When Vanessa Niekamp takes over as Violet Township fiscal officer April 1, 2020, she'll add those duties to two other prominent positions she already holds in the community.

After being elected to the township post Nov. 5, Niekamp said, she'll remain Pickerington Food Pantry executive director and a member of the Pickerington School Board of Education.

Because she won't have the ability to set policy or appropriate township funds -- authorities that are held by the township's three trustees -- there are no conflicts of interest that will prevent her from holding all three posts simultaneously.

Ryan Jenkins, Pickerington Schools treasurer, said state officials specifically have said the township post would not interfere with Niekamp's ability to serve the final two years of her second term on the school board.

"The Ohio Attorney General opined in a 1961 opinion that the office of township clerk is not incompatible with being a member of a board of education," Jenkins said.

Niekamp has been a school board member since 2014. She said she intends to remain on the board at least for the remaining two years on her term because she's committed to the office and the obligation she took on when she ran for a second term.

She said now that she's familiar with the school district and policies, she works an average of about 10 hours a month on the school board.

Niekamp works full time as food pantry executive director, a post she started in November 2017, but she is able to set her own hours, including evenings and weekends.

"With the food pantry role and the school board role, I still have the flexibility to set up regular hours there at the township," Niekamp said.

The fiscal officer's duties are to serve as the recordkeeper for the county, which includes recording actions at Violet Township trustees' public meetings and managing the township's records and public-records requests.

Although she won't have a vote on any actions the trustees take, Niekamp will assist the trustees in preparing an annual budget and working with outside auditors on the township's annual audit.

She said she sought the position after hearing that current fiscal officer Brian Sauer wasn't going to run for the office and because she wanted to ensure that someone with a strong background in government, finances and the local community would seek election.

"The three trustees and (the late former Violet Township operations director) John Eisel ... kept encouraging me to run based off of my background and knowledge of state government," Niekamp said. "I felt it was important for me to take that role on."

Trustees Chairman Darrin Monhollen said he thinks there should be a fairly seamless transition when Niekamp takes office.

"Ms. Niekamp has extensive experience in state government and has successfully administered budgets that are even larger than our overall $17 million to $18 million budget in Violet Township," Monhollen said. "It has been repeatedly demonstrated that Ms. Niekamp has earned the public's trust, having been elected to the Pickerington Schools Board of Education multiple times and most recently to this position."

While Niekamp will maintain all three positions, she said she won't wear multiple hats at one time. When she's working as a fiscal officer, she won't conduct business related to her other two positions.

She does, however, have plans to update the fiscal office in her first year.

While there are no set office hours for the post, she hopes to be there at least three times a week.

"I think it's important that the fiscal officer hold regular hours there. I'd like to have three times a week on a regular basis where people can schedule meetings with a fiscal officer," Niekamp said. "Making a records request sometimes isn't the easiest thing to do, understanding what records are there when you're making that type of request and then also understanding the information you get back and how it was deemed to be relevant to the request that you made.

"If you're making a request that's overly broad, then you end up getting a mountain of information because it's what you asked for. It might be easier in those types of situations to actually meet with someone and kind of draw down to what it is you're actually looking to know. Your request might also need to be bigger.

"I think there needs to be a lot more recordkeeping done," she said. "I think we should even have a record of how many records requests came in and what types of records are people requesting."

Additionally, Niekamp plans to review the township's records-retention policies to see if they can be updated or improved. She noted that currently, the township doesn't track public-records requests it receives or provides. She said she also hopes to offer an online summary of the township's annual revenues and expenditures.

Overall, Niekamp believes she'll be able to manage the three jobs, but said the first year likely will be the most challenging. That's because she'll be learning about the ins and outs of township finances and recordkeeping while also maintaining her full-time job with the food pantry and helping the school board prepare a levy for the November 2020 ballot to finance a new junior high building and upgrades to other district facilities.

She said that might result in her working more evening and weekend hours at the food pantry, as well as fewer active personal commitments to organizations such as the Pickerington Lions Club, where she's currently a two-year director.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate