1 S. London St.  Mt. Sterling, Ohio 43143
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Mount Sterling approves 2018 expenses
By Michael Williamson - mwilliamson@aimmediamidwest.com

Mount Sterling Village Council held a special meeting Wednesday to amend its 2018 budget. On the recommendation of the finance committee, council suspended rules for a first, second and third reading of legislation revisions to approve Ordinance 2017-29 which made appropriations for current expenses in Mount Sterling for the 2018 fiscal year.
The budget for 2018 had some funds in the negative, prompting council to find a solution before the end of the year.
“We readjusted how the salaries are appropriated to the different funds,” said Rebecca Burns, council member and president of the finance committee. To do that, they looked at the salaries of village employees.
In October, Mount Sterling’s street supervisor, Brett Towler, was hospitalized with an injury and will be recovering for an indefinite amount of time. With him off duty, the finance committee suggested re-appropriating his salary to satisfy the budget. “With the auditor’s approval, we were able to move him from streets for the time being to the general fund,” Burns added.
“Right now, even though that may not be the long-term, it was enough to satisfy the requirements that we do not put any other funds into the negative,” she said. “The whole goal was to submit a budget that was as true and accurate as could be.”
The village’s fiscal officer, Courtney Bricker, can now submit an approved budget to the county auditor.
Wednesday’s meeting was the last meeting of 2017 with the current council. Starting in January, council members Jim Davis, Diane Spradlin and Mary Lou Stiverson-Ratliff will step down and be replaced by Rebecca Martin, Tammy Vansickle and Thomas Ward.

Village won’t hire new administrator
Mount Sterling shifts duties for village offices

By Michael Williamson - mwilliamson@aimmediamidwest.com

The Mount Sterling Village Council has decided it would not seek a replacement for the position of village administrator starting in 2018. Instead, the responsibilities will be divided up among three other village figures including the mayor, fiscal officer, and a utilities supervisor.

“We’ve looked at communities of a similar size to see what would work for us,” said Billy Martin, the village’s newly elected mayor. Martin took his seat at the head of council for the first time at Monday night’s meeting. “We decided we could divide the responsibilities up.” Martin will take on responsibilities regarding the streets, Courtney Bricker, the fiscal officer, will take on much of the paperwork previously handle by a village administrator and a newly appointed utilities supervisor will handle the water and sewer responsibilities.

“Between the three of us, we’re going to save the village quite a lot of money,” Martin said. The fulfillment of positions seemed to be the theme of the evening starting with Martin leading the meeting. Former mayor Lowell Anderson returned to his position as president of council, bringing the council seats to a total of six members.

There were also a number of ordinances passed to bring employees into full-time positions. Council voted to suspend the rules of a first, second, and third reading on all pieces of legislation in order to cast votes immediately.

Council approved all five pieces of legislation which included:

• Ordinance 2017-24: An ordinance authorizing Billy Martin or this designee, to enter into an amended employment with Courtney Bricker for the position of Fiscal Officer/Clerk of Council.

• Resolution 2017-25: A resolution approving Misty Vance working 40 hours per week and declaring an emergency. Vance previously worked part-time in the water and sewer department under 40 hours. This resolution would also give the department regular hours Monday through Friday, affording the residents more opportunities to pay their bills.

• Resolution 2017-26: A resolution approving the employment agreement of Brian Arledge. The resolution would make Arledge, who holds Class II wastewater and Class III water licenses, the utilities supervisor for a period of two weeks, bringing the village into the new year. In 2018, council will then vote on a more permanent ordinance regarding the position.

• Resolution 2017-27: A resolution approving the rehiring of Chris Ladley.

• Resolution 2017-28: A resolution amending the employment agreement of Courtney Bricker to allow her to work 40 hours per week. Bricker was also limited to a part-time working schedule; however, after the firing of the previous village administrator, Bricker took on more responsibility which prompted council to vote to bring her on in a full-time capacity.

Council also announced that the new water plant will be open during the day starting Tuesday and will begin conducting operations tests. Upon completion of the tests, the facility will be fully operational.

Prior to the adjournment of the meeting, council introduced a new section of the meeting dedicated to visitor comments.

“Normally, we would adjourn right now and I have always disagreed with that method,” Martin said. “(Council) had their roundtable, now it’s your turn to have your roundtable.” Martin added that he thought it is as important for the residents to have a voice as it is for council.

