Q&A: Perkins Twp. candidates address the issues

PERKINS TWP. Don Bass, Jerry Baumgardner and Jeff Ferrell answer questions on Perkin
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

Don Bass, Jerry Baumgardner and Jeff Ferrell answer questions on Perkins Township's hot topics.  It's your turn to ask the questions on Tuesday, November 1 at 8 p.m.  The candidates will participate in Q&A Live at sanduskyregister.com/vote2007.

Q: The joint facility committee made up of four residents each from both Sandusky and Perkins Township has been working for several months studying the potential cost savings each community might gain from a combined police headquarters, dispatch and operations center. Do you support the concept of a combined facility? Why or why not? If you support the effort is there a level of initial and annualized savings that in your mind must be met in order to make a combined facility feasible. Are there other benefits a combined facility offers? Please explain in detail.

BASS

As a voluntary member of the Joint Perkins/Sandusky Police Study Committee representing the Perkins Township residents, we have collectively agreed not to discuss this matter or to speculate until all of our studies are final and we have all of the necessary facts. That said, to adequately implement a systemic plan for the future and not have to redo the process again, we must also consider all of Erie County, not just Perkins Township and Sandusky, but also the villages and towns, including not but exclusively, Bay View, Berlin Heights, Castalia, Huron, Milan, Vermilion, along with the Erie County Sheriff's Department.

BAUMGARDNER

I would support the concept of a combined facility only if there is a significant cost savings for the township. The committee assigned to assist the trustees in this matter has not given a final report. I feel it is only fair to read their report before making a decision.

The township must anticipate a savings of $500,000 per year to ensure feasibility.

A combined facility would provide a larger labor pool of trained employees, both full time and part time, from which to draw. This would reduce costs by decreasing the amount of overtime worked by full time employees.

FERRELL

The exploratory committee that the Perkins Township Trustees and the Sandusky city Commissioners set up is good. We have to be open to the possibility of our two communities working together on joint projects, but at this time I do not support the concept of a joint police headquarters. I see no urgency to spend money we do not have to move out of a modern, paid-off facility that the Perkins Police Department is operating out of at this time. There will be a cost for property acquisition, remodeling this property and moving our current facility. If the police department is moved out of the current Township Administration Building, what would the township do with this vacant area?

The township currently has two levies on the Nov. 6 ballot. If either one of these levies fail, where would the township get the money for this relocation project? If either one of these levies fail the township will have a hard time maintaining the services that are currently provide by Perkins Township. It is imperative that we show the residents that we are good stewards of their tax dollars. To regionalize just to regionalize is not a good idea.

I think Perkins Township needs to explore the concept of selling the two pieces of valuable property on Milan Road and using the property on Hull Road to build a township complex that would house the Perkins Police Department, Fire Department and Township Administration. These three departments would share common areas such as training areas, meeting rooms, storage areas, utilities, phone systems, computer systems and an emergency generator. This project would only be possible if the sale of the properties would generate enough revenue to pay for the construction cost of this facility. The savings would be from a more efficient building, shared utility cost and the sharing of common areas.

During this campaign season I talked to many of our township residents, and they did not have a great interest in the joint Perkins and Sandusky police headquarters project. When elected, if the other two trustees support this project, I will insist that Perkins Township have public meetings on this issue so the residents have an opportunity to have input.

I think the township needs to produce an accurate financial figure of what it costs to operate the Perkins Police Department. This figure must include wages, pension cost, all other personnel expenses, vehicle cost and all other related expenses. The merge will not reduce manpower in either department and each department will still handle the same amount of calls. I do not see where Perkins Township would be saving any taxpayers money with this joint facility.

Q: The township faces a continuing and serious financial crunch. What actions are you proposing to address revenue shortfalls? Please be specific in both the proposals and the potential estimated cost savings or staffing/services cutbacks.

BASS

The State of Ohio mandates that Perkins Township operates under a balanced budget. The department heads have the obligation to be fiscally responsible with the citizens' tax dollars with oversight by the Trustees. We have all had to tighten our belts and a lot of us have had to live on less money with increased expenses. I plan on opening better lines of communication with the department heads, listen to their specific needs, (not wants). We have to set aggressive and measurable goals for cost savings. We can regionalize some of the purchasing practices when and where possible. This should include competitive bidding on all projects with local buying preferences, while some shared services seem feasible. Ultimately, we have to work closely with our department heads, as they are the ones that are responsible for running their departments. The last thing that I would want any department head to cut are their employees. I would hope that they will find other cost saving areas within their respective departmental budgets while realizing that the Trustees must appropriate funding.

BAUMGARDNER

Townships cannot spend more than they receive. Perkins Township has a high level of services to its residents, and services have an attached cost. That leaves the township with one of two choices: decrease services or increases revenue. At this time the only revenue the township receives are taxes.

FERRELL

The current financial situation that faces Perkins Township was partially created by frivolous spending habits of past boards. Past trustees purchased two very expensive pieces of property that are still sitting vacant today and costing the township $86,000 each year in a lease payment.

