West Chester’s War on Oversight: Are these 2 accountable, or not?
An Endorsement for Open government this Tuesday
Guest Article, Author: Bruce Jones (West Chester Fiscal Officer)
Since being elected West Chester Fiscal Officer two years ago I have purposefully disengaged myself from the township’s controversial issues such as spending money for bike paths, crosswalks, the accelerated depletion of the police levy fund, etc.
My election as West Chester Fiscal Officer was rooted in my commitment to Accountability, Transparency, & Integrity in our township government, thus these cornerstones of good government are my focus. After all, they serve everyone’s best interest. Simply put, oversight of government officials that spend your tax dollars is a good thing. Everyone knows accountability is compromised when transparency is compromised and, where transparency is compromised, integrity is sacrificed. I ask you to evaluate the following and consider whether Trustees Stoker and Wong have violated the central pillar of transparency:
1) Documented (videotape): Since day one Mr. Wong and Mrs. Stoker have barred your elected fiscal officer from attending the township’s Executive Sessions. I have not been personally offended, but consider the obstruction (1) an affront to oversight (checks and balances) and (2) a pattern of behavior. Neither Mr. Wong nor Mrs. Stoker have accounted for the fact they make West Chester Township the only township out of Ohio’s 1309 townships where the trustees bar their elected fiscal officer from attending the Executive Sessions. Nor do they even accept accountability for it. Rather they attribute it to a legal opinion from the same legal director they hire.
2) Documented: The township has documentation evidencing a pattern beginning the very day after I was elected fiscal officer on November 8, 2011: Beginning November 9th and over the following 3 weeks, their legal director billed the township (taxpayers) to “research fiscal officer duties”; “drafting opinion letter re Fiscal Officer duties”; “review initial draft of opinion letter”; “multiple revisions to Memorandum … of Fiscal Officer”; “further revised opinion letter re Fiscal Officer”; “revisions to document”; “revisions to Memorandum …”; “additional issues for fiscal officer memo”; “drafting and revisions to document”; “review documents – research re fiscal officer memo for trustees”; “exchange multiple emails … re revisions necessary to opinion letter”; “research … revisions to Memo”; “review … ‘final’ draft of opinion letter”; “telephone conferences with Trustee”; “requested revisions to Fiscal Officer Duties opinion letter”; “revisions to Fiscal Officer memorandum”; etc.
This action could only have been initiated by your trustees, totaled 50.1 hours, and cost you $13,527!! What were Mr. Wong and Mrs. Stoker trying to accomplish? Did the revisions give Mr. Wong and Mrs. Stoker their desired legal opinion? I do not believe this document should be deemed “confidential” because it pertains to the public service of an elected official, but the fact it is “confidential” is consistent with a very unhealthy pattern of secrecy . . .
3) Documented (videotape): As disclosed at the past two trustee meetings, Wong/Stoker directed staff – without any public discussion – to cease the long standing practice of publically approving legal bills over $2,500 during trustee meetings. Rather than accepting accountability for their decision, Wong/Stoker, interestingly, cite an opinion from their law director. (It should be noted the documented legal bills for 2011exceeded $506,000, and comparable for 2012.)
4) Documented: Attached is the Work Order regarding “Fiscal Officer Access”, dated just two days before I took office on the first of April, directing staff to deny your elected fiscal officer access to multiple township files, including the finance file! That is not the kind of action initiated by an administrator! It is consistent with the Wong/Stoker pattern of behavior, fearing oversight.
If you and I accept this conduct, who is to stop it? Might your vote even encourage it?
In fairness to you, it is no secret that – for these reasons, as well as others – I have supported the trustee candidacy of Mark Welch and Matt King for the two trustee positions on Tuesday’s ballot. Regardless, please consider what I said in the beginning:
Accountability, Transparency, & Integrity in our township government serves everyone’s best interest. Oversight of government officials that spend your tax dollars is a good thing.
I encourage you to either cast your two votes for Welch and/or King, OR at least withhold voting for Stoker/Wong. If you and I condone their conduct, who is to stop it?