A recent opinion of the Ohio Attorney General’s office that one person may simultaneously hold the positions of police chief and administrator was expected by Walbridge mayor Ed Kolanko, who repeated his confidence in Ken Frost, the man currently holding both posts.
“I’m very happy the ruling came out as I expected,” the mayor said. “It was one thing I’m confident we were doing correctly and that’s been affirmed by the AG ruling.
Frost was hired as full-time police chief in 2011 by former mayor Dan Wilczynski and in 2012 was appointed to the administrator’s part-time position.
The legality of the posts being filled by one person has been questioned by Cecil Adkins, a former member of village council, who sought an opinion at his own expense from a Toledo law firm.
A letter dated Jan. 29, 2013 from the firm to Brian Ballenger, village solicitor, says the arrangement violates Ohio law and the village charter. Citing a 1909 case in Franklin County, the letter says “Offices are considered incompatible when one is subordinate to, or in any way a check upon, the other, or when it is physically impossible for one person to discharge the duties of both.”
Also, the letter notes, village ordinances authorize the administrator to approve invoices, contracts and other expenditures up to $5,000 without council approval. No similar authority is granted to other department heads.
“Thus, by concurrently appointing the police chief to also serve as the village administrator, it removes an important check on the…chief’s ability to spend or encumber village funds on items for the police department,” the letter says, adding the department’s regulations require officers to be “on duty and subject to call 24 hours a day.”
The 11-page opinion of Attorney General Mike DeWine, however, says someone may hold both positions but there are some restrictions.
“As the administrator he may not approve invoices, estimates, contracts, or other expenditures for the village police department without the approval of the village’s legislative authority,” the opinion says. “As village chief of police he must remove himself from any investigation concerning the office of village administrator.
“The positions of village police chief and village administrator thus operate independently of each other. Neither position is required to assign duties to or supervise the other. Neither position is directly responsible for appointing or removing a person from the other position. Therefore, neither position is subordinate to, or in any way a check upon, the other.”
Adkins says a curb project on Parkview Drive is a good example of where the village would benefit from having a separate administrator. Some specifications, including the required curb height, replacement of driveway sections and other requirements were not met by the contractor. An administrator without other duties could have caught some of those problems early in the construction process, he said.
Mayor Kolanko disagrees.
“The village does have that person and that person is Chief Ken Frost,” the mayor said.” In relation to the (Parkview) curb project we hired an engineering firm (Feller Finch & Associates) to provide engineering services for that project. The project was not done according to specifications. That’s not an oversight by myself or the village administrator. The village administrator was doing the job he was supposed to do and the project wasn’t completed. We’re moving forward to getting the curbs correctly installed according to the specifications. The contractor we hired is bonded and the ball is already in motion to get the job done correctly. The village administrator is helping in that respect as he should.”
Adkins said he is reviewing the attorney general’s opinion with his legal counsel.
A footnote in the opinion addresses the issue of the hours Frost works as chief: “You have informed us…the chief typically expends 40 hours a week in the performance of his law enforcement duties, although there are no set hours for that position. You have not indicated that the village police chief works 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” It refers to a 1989 opinion that states where a city police chief is on call 24 hours a day and his duties required “constant readiness” he may not be able capable of performing the duties of a second position but leaves that determination to local authorities.
The village has plans for several infrastructure projects in 2014, including resurfacing Union Street, from Main Street to Dixon Street. A 50-50 match grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission is being used to fund the project that is estimated to cost about $440,000, the mayor said.
The village has also received a Community Development Block Grant to have curbs installed on Main Street that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’re going to be seeing some definite improvements in our infrastructure,” he said.