Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Indictments roil Lebanon politics

City Council delays action on manager

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The newly indicted city manager returned to business as usual Monday morning even as television news vans congregated outside and two of his bosses unsuccessfully tried to fire him.

        News crews are usually a bad sign in this Warren County city of 15,000, unless it's time for the Christmas parade. This time, sure enough, the occasion was Friday's indictment of City Manager James Patrick on four felony charges.

        A special prosecutor has charged him with helping Debbie Biggs, the former city auditor, and Bill Duning, former city attorney, funnel more than $300,000 into their retirement funds in late 1999. The two also were indicted, along with the retired electric department director, Robert Newton.

        Each could receive up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

        It's only the latest bad news generated by Lebanon's fractious politi cians. In the past three years, the city has recalled a councilwoman and been sued by its mayor.

  May 1998 — Councilwoman Mary-Ann Cole is ousted in the first recall in city history. John McComb, who largely bankrolled the recall effort, takes her seat.
  June 1998 — Councilman Michael Coyan, a Cole ally, resigns suddenly. Joe McKenzie, a McComb ally, is appointed in his place. Mayor James Mills and Councilman Mark Flick sue to keep the McComb camp from removing Mr. Mills as mayor.
  November 1998 — City Manager Richard Hayward — his council supporters now in the minority — resigns.
  July 1999 — James Patrick begins work as city manager.
  November 1999 — Voters oust Mr. McComb in favor of two newcomers, including Ben Cole, Mrs. Cole's son.
  February 2000 — Controversy over early-retirement buyouts taken without council's knowledge expands to Mr. Patrick after he admits knowing about them beforehand. The news leads to the first of two attempts by council members Amy Brewer and James Reinhard to remove him from office.
  March 2000 — Mr. McKenzie resigns suddenly, after saying the city's finances are “hemorrhaging” thanks to the construction of a $10 million-plus citywide telecommunications system. That leaves Mr. Reinhard and Mrs. Brewer as the last remaining members of the McComb camp.
  July 27, 2001 - Mr. Patrick is indicted on four felony counts related to the early-retirement buyouts.
        “I think there's been a history of miscommunication in this city,” resident Lisa Smith said. “There are personalities that conflict. When you're in public office, you have to put the citizens of Lebanon ahead of personalities.”

        The difference is that this time the charges are criminal, and the penalty is not a loss at the polls but a loss of liberty.

        Otherwise, it's the same old story.

        Old animosities have been stirred up again, old loyalties renewed. Councilman Ronald Pandorf immediately leapt to Mr. Patrick's defense, calling him a “capable individual.” Council members Amy Brewer and James Reinhard leapt equally quickly to call for Mr. Patrick's resignation or firing.

        “It's politics as usual,” Gene Jestice, owner of Dickens Bookshop, said Monday of the attack on the city manager.

        “An indictment is not an indication of guilt,” Mr. Jestice said. “What money went into his pocket?”

        Council had a special meeting Monday night anddecided by a 5-2 vote to table action on temporarily or permanently removing Mr. Patrick until its Aug. 7 meeting. That did not please several residents, who predicted Lebanon's image and atmosphere will continue to suffer with an indictment hanging over the city manager's head.

        “This will divide the whole town,” said Marianne Casimir, whose husband, Gary, is running for council in November.

        “You need to consider what the citizens of the town are going through. It doesn't look good for us.”


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