Written by Larry Limpf
Sunday, 12 October 2008 09:33
Editor’s note: The Press published an article in the Sept. 15 issue about an investigation by Gibsonburg Police Chief Michael Benton into alleged misconduct of public officials in the village. An article in the Sept. 22 issue focused on questions raised by a member of village council concerning Administrator David Johnson’s official responsibilities, which include zoning.
Although The Press offered Mr. Johnson opportunities to comment for both stories he declined to do so. On Oct. 1, Mr. Johnson issued a 4-page response through his attorney to The Press in which he addresses the allegations raised by the police probe and councilmember’s questions. The following is a partial listing of his response.
• Chief Benton’s report contended Mr. Johnson in 2006 used his position as administrator to impede a project on Windsor Lane where a contractor wanted to move three houses.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “While the contractor desiring to move these homes had business purposes and profit motivation in mind, it was my responsibility, with other village officials, to make sure such a move did not violate the requirements of the EPA concerning the …water/sewer systems in Gibsonburg. It was also my responsibility…that such a move was made without causing damage and destruction to …utility lines, which could have caused a lengthy disruption to available water distribution in the village.
“The requirement of performance bonds to assure that financial resources would be available for replacement of such village-owned property and services was not only appropriate, but the lack of such requirements would have been a breach of my obligations…”
Chief Benton’s report noted the administrator’s requiring of performance bonds by the contractor, Mark Buck, isn’t authorized by village ordinance or state statute. The report includes letters between Mr. Johnson, Don Kirwen, who headed the village plan commission, and Mr. Buck which indicate the administrator was requiring bonds for private property improvements. Mr. Johnson was also pressing Mr. Buck to replace two village storm drains that hadn’t been operating properly for years before the move.
• The report alleges Mr. Johnson, who was trying to sell a nearby residence on the corner of E. Yeasting and Windsor Lane, feared Mr. Buck’s project of moving three houses to Windsor would hurt the chances of selling his own property.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “I lived in the Yeasting Street residence from 1978 to 2007 and the relocation of the three houses to Windsor Lane could arguably have enhanced the value of my property as those homes, once moved and in preparation for sale, would have been upgraded and landscaped. Arguably, had I approved the moving of the homes without requiring all of the precautions and safeguards, I could have…been criticized for an attempt to enhance the value of my property by the relocation of the three homes. Further, since the relocation of the homes, my property has sold and the three relocated homes are still sitting vacant.”
• The report contends Mr. Johnson and Ladd Beck, former village solicitor, controlled plan commission meetings while the moving project was being discussed, even through they weren’t commission members.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “The plan commission, at the time of the meeting referred by Chief Benton, was a newly created commission and the chairman…was a member of council without a great deal of experience in real estate and zoning matters. Without in any way criticizing the members of the commission, it was most appropriate the commission meeting was attended by the then legal counsel…and myself as village administrator.
“…no member of the plan commission expressed concerns that the assistance provided by Solicitor Beck or myself was intimidating, domineering or in any way represented an attempt to take over the functioning of the planning commission.”
Chief Benton’s report says Mayor Edward Herman, Jr, asked the chief to attend plan commission meetings because the mayor had concerns about how the moving project was being handled. Mayor Herman did not reply to The Press’ request for comment for the story.
• In a July, 2008 memo, councilwoman Laura Ruggiero questioned a report by Mr. Johnson, which she said included grossly inaccurate cost projections related to a waterline project. With few exceptions, she wrote, his responsibilities should be confined to that of public works administrator and zoning administrator.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “The role of the village administrator is to execute the day-to-day business functions of the village…and the duties of this position are defined by the mayor and council. Developing reports and making recommendations to council, which has the final authority for such determinations is the proper role of the village administrator and one which has been conducted by myself and prior administrators for the village…”
• Mrs. Ruggiero, in an October, 2007 memo, alleged Mr. Johnson, as administrator, had been lax in enforcing village zoning and sewer regulations on two properties, one of which he purchased from Matt Tille at 727 S. Main St.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “The lot split referenced in…The Press newspaper discussed a lot split of properties in 2005. For clarification, I was not the village administrator at the time the zoning permit was approved which authorized the building of Mr. Tille’s new home (729 S. Main) and the associated lot split. Further, at the time of the lot split, I did not own any of the property which was the subject of the lot split.
“Approximately five months thereafter, I did purchase the residence…at 727 S. Main. While the frontage left by the lot split for Mr. Tille was less than 75 feet, his remaining parcel was 10.65 acres. This created a unique parcel on which Mr. Tille has his home and is appropriate in light of the particular circumstances of this parcel split approved by a former administrator and also approved by the mayor, without my involvement.”
Mrs. Ruggiero’s argument, however, is that a variance wasn’t sought, or issued, at the time of the lot split for the property at 729 S. Main, which doesn’t meet the 75-foot frontage zoning regulation.
In addition, according to ordinance 19-2005, which was approved Aug. 4, Mr. Johnson was hired as administrator effective Sept. 1, 2005. Ordinance 23-2005, which approved the lot split, was passed by village council Oct. 20, 2005.
According to the Sandusky County auditor’s website, the residence at 729 S. Main was built in 2007.
• Mrs. Ruggiero’s memo also contends Mr. Johnson has let Mr. Tille operate a business at 729 S. Main even though it’s zoned for residential use and a conditional use permit wasn’t issued.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “Mr. Tille, to my knowledge, does operate a contracting business, which includes several large pieces of equipment. However, Mr. Tille’s operations and equipment are located at 1967 County Road 66, ….and from my personal observation, I have never seen Mr. Tille’s equipment located at his residence at 729 S. Main. While Councilwoman Ruggiero apparently suggests I should enter the house to see if any phone call or other paperwork might be conducted from his home, I have no evidence to suggest that such activity is occurring at such location. It is not the appropriate role of a zoning administrator, without some evidence of a zoning violation to obtain the legal right, through a search warrant or otherwise, to enter the private residence of a citizen on such matters.”
Mrs. Ruggiero’s memo doesn’t refer to Mr. Tille’s contracting business but to a timber frame/log home business in which Mr. Tille’s residence is used for display. The memo says: “Radio advertisements indicate that this “model home” is available for inspection by appointment. People visit the premises as a step to purchasing a similar home.”
The website, LogHome.com, includes a list of open houses throughout Ohio in December, including Gibsonburg, for Tennessee Log Homes. A Press reporter last week called the phone number for the company and asked for directions to the open house in Gibsonburg. She was told it was at 729 S. Main.
• The Ruggiero memo notes that neither of the homes on the properties involved in the lot split has tapped into the village sewer line even though they are within 200 feet of a sewer line and are required by village ordinance and state health department regulations to tap into the line.
Mr. Johnson’s response says: “The placement of the houses on the subject lots and the determination that they did not have to be connected to the village sewer lines was made by a former administrator. To the best of my knowledge, that determination was based on a Sandusky County Health Department’s requirement of a 200-foot distance from the foundation of the improvements on the property, rather than 200 feet from the property.”
The village ordinance for wastewater discharges says: “Discharge units having sanitary water shall be connected to a village sanitary sewer, if one is within 200 feet of any of the lot or property lines of that discharge unit. If a sanitary sewer is not available within 200 feet of the lot or property line, the discharge unit shall be connected to a combined sewer or an approvable individual sewage treatment system.”