Thursday, October 19, 2000

Restaurant bill argued at trustee meeting

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TWP. — Tuesday night's trustees meeting erupted into a finger-pointing, gavel-pounding free-for-all when Township Clerk Kristin Spiekerman questioned a Sept. 7 dinner bill that trustees President Bill Morand submitted for reimbursement.

        The bill, which totaled $437, was generated when Mr. Morand and Trustee Larry Backus took a potential vendor to dinner and discussed business with him while at the Ohio Township Association's National Conference in Washington, D.C.

        Mrs. Spiekerman said she could not lawfully approve reimbursement for the bill because of several discrepancies. According to her, a receipt from Sam & Harry's Restaurant showed that a $58 bottle of merlot wine and other less expensive alcoholic beverages were purchased.

        By law, the township is not allowed to use taxpayer dollars to buy alcohol, Mrs. Spiekerman said.

        She also pointed out that six guests — three of whom were Mr. Backus' wife and two representatives from the Rouse Co., the Maryland retail developer proposing a Nordstrom-anchored mall in Deerfield, all nontownship employees — were included on the bill.

        Mrs. Spiekerman said that while township administrators have the authority to buy meals for business associates, elected officials enjoy no such privileges.

        “By law, we are not allowed to pay for family members' meals, either,” Mrs. Spiekerman said. “But my biggest problem is with this $58 bottle of wine. I'm not paying a bill with alcohol on it.”

        Mr. Morand said the drinks were bought by Warren and Elizabeth Wilson of Rouse, and not by trustees. He said the Wilsons and trustees split the cost of the bill, with the township's portion totaling about $251.

        “We did not buy anyone's meals,” Mr. Morand said. “We didn't want the Rouse Co. coming to town for zoning owing us a meal.”

        “If you have discrepancies with the bill, Kristin, then don't pay it,” Mr. Backus interrupted. “But this is not the venue to discuss this line by line.”

        “I'm not going to approve it,” Mrs. Spiekerman countered. “If you boys insist on breaking the law ... ”

        “No wait a minute, I'm going to make a motion to approve this bill,” challenged Mr. Morand.

        “Excuse me, Bill! I have not relinquished the floor and I will not be called out of order,” Mrs. Spiekerman replied.

        “You're out of order,” Mr. Morand fired back banging his gavel on the table.

        “Would you like a pedestal to grandstand on to make charges against the trustees?” Mr. Backus jumped in. “Clearly you are playing this up for the media.”

        Twice during the exchange with Mrs. Spiekerman, Mr. Morand made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Both times he was ignored.

        The argument continued, and Mr. Morand summoned a sheriff's deputy to have the clerk removed from the meeting.

        “Oh that's just great, Bill. Have me thrown out of the meeting. That'll look great on the front page of the newspaper,” Mrs. Spiekerman said.

        “I don't think that will be necessary,” Trustee Tom Raga said as he dismissed the deputy.

        “Kristin, you are incredibly unprofessional,” Mr. Backus said.

        “You're going nuts, Larry,” she responded.

        Despite much back-and-forth bickering, trustees and the clerk never reached a decision on how to settle the bill.

        The meal ticket melee is the latest in a series of confrontations between trustees and the clerk. In August, trustees publicly blasted Mrs. Spiekerman for failing to issue paychecks on time to township employees because “she didn't have time to sign them.”

        In June, trustees revoked the clerk's authority to transcribe meeting minutes, which prompted Mrs. Spiekerman to file a lawsuit. The two sides also locked horns in a dispute earlier this year when trustees moved Mrs. Spiekerman's office into what she called “the township's garage.”


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