The weeds are creeping up the wheels of the three John Deere tractors parked along the Guy-Stewart Ditch in Madison County. The county-owned mowers haven't moved in a month. That's because county Engineer David Brand mothballed the local drainage-ditch maintenance program as part of his ongoing fight with Madison County commissioners over his duties and salary.
LONDON, Ohio — The weeds are creeping up the wheels of the three John Deere tractors parked along the Guy-Stewart Ditch in Madison County. The county-owned mowers haven’t moved in a month.
That’s because county Engineer David Brand mothballed the drainage-ditch maintenance program as part of his ongoing fight with Madison County commissioners over his duties and salary.
He has re-assigned four ditch-maintenance workers in his office to a road crew and has stopped all the ditch work that everyone acknowledges is crucial in this largely agricultural community.
Caught in the middle are the farmers of Madison County, who say it won’t take long for serious drainage problems to take root. Plus, the care of nearly 200 miles of county-maintained drainage ditches isn’t free; property owners are assessed taxes for the work.
The county commissioners wrote Brand a letter on Monday telling him to mow the ditches or else. Brand responded via email: “I am countering your offer to continue to serve as the Madison County drainage engineer with the additional condition of an additional salary of $13,000 per year paid to me personally in biweekly amounts.”
The commissioners now say they’ll go to court if they must to force Brand to resume the program without additional pay. County Prosecutor Steve Pronai said he is reviewing the options.
Ohio law allows engineers to earn extra salary paid from the county’s general fund for work they do as the county’s sanitary engineer. But the commissioners decided this year that the additional $25,697 Brand had always been paid for taking care of the sanitary-sewer plants in the county was too much; they offered him $15,000, and he refused.
So six weeks ago, the commissioners fired him from that role. When sanitary work is needed, they will contract with an outside engineering firm on an hourly basis.
As an elected official, Brand still draws his $85,000 county engineer’s salary, which is set by state law.
Brand says the county’s sanitary engineer is also in charge of ditch maintenance. And since he’s no longer sanitary engineer, he won’t do the ditch work.
Andra Troyer, who once served on the board of the Madison County Soil and Water Conversation District and has been involved with the Darby Creek watershed, is leading a group of farmers who will attend the commissioners’ meeting on Monday to demand action.
“Most of us believe David Brand has done a good job for 12 years and he should be paid for what he does,” Troyer said. “And I know how important the drainage work is.”
But to underscore the level of frustration that farmers are feeling, even Mike Boerger — an ally of Brand’s — is fed up.
“I want this crap to stop,” said Boerger, who runs a large farm in the county and is a longtime president of the Madison County Township Association. Some of his land is partially drained by the Guy-Stewart Ditch, where some of the tractors now rest. “People expect a certain level of service out of their government — they pay for a certain level of service — and no one is getting it. The officials are all acting like a bunch of idiots.”
Commissioner David Dhume isn’t pulling his punches, either: “David Brand is being immature. He’s taking his toys and going home. But the real problem? David Brand is an elected official, he is charged with upholding his duties and the law. And he is breaking the law. That’s unforgiveable in my mind.”
Pronai, the prosecutor, acknowledges there is ambiguity in state law as it relates to engineers’ duties. But he says he believes that the law says commissioners can require the engineer to maintain the county’s ditches.
Brand said this is only the latest of what he sees as personal attacks because he criticized Commissioner Paul Gross during last year’s primary election. He said the law allows him to be fairly compensated for his work and that’s what seeks.
“I am being retaliated against so I suspended operations until the commissioners could figure out a plan,” he said. “What the citizens of Madison County should be concerned about is that the commissioners are the ones who are not doing their duties.”