Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township trustees

New code of conduct doesn't stop squabbling

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Insults flew April 1 even after the Liberty Township trustees approved a new code of conduct.

Trustees and township officials exchanged curt words during the business meeting, arguing over a recent suggestion by Melanie Leneghan to hand off emergency medical duties for the Columbus Zoo to Delaware County EMS.

In the past six months, arguments over how to spend township funds have inspired numerous heated exchanges and the occasional shouting match among trustees, and between trustees and residents.

In response the trustees voted 2-1 April 1 to approve a new set of "rules of decorum" for the township's twice-monthly meetings.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan voted against the rules. She said they're insulting to residents.

"I've never seen a resident behave in a manner that would warrant this resolution," Leneghan said. "However, I have seen members of the board behave unprofessionally. Therefore I would move to adopt rules of decorum for the board, but not for the citizens."

She was outvoted. The new rules state residents should refrain from verbal outbursts or interrupting others who are speaking, but it also makes less-concrete suggestions for audience conduct.

It asks that residents who address the trustees "keep an open mind" and "criticize ideas, not people." It calls for "no arguing with trustees" and adds that "accusations are not acceptable."

Residents who break the rules could potentially be asked to leave a meeting.

"I think it's a sad state of affairs that we even need this, but in light of the last couple of meetings and how our township legal counsel was treated a couple of weeks ago, I think it is needed," Trustee Mary Carducci said, referencing a recent dispute between Leneghan and township attorney Craig Paynter.

About 30 minutes later Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber chastised Leneghan for comments made at the March 18 meeting, when she suggested the township could save more than $200,000 annually by handing the Columbus Zoo over to Delaware County EMS.

Last year, Liberty Township made 67 medical runs and four fire runs to the zoo, accounting for about 3.29 percent of runs for 2012.

Gerber said eliminating those might save gas money, but said staffing and operations are fixed costs and wouldn't be affected by the small reduction in runs. "To claim that it is all variable cost is idiotic," Gerber said.

He added: "It's absurd to say that, and to hear it from someone who graduated with a business degree with honors is appalling, in my opinion," referring to Leneghan.

Gerber's comments prompted Trustee Curt Sybert to ask township staff to "stick to the facts" and avoid personal attacks.

Leneghan said the zoo discussion was launched unexpectedly at the March 18 meeting and she spoke off the cuff.

Resident Carl Salmon expressed concern that the new rules of decorum are too vague and subjective.

"I don't know how anybody, no matter how well schooled they are, can tell you if someone is truly keeping an open mind," he said.

He said he's worried the rules will be enforced only when the trustees are being addressed by someone with whom they disagree.

Sybert said he understands those concerns, adding, "You're entitled to make your comments to curing citizen comment."

In other business April 1, the trustees:

* Reinstated the "scenic byway" designation for state Route 315, which was eliminated in December due to concerns about using staff time to apply to retain the label.

* Approved an agreement with the Wedgewood Park Estates Home Owners Association to allow the group to install and maintain landscaping features along Creighton Drive.

* Approved plans to seek bids for 1,000 tons of rock salt to de-ice roads in the winter.

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