"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 her resignation Nov. 1.

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.

Outside counsel

selected

Council members will look to Columbus attorney Rita McNeil Danish to provide some of the answers they seek.

Danish, a partner at Columbus-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm, was selected at a Dec. 4 work session to represent City Council in its investigation from among four candidates Bradford presented.

According to an email Bradford sent Dec. 4 to council members, the selection of special legal counsel to represent them is not applicable to executive sessions.

The email advised council members outside counsel would be "solely for the investigation of theft by a former city employee."

Carrier and McGivern each pressed Bradford on Dec. 4 about expanding the scope of the special legal counsel, including such financial mechanisms as employees' use of city vehicles.

"You can't hire your own legal counsel ... that's what I do. ... You can only hire legal counsel if there is a conflict (of interest)," Bradford said.

Carrier said a conflict is inherent by the fact the law director serves at the pleasure of the mayor and within the administration.

"That's not necessarily true," Bradford replied.

Carrier also said Dec. 5 he believes the duties of mayor and safety director ought to be separate and, according to the city charter, the appointment of a safety director is subject to City Council approval. He said City Council also should have oversight of the use of city vehicles.

Mayor Don Schonhardt said Dec. 5 he has served as acting safety director since the departure of Pam Fox, who was both law director and safety director, in December 2012.

He said Article IV of the city charter outlines duties of the mayor and states the mayor can "act in the capacity of the director for any administrative department at any time such department does not have an appointed director."

The concern, Schonhardt said, soon would be moot because he plans in January to name an appointee to the position of safety director.

Schonhardt said he questioned why Carrier did not raise concerns sooner and he believes it is politically motivated.

"I'm not saying anything is being done wrong ... there are just a lot of (other) questions that need asked," Carrier said.

He said such questions are a "logical extension" after the alleged theft of the pools money became public knowledge.

After City Council's selection of Danish – who once hired Bradford as an assistant attorney for the city of Dayton – Bradford said she expected her to be present at the next scheduled meeting Dec. 11 to finalize such details as the scope of the investigation and compensation.

As long as the cost for special legal counsel does not exceed $50,000, no legislation is required, Bradford said, and she is authorized to enter into the contact.

If accrued services were to exceed $50,000, she said, legislation would be necessary and she then would introduce applicable legislation.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo