PERRY TOWNSHIP – People involved in a lawsuit against the Perry Township Board of Trustees commented on a short story about the suit that appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of the Brookville Star. Also, the attorney in the case, Brian C. Shrive, Esq., with Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati, addressed some of the details.
That article stated the Ohio “Sunshine Law” suit filed by township resident Bonnie Bertelson in 2019 against the board had been settled. The suit involved violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act.
Through an agreed-to entry submitted to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, the township is enjoined from future violations of those acts and must pay a civil forfeiture in the amount of $1,100, attorney fees in the amount of $17,000, and all court costs.
To ease the township’s financial burden, it will have up to five years to pay the settlement amount.
During the past week, Shrive provided some clarification.
Several violations were listed in the lawsuit, one of which referred to an executive session held to discuss the hiring of a new police chief.
“The way in which the chief was initially hired was questionable, in that they went into executive session to discuss hiring the chief, and then he suddenly showed up to be hired that same night. This suggests that the decision had already been made,” said Shrive.
Shrive also confirmed the forfeiture and attorney fees are owed by the township, not any particular trustee.
“Going forward the trustees are enjoined to comply with the open meetings act, so a future violation could be enforced as contempt of court. Additionally, state law does provide that the county prosecutor can file to remove a public officer from office for violating an injunction to comply with the open meetings act,” Shrive said.
When asked whether he believed the violations were due to trustees not knowing the Ohio Revised Code requirements or if they were done on purpose, Shrive said, “My sense is this was a case of laziness and stubbornness. Rather than accepting Ms. Bertelson’s efforts to correct their behavior prior to suit, they insisted that they were right and refused to listen.”
Bertelson explained why she acted.
“Transparency in government facilitates better decisions and Ohio’s Sunshine Laws ensure that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens they serve. Simply put, Perry Township’s elected/appointed officials were violating those laws,” said Bertelson.
“By hiring Finney Law Firm to handle the lawsuit, I was simply exercising my rights under the law to hold them accountable. My end-goal in bringing the lawsuit was to ensure openness and transparency in local government for the people of Perry Township,” she said.
Former trustees Ron Price and Dale Seim, defeated by Jason Hartshorn and Mindi Wynne in the November 2019 election, also commented.
“After reading the article regarding the lawsuit against Perry Township being settled, I had to take the time to set the record straight,” said Price. “I nearly choked when it was written that Bonnie Bertelson’s attorney, Shrive, stated that her sole focus was to make sure that she and other residents would be able to scrutinize the actions of the trustees.
“People make mistakes. Elected officials make mistakes. Sometimes they are very innocent mistakes,” he added.
“We elected our neighbors, not lawyers and politicians. We’re supposed to work together, not opposed. We have a common goal,” Price said further. “They managed to take away the township’s operating funds and fill two-thirds of the trustee board with inexperienced people.”
“There was a couple of laws referred to. There’s no way anyone could know all those laws. It wasn’t intentional — they capitalized on that,” Seim said. “We were trying to save the township all the money we could. Losing the money that was to be used for Perry Township is a shame.
Newly elected trustee Jason Hartshorn, sworn in prior to New Year’s Day, is optimistic about the future of the township.
“While unfortunate, the lawsuit was a check and balance against the administration,” said Hartshorn. “That said, I am hopeful we can move forward with the lessons learned and keep Perry Township on the right track.”
Incumbent Melissa Mears is the third Trustee along with Hartshorn and Wynne.
Reach this writer by calling 937-620-4044, or by e-mail at email@example.com.