I stated that the board of trustees must set goals and objectives each year to steer the township in a positive direction. These goals and objectives must be carefully thought out and will help keep the township on a path of financial stability. This township cannot keep spending money on plans the township cannot afford to complete.

The township has two levies on the Nov. 6 ballot, one for the fire department and one for the township's general fund. The revenues of the general fund absorb most of the expenses in the township. If one or both of these levies fail the trustees must review and research the current budget to see what cutbacks could be made, make the necessary cuts and be ready to place the levy or levies back on the ballot in May 2008. If one or both of these levies fail, the trustees must ask the residents why and what the township needs to do to restore the confidence of the residents.

The current waste of taxpayers' money being used to defend and settle lawsuits just shows that the board needs a strong individual to administer a strong fiscal policy and a strong chain of command to the employees of the township. It is evident that having a weak chain of command places a financial burden on the township.

A strict policy must be created and implemented so the trustees would approve all purchases. This policy must be created with the fiscal officer and State Auditor's Office. This is imperative to cut down on wasteful spending.

When elected I will:

* Meet with the department heads and review their budget with them line item by line item to make necessary reductions in their budget of all non-personnel expenses.

* Reduce the vehicle fleet size of the township. This will help reduce insurance cost, maintenance cost of the fleet and reduce replacing unnecessary vehicles.

* Reduce the fuel consumption cost to the township by the reduction in fleet size and parking, and limiting the use of all non-fuel efficient vehicles, retiring them from the fleet if possible.

* Meet with the Bureau of Workman's Compensation to see what the township can do to reduce its current rate. The Division of Safety and Hygiene has grants available for these types of programs.

* Research if there would be any savings by selling the two properties on Milan Road and using this money to build a new, efficient township complex on the vacant Hull Road property.

* Meet with department heads and all employees to discuss possible money-saving ideas they might have.

* Review all current employee job descriptions to see if the township can combine jobs or responsibilities of certain positions. This would give the trustees insight if any positions can be eliminated or combined.

* My experience in labor negotiation will help the township save money in the current labor negotiations in dealing with issues such as health care cost.

I know that my experience working for a local government will allow me to make the tough decisions that have to be made when dealing with a multi-million-dollar budget. I have done this and have been exposed to reducing a budget while maintaining the current level of service. I have been able to have input and help administer a multi-million-dollar budget. I know what it takes to run a department and all the related expenses that come with it.

Q: Trustee Bill Dwelle has filed two lawsuits against the township in the past year regarding alleged actions by the Rev. Thomas Fant in his capacity as a police chaplain for the Perkins Police Department. In addition, Police Chief Tim McClung and police Lt. Al Matthews filed a lawsuit against the township and Trustee Dwelle alleging Dwelle had created a hostile work environment. Please offer your opinion on this litigation and provide as much detail on your thoughts as possible. Please also comment on how these actions reflect on the township? On Mr. Dwelle? Chief McClung? Lt. Matthews? Please be specific for each individual.

BASS

These lawsuits reflect the failure of the Perkins Township Board of Trustees to first represent the residents of Perkins Township and secondly, to address problems with respect and professionalism. By allowing this to go on, they have put favoritism ahead of their constituents. Many individuals have lost respect for the current trustees and for some employees because of their ongoing inability to work together for the betterment of the taxpayers. There has been enough divisiveness, and the taxpayers of Perkins Township deserve government that works together for them. Personalities and egos must be put aside so that policies that will best serve the residents are followed. As your trustee, I will put in place a manual of policies and procedures for all at-will employees so that taxpayer monies are not wasted. Procedures already in the contract between Perkins Township and the police and fire unions need to be followed.

BAUMGARDNER

Since all parties involved in the lawsuits decline to comment, I don't know any more than what I read in the Sandusky Register. That being said, I personally feel these lawsuits are a huge drain on township time and resources. It is unfortunate that communication deteriorated to the point of legal recourse.

FERRELL

When elected the new board of trustees must meet with Perkins Township's legal advisers to analyze if the lawsuits have merit or the allegations in the lawsuits are frivolous. If the allegations in the lawsuits have merit, they must be rectified, and a settlement must be reached with all parties involved. If the allegations are frivolous, then I am sure the insurance carrier will continue to fight the lawsuits.

I have not been part of any discovery process in these cases, so I only have certain facts to work with.

These lawsuits affect the efficient operation of the township and the township's finances. Perkins Township cannot operate under these circumstances. The board of trustees, all department heads and all township employees are here to provide a service to the residents; this must be our main goal and our most important goal.

The trustees must look at whey and how this situation got to where it is today and take measures of how to stop this type of situation in the future. My strong background in dealing with public employees will be very valuable in dealing with the department heads and other employees. The trustees must make policies and guidelines; enforce these policies and guidelines equally in all departments; and take quick and decisive action when an employee does not follow these policies and guidelines.

