Olentangy Valley News

Orange Township residents' frustration with board continues

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Orange Township residents are making a habit of expressing their displeasure with township officials' behavior during public meetings.

Following a Feb. 3 meeting in which a resident lambasted township leaders, more residents addressed trustees at their Feb. 18 meeting regarding the ongoing tension among officials.

Resident Kirby Nielsen said the township's problems seem to lie in areas unseen by the public.

"I worry about things when people get this bitter and get this angry and carry things on forever and ever," Nielsen said.

"At what point do you just simply stop it and let it lie?"

Resident Chandra MacFarland said she has witnessed "very bad behavior and lots of drama," and defended Trustee Lisa Knapp.

"What I see during the meetings is Trustee Knapp trying to lay out the facts and Trustee (Debbie) Taranto rolling her eyes because Trustee Knapp may be long-winded and asking many questions in which Trustee Taranto feels that are unnecessary," MacFarland said. "From me, from my perspective of sitting in this chair, I appreciate those questions because she is helping people who want help."

Some problems began in 2012 when Knapp received allegedly harassing messages and comments via email and social-media accounts from someone who claimed to be a township resident named Buddy Wilson. Months later, it was later discovered that "Buddy Wilson" actually was Karen Wilson, sister of Trustee Rob Quigley.

Knapp filed a harassment complaint with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office. After an investigation, prosecutors declined to pursue charges and dropped the case.

"The situations that began in April 2012 set the pace for the trustees for the next two years," Knapp said. "It's definitely consequential to how things are happening now."

Before and since the incident, Knapp has posted video of township meetings on YouTube with her opinions on fellow officials' comments. Knapp also maintains a blog that, according to her description, is about the township's "environment of harassment and dysfunction."

"I have the right to inform the public about their local government. I will never give up my freedom of speech, and I believe the residents appreciate my insight," Knapp said.

Taranto and Quigley said serving the township is their top priority and they are trying to move forward.

"There is a lot more to it than there is (being presented)," Quigley said. "That was something that happened over a year and half ago that keeps being spurred up by someone, which I don't understand why.

"I have no problem moving forward and I am trying to take those steps to move forward," he added.

Taranto said these issues and Knapp's responses are nothing new, but they are unprofessional and hard on township employees.

"Trustee Rob Quigley and I will continue to work hard and diligently for the township and move past the unsavory behavior. This is not a bickering board, but solely one trustee wreaking havoc as she has done for many years, not just the last two years," Taranto said. "We can cry harassment, bullying, emotional distress -- all of which myself and others have had to endure these past two years and some longer than that -- but I've chosen to try and ignore and press on.

Fire chief retires

Orange Township Fire Chief Tom Stewart retired from his position during the Feb. 18 meeting. Stewart's last day was Friday, Feb. 28.

"I would like to tell you it has been an honor and a privilege to serve Orange Township, its residents and the firefighters," Stewart said.

Stewart was the township's fire chief for 14 years. Stewart oversaw the success of the second firehouse construction and opening, and also handled the repercussions of the township's failed fire levy in 2012.

"He has been an amazing chief and has taken us through a huge growth period," Taranto said. "He's really worked hard and I wish him all the success of retirement."

Assistant Chief Matthew Noble was named fire chief and began his new job Saturday, March 1. As part of the fire department's collective bargaining agreement, the department will not replace the assistant chief position.

Condos rejected

Township trustees last month rejected property developer Real Property Design and Development's most-recent application regarding Hidden Oaks Condominiums, located between Orange and Lewis Center roads south of Alum Creek Reservoir.

"Its cumulative impact would work a total change in the zoning district in a manner inconsistent with surrounding development," Taranto said.

Since the company has 30 days to appeal the decision, Taranto said she couldn't say what would happen with the plan or the company's next step.

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