Thursday, February 6, 2003

Liberty president in charge

Administrator declared ill after session

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - Trustee President Christine Matacic was declared acting township administrator Wednesday after trustees met in executive session.

The move comes following a note from Administrator Nell Kilpatrick's doctor that trustees received Wednesday stating she was ill and would not be able to return to work for an undetermined time.

But Kilpatrick's performance has been recently called into question by trustees, two of the trustees acknowledged Wednesday, and one even said her job could be in jeopardy.

Matacic said after Wednesday's 70-minute meeting that just the immediate matter of Kilpatrick's health and putting an acting township administrator in place were the only items discussed.

"Nell has some very good qualities and very good strengths, but there's always going to be questions when it comes to different personalities," Matacic said.

She and Trustee David Kern declined to comment on other issues with Kilpatrick's performance, but Trustee Bob Shelley said her performance was discussed in an executive session Monday and he suspects Matacic and Kern may want to fire Kilpatrick.

"That's the prevailing opinion of the board members," Shelley said. "I just didn't want to do it right now. I think we have too many things going right now. It's a distraction we did not need. But we'll get by."

Shelley initiated the hiring of Kilpatrick in May 1998 but said Wednesday that there is now "a laundry list" of concerns that Matacic has drafted and doled out to him and Kern. Her base salary is $59,500.

"There are several issues they are concerned about and to be honest, I agreed with them but I said we ought to do certain things before we fire her," Shelley said. "I insisted we speak to legal counsel. I just don't want to open the township up for lawsuits or anything of that nature."

Citing personnel confidentiality laws, Matacic declined to release the list or the note from Kilpatrick's doctor Wednesday. But she did say the list just consisted of notes she jotted down to remind herself of issues she had.

Shelley said the major concern revolves around Kilpatrick's dealings with employees. Three of four employees who have left the township cited not getting along with Kilpatrick as the reason for their exit, he said.

"There's just some personality clashes. Hopefully it will all work out, but we'll just have to wait and see," Shelley said. "I did a lot of lobbying tonight, but I don't know if it will all work out. My best guess is her job is in jeopardy to some degree but I don't know if it's final."

Roger Gates, an assistant prosecuting attorney and division chief in the civil division of the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, advised the trustees during their executive session Wednesday and will soon speak with Kilpatrick and her attorney.

"The attorney told us not to discuss it until he sat down with Nell and her attorney, so we're kind of having to keep things under wraps," Shelley said. "Nell makes some mistakes but we are all human and make some mistakes. I don't know that any of them is that serious."

By state law, the township has the authority to enact a replacement in the event the administrator is absent due to illness or vacation for a long period of time.

Kilpatrick was off work sick Wednesday. Reached at home, she said her doctor had diagnosed her with the flu and a sinus infection and hadn't given her a date to return to work.

She attended part of Monday's executive session and said her performance was not discussed while she was present. The trustees also have not raised any concerns with her, she stressed.

"I know nothing," Kilpatrick said. "I absolutely cannot comment because I am not aware of anything."

Before overseeing Liberty Township's rapid residential growth, Kilpatrick worked as executive director for the Southeastern Butler County Chamber of Commerce and spent five years as the assistant to West Chester Township Administrator Dave Gully.

Gully said Wednesday he was shocked the trustees had issues with Kilpatrick.

"I am surprised. Nell's a good person. She is a competent administrator and knows what she is doing," Gully said.

"We in public service do not always have the luxury of being in total agreement with our elected board. It's a part of the job."


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