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Two battle for one spot to handle Perkins finances

Andy Ouriel • Nov 3, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Two candidates are vying for the same four-year position — as one attempts to keep employment in Perkins Township and as the other desires to wrestle the job from the incumbent.

Township fiscal officer Diane Schaefer will combat candidate Jane Gildenmeister for the elected office, which pays about $28,000 a year.

Both have a wealth of government experience. Schaefer is seeking her third term in office, and previously worked in other township capacities such as a school bus driver and fire dispatcher.

Gildenmeister served about two decades working for Erie MetroParks and also worked as a financial employee at H&R Block.

The two separately sat down with the Register to answer pressing questions surrounding the position.

Q: Please explain the fiscal officer’s role as an elected official and a person representing the 12,000-plus township residents.

DS: The position of fiscal officer is not a decision-making position. That is for the trustees. But they rely on the fiscal officer for projections of how much income they are going to receive during the year. We have to look at the big picture. You have to show you are balancing everyone’s needs for the township.

JG: The fiscal officer position for Perkins Township is a very important part of Perkins local government. It’s the lifeblood of the township. It controls the purse strings. The person in there must have integrity, which means you always do the right thing even when nobody is looking.

Q: Perkins Township is in the midst of creating a new Township Hall, which will be a multi million-dollar facility housing many of its government departments. What is the fiscal officer’s responsibility in the creation of Township Hall?

DS: The goal is to have all the plans be complete before construction is started. The trustees have to make decisions, such as going with a manager to oversee the project. (For the fiscal officer,) the responsibilities are processing the payments to the contractors on time to avoid change orders (or unexpected bills).

JG: The township trustees are the ones that make the decisions about where the money is going and (where it is) to be spent. The fiscal officer needs to make sure that the bills get paid in a timely fashion and that the money is there.

Q: What is the biggest obligation of the fiscal officer?

DS: The biggest one is making sure that we are complying with state audits (which includes) payroll issues and processing purchase orders. The fiscal officer makes sure the money is available (for projects and payroll). If that process is not done, you could find yourself in trouble.

JG: It controls the purse strings. The person must have integrity, which means you always do the right thing even when nobody is looking. I believe a key obligation of the position is to maintain a cooperative and a reliable relationship with other departments, elected officials, citizens of Perkins Township.

Q: What have you done, or what will you do, to keep the public informed about Perkins Township’s business?

DS: Each department head is responsible to maintain their own (page) on the township’s website. I post the minutes after they are approved, the financial information, calendar, upcoming events and news articles.

JG: I was a manager at Erie MetroParks for 20 years. I have proven communication and problem-solving skills all while keeping the books accurate and up-to-date.

Q: The township’s chief building official, John Curtis, filed a grievance in the summer claiming Schaefer creates a hostile work environment. What are your thoughts on this situation and what improvements have been made to stop this problem?

DS: We discussed what appeared to be the problem. Bottom line, there were assumptions made by both parties. Both sides weren’t factual and we worked through those.

Q: This summer, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said it’s unethical that fiscal officers can collect taxpayer money beyond their slotted salary. From 1994 through June 2011, the township’s fiscal officer received a $20 stipend for assisting an independent building contractor to file fees. Even though Perkins Township stopped this process when trustees created the area’s first building department, what are your thoughts on this opinion?

DS: I wasn’t going to take it if I wasn’t permitted to. (Perkins Township) had nine audits since then. I believed that we all believe that this was a lawful expenditure and was not a cost to Perkins Township or its taxpayers.

JG: If in doubt, someone should have asked about this. There must have been some questions about this along the way somewhere. If (past fiscal officers collected the fees) it doesn’t make it right, but that is totally up to the attorney general.

Q: What are some challenges facing the future Perkins Township fiscal officer?

DS: We still want to get all of our records scanned. We’re in the process of updating our computer networking system.

JG: My priorities are to maintain proper records of township proceedings, including minutes from meetings. I want to build a cooperative relationship with township departments and elected officials, and I want to operate a professional, efficient and reliable department.

Q: Why do you know finances better, and why should voters ultimately select you on Election Day?

DS: I have spent over 40 years as a bookkeeper. I have a proven track record that I am capable of doing the job and I’m dedicated to the township.

JG: I have the knowledge of the daily operations for a government, and I have the proven communication and problem-solving skills needed.

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