"Complete transparency” and a clear timeline on the alleged theft of money from the city’s pool facilities and a subsequent investigation are among the goals expressed by Hilliard City Council members in the two weeks since the situation went public.
“This council will provide transparency (and) answers to these unanswered questions,” said Councilman Les Carrier.
Carrier and council Vice President Kelly McGivern levied criticism at the city administration for not informing them sooner about the criminal investigation by the Hilliard Division of Police.
The preliminary investigation indicates not all cash proceeds from the Hilliard Family Aquatic Center and the Hilliard East Municipal Pool were accounted for in deposits made by Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department staff members during an unspecified period of time, according to Doug Francis, the city’s director of communications and information technology.
Police Chief Bobby Fisher said at a Nov. 21 press conference the timeline for the theft was “several years.” At least one employee is suspected in connection to the missing funds, Francis said, but no charges have been filed as of Dec. 4.
Top city officials were notified of the investigation the third week of October, Francis said.
Francis said he personally notified council members of the investigation Nov. 1, the same day law director Tracy Bradford advised him of it and the resignation of Heather Ernst, the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department deputy director. He said Mayor Don Schonhardt asked him to do so.
“I am frustrated that we were not made aware of what (the administration) knew about the investigation,” McGivern said.
City Council and the administration are partners “and not knowing is a concern,” she said.
“We should have known sooner,” Carrier said.
Councilman Tom Baker said he had no comment about the manner in which the administration notified council members. However, it was “late in the ball game” when they were made aware, he said.
Council President Nathan Painter said he needed to learn more about the origins of the investigation before commenting, but as a practicing attorney, he allowed for circumstances when criminal investigations are not immediately communicated to others.
The investigation was announced after police determined sufficient evidence had been gathered, Francis said.
He would not say when Hilliard police first were advised of alleged discrepancies that led to the investigation, when the investigation began or when Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office was enlisted to help.
The amount of money missing also has yet to be quantified.
These are only a few of many mysteries surrounding the investigation and its timeline, Carrier said.
“First and foremost, we want to know who knew what and when they knew it,” he said.
McGivern said she has many questions about what happened and when leading up to the phone call she and other council members received from Francis on Nov. 1.
“We want a transparent timeline,” she said.
The investigation was publicly announced at the Nov. 21 press conference, an action McGivern said council members requested.
After soliciting and receiving a copy of Ernst’s letter of resignation Nov. 16, she said, council members asked for the administration to announce the investigation.
At the Nov. 21 press conference, Francis and Fisher announced an employee had resigned and an investigation was under way but offered few other answers.
Francis said police could not identify the subject of the investigation because no charges had been filed.
“Once the investigation concludes and it is made public, (other details) can be released,” he said.
As for Ernst, her letter cited her health as a reason for her departure – she reiterated that reason via an email Nov. 21 – but it refers to stress she said she had experienced prior to the investigation being made public, about three weeks after her resignation.
The letter also references the lack of a policy for her department depositing money from the pools into a bank on a daily basis. The letter said the concerns went back to the summer of 2015 but she was not told of them until Oct. 16.
The money in question, Francis said, is related to cash received for daily admission and other transactions related to memberships.
Ernst’s letter stated many people would have had access to the money before it reached her.
Fisher said the investigation could take “several months” to conclude.
Carrier said City Council might not wait as long.
Council members have met in a series of closed executive sessions to discuss personnel issues.
“We are all in agreement on this and all asking the same questions,” Carrier said.