The residents are tired of the constant turmoil and bad public perception of the individuals involved in the above allegations and lawsuits. This township cannot keep operating under these conditions. There is a serious lack of leadership on the current board, and it is imperative the next trustee have the experience and knowledge of dealing with public employees. It is the trustees' job to get everybody to work for the good of Perkins Township instead of their own personal agendas.

Q: In the past several months Diane Schaefer, a candidate for the fiscal officer's position, has said she was acting as an agent for Trustee Dwelle reviewing township records. Is it appropriate to give a private citizen unfettered access to township records? Is it appropriate to give a political candidate access? In your opinion, have township records been compromised due to these actions?

BASS

The records of Perkins Township are public records and by law are available to any citizen, whether he or she is a candidate for public office, a taxpayer, or a newspaper reporter. Citizens have a right to research facts and figures to be better informed. The standard procedures are already in place and being followed as all records are requested through the fiscal officer.

BAUMGARDNER

No, it is the duty of the current clerk as custodian of records to gather information requested by private citizens.

Political candidates are no different than any other person making a public records request and should comply with procedures for obtaining the information sought.

Yes. The potential for compromise exists any time procedures are bypassed and records are accessed by unauthorized persons in an unsupervised setting.

FERRELL

Ohio already has established laws concerning how individuals can request and have access to public records and documents. The procedure is described under law and must and shall be followed by the township. The request for records shall be done in a timely fashion. Township policies regarding public records and record retention shall be compliant with state law.

The township's records should be kept in a state so they are easily accessed for a private citizen, news media or state auditor so requests for records can be done in a timely and professional manner.

I do not feel that any individual should have "unfettered access" to township records. The township also has a responsibility for the security of these records along with the confidential information in employee's personnel files. If an individual is looking for a series of documents or not sure where to find a document, this individual should be permitted to review the clerk's journal of public records.

There is absolutely no reason why Perkins Township is not placing the minutes of all meetings on the township's Web site. The township should also place all agendas for upcoming meetings on the Web site.

I feel that all individuals, media, governmental agencies should have access to all public records. The procedure that Perkins Township uses to produce these records shall comply with Ohio Revised Code and in accordance with the township's policy.

Ohio law regarding public records has recently changed, and it is imperative that all elected officials and department heads receive the proper training on these changes as soon as possible.

Q: Has growth in the township outstripped the current form of government, and if so, how would you propose reforming the present government structure?

BASS

Do you think that the original framers of our Constitution had any idea that one day there would be 300 million people living under that Constitution? I would bet not. Do you feel that we have "outstripped" the Constitution of the United States of America? I would hope not. When an elected official doesn't act in the best interest of the majority of the taxpayers, doesn't care enough to listen to the people, and will not communicate with the people, that elected official is "broken" and the voters un-elect him or her on the next Election Day. That is the way you reform government. If Perkins Township has "outstripped the current form of government" who is to blame; the citizens for being afraid to get involved, the media for no investigative reporting, or the current or past elected officials? Only the voters will tell on Nov. 6. I ask for their vote on Nov. 6 to represent them!

BAUMGARDNER

Township government is the simplest form of government there is and the most accessible. The one change that would have an impact on the township is becoming a limited home rule township. This would generate financial avenues not presently available to Perkins Township.

FERRELL

The current form of township government has kept pace with the growth of Perkins Township. There are other townships in Ohio that are larger than Perkins Township and operate under this form of government. It is not the form of government that has not kept up with the growth of our township; it is the administration of this government that has not kept up with the growth in our township.

This township has approximately an $8 million budget, 77 employees and all the problems that come with it. This township cannot keep operating like this. Our township has the same day-to-day problems that any other government body has.

I believe it is time that Perkins Township hires a full-time administrator to run the day-to-day operations of our township. This administrator would also keep the board advised of the township's financial condition, supervise and direct all department heads and perform human resource functions.

Most of the problems in the township are a result of the absence of a professional administrator being there to see that the policies and guidelines the trustees make are being carried out by the department heads. I am very confident that if there would have been an administrator over the last year the township would not be wasting time or taxpayers' money dealing with the current series of lawsuits and allegations.

If you ask a resident to take the amount of their property tax that they pay to the township and invest it in one of the two following businesses, which would they choose? Company A has 77 full-time employees and an approximate budget of $8 million and is operated by three part-time people who only meet every two weeks. Company B has the same budget and number of employees, but is run by an individual who is there every day to control the day-to-day operations. I would invest my money into Company B.

A professional township administrator would be involved in the joint police facility, township finances, administering township policies, disciplining employees, records security and responding to requests of public records. There are just too many day-to-day operations, questions and problems that need to be handled by one individual on a daily basis. This professional administrator would also save taxpayers money over the course of time. By not having to dal with these day-to-day operations, the trustees would have more time to deal with more pressing issues facing the township now and in the future. The most important thing the township administrator would do is raise the professional level of the board of trustees and Perkins Township.

Don't miss Q&A Live with Perkins Township trustee candidates.  It's your turn to ask the questions November 1 at 8 p.m. only at sanduskyregister.com/vote2007.