that those improperly awarded raises have cost Mount Sterling taxpayers at least $50,000 — and counting.
While it was made public at Monday’s meeting that Martin was fired because of the unauthorized raises for employees, council rejected a resolution 3-2 to rescind, or roll back those same raises.
However it was announced late Tuesday that a special Mount Sterling Village Council meeting will be held Thursday, Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. at the village offices to act on the improper salary raise issue.
Council member Rebecca Burns said the pay raise issue came to light recently when written instructions were given to the village’s new fiscal officer to give a particular employee a 75 cent anniversary raise. “She asked to see where village council approved this. He couldn’t recall. She went through minutes and emails and ordinances, but we couldn’t find anything,” Burns said.
“There was nothing about anniversary raises or any other raises approved,” she said. She said normally under the rules of council any raise must go to them for approval. She pointed out that in the last year, one employee was approved for a 75 cent raise, but this was done with council approval after a three-reading resolution, “and all done up front.”
She told council and the public attending the meeting that in May 2016, across the board raises were given to six village employees by village administrator Martin. “They ranged from 10 cents an hour to over $7 an hour. In addition, each employee was given a 75 cent anniversary raise,” she said.
Burns said this was communicated by Martin to the previous fiscal officer by written memo or email, often using the words that the raises “were approved.” She did point out that Martin never benefited from the raises himself, just the employees.
The employees salaries went from: $11.50 to $15 an hour; $23 to $24.25 an hour; $17 to $24.25 an hour; $22.50 to $24.25 an hour; $16.50 to $17.25 an hour; and $11.50 to $15.75 an hour.
Burns said when the recent anniversary raise was requested, the fiscal officer wanted to see the documentation where council had approved it, “and that’s the key, but nothing could be found. She even went through the books, checking ordinances, resolutions and minutes from all the council meetings, but nothing could be found. Hence the raises were never approved by council as they had to be done.”
Burns added that, “We have a responsibility to the village to have a zero tolerance for unapproved expenditures for the village. As a result, the motion to terminate with cause was made because our village administrator did not get approval for these raises.”
Following the explanations about why Martin was terminated, a resolution regarding the individual pay rate of each of the village employees and declaring an emergency was given its second reading.
“Before we presented this recommendation, we had Courtney Bricker contact other villages such as Leesburg, South Charleston, Sabina and others to obtain their pay information for their employees. There were very comparable positions such as Class 1 Water, general workers and positions like that.
“What we found in all instances is that even if we rescind the pay to our employees that they would still be making at least as much if not more than employees in surrounding villages,” Burns said.
She said this was a difficult recommendation to make because of the impact on the employees. “This does not reflect on the job performance of employees or how much they are valued but my feeling is that it is necessary to do what is right for the village.”
However, council member Dave Timmons said he was concerned about retaining and training quality employees and the cost of training new people.
Council member Diane Spradlin said this concern supposed that the employees would leave. “I don’t think they would. They are very well paid. Courtney went to these other villages and sat down for hours with her counterparts in places like Leesburg, Sabina, and contacted Jeffersonville and South Charleston. They are comparable communities, within about 100 people of our community.”
Spradlin said that as they considered the legislation, “We felt it was not only required by law to readdress this pay schedule and the manner they were implemented but it also brings us within the scope of what is expected and mandated of us by the state auditors. When they issued a fiscal emergency report recently, one of the key factors was payroll. This is not going to be the end of this by any means. We can try to align them with what is fiscally responsible, or the state is going to do it for us. Personally I would prefer for us to manage our own affairs,” she said.
She pointed out there is a meeting Nov. 1 with state auditors to meet with council. “We will have to forecast 180 days out after they come here to show them we are meeting the fiscal benchmark we need to get our house in order. This is a serious matter. We value our employees, and we will revisit this (employee pay) down the road. Meanwhile we need to be legal, we need to be responsible and go forward in a way that shows leadership. This may be difficult, but we have to take these steps nonetheless.”
The motion failed 3-2, with Burns and Spradlin voting yes, and Timmons, Jim Davis and Mary Lou Stiverson-Ratliff voting no. By the same votes, a resolution abolishing and repealing the village’s “pay bands” was also rejected.
After the meeting, Burns acknowledged that based on the rejection of the resolutions, village employees are still receiving their raises.
She estimated that to date, the unauthorized raises have cost Mount Sterling taxpayers at least $50,000 from May of last year until now. “We know there is a new administration coming (in January) with a new mayor and new council. I called the resolution a way of bringing us back to a level playing field,” Burns said.
On Oct. 9, village council voted 3-2 in favor of a motion presented by Burns to terminate Martin. However, Martin apparently contended that under the Ohio Revised Code a vote of 4-1 or more was needed without the consent of the mayor, acting Mayor Lowell Anderson in this case. Martin remained on the job until a special meeting was held Oct. 16, at which his contract was terminated unanimously by council.
In January, former village administrator Joe Johnson pleaded guilty to theft in office, racketeering and falsification of records involving more than $700,000 during his four years in office. He was replaced by Martin in March 2016. At the time Martin promised repeatedly to clean up the mess left by Johnson, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Criminal charges were filed this year against a fiscal officer, a village clerk and former Mayor Charles Neff. In August, Neff was found guilty of three out of the four charges against him. Neff was found guilty of theft in office, falsification and dereliction of duty.