If a township employee creates an expense to the township without permission, the employee would have to reimburse the township, said Mark Gerber, Liberty Township fiscal officer.

If a township employee creates an expense to the township without permission, the employee would have to reimburse the township, said Mark Gerber, Liberty Township fiscal officer.

The same rule applies to township Trustee Peggy Guzzo, said Gerber, who wants her to reimburse the township $9,897 in legal fees caused by a dispute he said she created.

One other trustee thinks Gerber's argument has merit, but Guzzo said she won't pay.

The legal fees stem from the city of Powell's claim that Liberty Township violated a community economic development agreement (CEDA) between the two entities. The violation was created, Powell officials said, when Guzzo participated in an initiative ordinance petition filed in the city.

An Aug. 7 letter from Powell to Liberty said Guzzo breached the CEDA agreement with her June press release announcing the initiative and the reactivation of a political action group called Citizens Action Protecting Greater Powell (CAPP) -- she signed the press release as "Liberty Township trustee." She also paid $420 of attorney fees for work performed on the initiative. Her paying for the fees was listed in the CAPP's campaign finance report filed with the Delaware County Board of Elections.

The initiative was backed by Powell residents angry about the city's approving a building permit for a Target store in the Golf Village area. While the initiative cannot stop the current Target plan, it is designed to prevent similar big-box stores from being built in the Sawmill Parkway area of the city.

In an Aug. 22 letter to the city, the township said the breach did not occur and that Guzzo's actions were that of an "individual citizen and not an act by the board of trustees." However, Powell and Liberty agreed to mediation on the issue which is likely to begin in February, township officials said.

On Dec. 15, Gerber presented Guzzo with the $9,897 invoice.

Guzzo said she won't pay and added, "I have always maintained that I assisted as an individual trustee and as a resident."

In an Aug. 11 press release, Guzzo wrote, "Powell's claim that Liberty Township breached the CEDA because I, as a lone trustee and private citizens, helped some residents of Powell with the initiative process ... is absurd ..."

She also said Gerber does not have the authority to invoice her.

Gerber said he does under Ohio Revised Code 5705.45, which says that officer holders or employees who spend public money without authorization are "liable to the political subdivision for the full amount ..."

"I believe that section allows me to have a pretty strong shot of collecting the money from Guzzo," Gerber said.

Trustee Curt Sybert said, "No township employee or official is entitled to free legal services. ... I think she has a moral issue if not a legal issue to pay that bill."

Trustee Robert Mann said he's not sure of the legality of invoicing Guzzo, but said the legal fees related to the breach allegations are necessary, as the agreement signed in 2002 guides annexation from the township to the city.

"We don't have the luxury of saying we'd rather save money and not hire the best legal counsel we can get, that being the attorneys that actually drafted and participated in the CEDA agreement," Mann said.

Neither the Ohio Attorney General's Office nor the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office would comment on the dispute.

Ohio Township Association executive director Michael Cochran, seemed to support all sides.

"It's proper for a fiscal officer to request money back from a vendor, elected official, employee -- if in fact the payment has been made improperly -- not judging that this is improper or not," he said.

"One of the general rules is that no one trustee has the authority to legally bind the entire township -- the township trustees act like a body," he added.

"If they (the trustees) met in open session and chose by two to one vote to hire counsel, then that is a legal obligation of the township -- a proper expenditure of the township -- and none (of the trustees) would be held personally liable for it."

bbutcher@thisweeknews.com