City officials kick off new year with further controversy

January 8, 2014

Matt Echelberry

Inquirer Reporter

Outside temperatures may have been below zero on Monday night, but it was plenty warm inside Council Chambers. At Galion Council’s Jan. 6 organizational meeting, Council President Don Faulds stated that he fired Julie Bell, clerk of council, earlier that day.

A 30-minute discussion ensued before Council even approved the agenda. When Council member Tom Fellner asked what the reason was for her termination, Faulds listed several:

- Bell was told multiple times not to record the minutes of committee meetings, in order to reduce her comp time.

- On Dec. 30, she did not inform him he had to sign off on her payroll. He later saw she applied for holiday pays, which is not in her contract.

- No medical benefits are included in the position, yet she applied for benefits without permission.

- On Friday, in order to control the hours, cut her hours from 40 to 20 and intended to give additional as needed.

- Over the weekend, she organized an executive session with Clark, Kleinknecht and Webber. She did not give him any notice.

Council was not presented with any physical evidence of these allegations.

Fellner then asked the law director if the council president controls the employment of the clerk.

“This is a relatively complex situation,” Law Director Thomas Palmer responded. He did not express an opinion on whether or not Faulds had the authority to fire Bell but did explain that she was actually hired for two different positions, which has lead to the confusion.

At a June 25 meeting, Council approved Fauld’s appointment of Bell. However, later in the same meeting there was an ordinance that also approved the clerk as as a classified position, which allows the council president to oversee it and sets a term of office.

According to Palmer, the clerk is an employee of council and can only be removed by a two-thirds vote of council. He added that council can elect anyone to the position within 10 days of the beginning of the term.

Faulds later referenced Ohio Revised Code 733.01, arguing that it gave him appointing authority. It reads:

“The executive power of cities shall be vested in a mayor, president of council…Such executive officers shall have exclusive right to appoint all officers, clerks, and employees in their respective departments or offices and remove or suspend any of such officers, clerks, or employees, subject to the civil service laws.”

The law director advised him that the said section applies to positions within each officer’s department. Council is independent of any department and elects its own officers, including the clerk. “If council chooses a clerk tonight, it really is a moot point,” Palmer concluded.

At that time Faulds stated: “I find this appalling, because I’m doing a duty I was elected to do and I’m being basically castrated.” He then looked over to Mayor Tom O’Leary and said: “And don’t be so upset, Mr. Mayor, because you’re behind the whole thing as far as I’m concerned.”

O’Leary did not respond.

Council member Jon Kleinknecht then offered his opinion. “If we’re not sure what to do then I, as a council member, need to listen to the law director,” he said. “Also, if we’re doing this in public, I think Mrs. Bell should be able to give her side of the story.”

Fellner agreed. “That’s why I felt this should be done in public rather than in executive session, so that she would have the opportunity.”

“I have no problem with that,” Bell said. (She sat in the audience that evening.) However, she was never offered the floor to address council during the meeting.

Cindy Long, a citizen in attendance, had the last word on the discussion during the meeting. She called it “embarrassing” and further stated: “I came because of committee appointments and to simply support the new council members. I did not know about this stuff you discussed openly.”

Council approved the meeting agenda and moved on. The election of a clerk was one business item. Council member Shirley Clark nominated Bell for for the position, with a second by Council member Eric Webber. The motion passed unanimously.

After the vote Treasurer Paula Durbin asked, “How is Don going to work with her now? After what she has done you expect this man to work with her?” Durbin then started a disruption, with several other officials shouting over her.

Also during the meeting, Council member Mike Richart was elected as president pro tempore (to act as council president in his absence).

The new committees were also set up, reduced from five to four by combining the former Finance and Utilities committees.

The current committees are:

- Laws, Zoning and Permits - Tom Fellner (chair), Steve Rowan and Shirley Clark

- Utility, Finance and Economic Development - Mike Richart (chair), Carl Watt and Steve Rowan

- Police, Fire and Health - Jon Kleinknecht (chair), Shirley Clark and Eric Webber

- Parks, Playgrounds, Streets and Trees - Carl Watt (chair), Jon Kleinknecht and Eric Webber

After the meeting, Dennis Long, another citizen, said council should have discussed Bell’s termination during executive session. “The public did not need to hear any of it and it shows respect for your employees.”

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Jan. 8, Bell did make a brief statement:

“I’m grateful to council that it values the quality of the work I have done. I will put this incident behind me and continue to perform my duties to the best of my ability and work in a professional manner with all elected officials and citizens of the city for the benefit of the city.”

As far as the allegations made against her, she said they are without merit and she did nothing wrong, intentionally or unintentionally.

City Council’s first regular meeting of 2014 will be Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. (Regular meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.)