New Monument at Gazebo Park in Mt. Sterling
  For the residents of Mount Sterling, to say the last several years have been a challenge would be to understate the stresses and frustrations that the village has endured. After numerous changes in leadership, resignations and terminations, the town will go into the new year with a fresh approach.
  In January, a new council and new mayor will meet for the first time with the shared goal of getting their community back on track and back into the hands of its people.
Newly elected mayor, William “Billy” Martin, spoke of the village’s recent history and the long road ahead.
  “I have only been mayor for maybe a month now,” he said. “I have been made aware of all the issues the town faces and we’re working every day to try and fix the issues we’ve had.” Mayor Martin was elected in November, taking the place of Lowell Anderson who moved into the mayoral position following the resignation of Charlie Neff.
  2012-2016 and fiscal emergency
  On July 18, 2016, just before 8 a.m., former Mt. Sterling village administrator, Joe Johnson, was arrested in Jackson County by Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin and other deputies. Johnson had resigned earlier in January citing too much negative pressure from residents on social media. Not long after Johnson’s exit, a number of other village officials stepped down.
After the dramatic shift in administration, which included Johnson’s resignation, former mayor Neff’s resignation and former fiscal officer Vickie Sheets’ resignation, the village was audited by the state. Certain village funds were found missing or unaccounted for in the records.
  Following an investigation by the auditor’s office which found a startling imbalance in the numbers, Johnson was charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from village funds and falsifying records to cover it up, starting in 2012. Further investigations found Johnson had purchased vehicles, lawn equipment, and altered the payroll system to increase his salary.
Johnson was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison and plead guilty to racketeering, theft, theft in office and money laundering. Earlier this year, Neff was also charged and sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of community control. He was found guilty of theft in office, falsification and dereliction of duty after being tied to the Johnson case.
  With the more than $700,000 taken from village funds by Johnson, a lack of financial records from 2011 and 2012, and the realization of a major deficit in the village’s general fund, the State Auditor’s office put Mount Sterling under a “fiscal emergency” in June 2017.
According to the auditor’s office only one of the following requirements can put a local governmental body into fiscal emergency: “Failure, for lack of funds, to make all payroll to employees that continues beyond 30 days, or a period of agreed-upon extension that cannot last more than 90 days from the original time for payment. Default of payment on any debt obligation for more than 30 days. An increase in the inside millage by the County Budget Commission that results in a reduction for any of the overlapping subdivisions or taxing districts.” The other requirement being that there’s a deficit of more than 16 percent of the village’s income.
  Once the emergency has been declared, “the village then comes under the oversight of a financial planning and supervision commission. The Auditor of State serves as the ‘financial supervisor’ to the commission,” according to the auditor’s website.
Administration change
  Following Neff’s resignation, then council President Pro-Tem Lowell Anderson became mayor and led the village through 2016 and 2017. During the change, Johnson was replaced as village administrator by John Martin, who worked to create a structure for the village’s payroll and human resources needs. Sheets’ fiscal officer position was filled by Courtney Bricker.
Martin, however, was abruptly terminated in October after a recommendation from the village’s finance committee citing Martin raising wages without approval by council. Martin responded by saying he was following the specifications of the restructured payroll system.
After Martin’s termination, Bricker stepped into the administrator’s shoes, helping to take on those responsibilities in addition to her job as fiscal officer. Moving forward, the village has decided not continue with the village administrator position and, instead, passed legislation which would divide the responsibilities among the mayor, fiscal officer and utilities supervisor.
The decision led to Bricker moving from a part-time village employee to full-time and also receiving the title of Clerk of Council. Misty Vance, previously a part-time employee for the water and sewer department, was also hired on full-time for the village.
“Those two girls are doing an amazing job,” Mayor Martin said. “With their help, we’ve made a lot of progress with all this.”
Optimism in the new year
Despite all that has happened in the last few years, Mayor Martin is looking to the new year with hope and resolve.
“We’re trying to get the community up and running properly. We have a lot of plans but those plans take time,” Mayor Martin said. “We are working everyday putting policies into effect and we hope that the village is patient with us.”
He said he is “very optimistic” about the new council and the village’s direction and “I know we’ll be in a better place a year from now.”
There are three incoming council members taking office next week: Rebecca Martin, Tammy Vansickle and Thomas Ward. Each incoming council member seems optimistic moving into the new year.
“Mt. Sterling has, of course, been through a lot of changes in the last few years,” said Rebecca Martin. “I hope to continue to move forward, through council, through the Chamber of Commerce, to start growing Mt. Sterling again. I want council to be a mouthpiece for the residents and to work toward getting their wishes granted.”
Tammy Vansickle shared the sentiment, saying that council works for the village, not the reverse. “I’m a lifelong resident,” she said. “Part of the reason I even ran for council was I want to bring the voice of the people to the village and to bring in transparency.”
That transparency and true residential representation seems to be important to all of them. Thomas Ward, the third incoming council member, said running was something he felt he had to do.
“It’s easy to sit in the audience and watch, it’s another to get involved,” Ward said. “I have a lot of respect for all the members of council and I will do my best, moving forward, to make sure the people are represented.”
Mount Sterling’s first council meeting of 2018 will be on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. Meetings are always open to the public and Mayor Martin has brought back the public comments portion of the meeting so he and council both encourages the public to participate.
Billy Martin Elected Mayor of Mt. Sterling

Mt. Sterling mayor Billy Martin addressing a crowd at the village’s Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11. After a difficult few years, Martin and the new council are optimistic about the future success and growth of the village. 
Village looks to rebound from troubling year(s)
New Mt. Sterling officials see better year ahead in 2018
Madison-Plains BOE
 reaches decision

Board votes to add income
 tax to May ballot
Staff report

After two days of meetings with both members of the community and the school board, the Madison-Plains school district has reached a possible solution to their impending deficit. Board of Education members voted to put a 1.25 percent Earned Income Tax on the May 8 general election ballot during their special meeting Thursday night.
As it stands, the school district is projected to run out of operating funds by the end of the 2018-19 school year. The meeting on Wednesday night was held by the Madison-Plains Advisory Council (MPAC) in an effort to seek feedback from the community on possible remedies.
MPAC meeting
Since state law prohibits school district officials from starting a school year without enough funding, the board wanted to take action as quickly as possible. Surveys were sent out to residents in the district asking for their input on the solutions.
“We got around 200 responses from the surveys and found that the majority of people favored an income tax,” said Madison-Plains superintendent Tim Dettwiller. From that, board members then held the MPAC meeting to get voices from the community. Among residents in attendance were farmers who expressed concern about the increase in taxes.
“A lot of farmers are older, they could care less about that computer,” Bill Young said of the district’s collection data. “My total tax bill for one farm was $14,634. Of that, Madison-Plains got $8,034. And that’s, to me, why support from the agricultural side of it is limited.”
“You might have a bill that goes up this year and next year, it could go down,” Dettwiller said.
“I’m waiting for it to go down,” Gary Walker said. “I’ve never had a raise in 17 years. All I see is my taxes going up. Even though you say it’s a cheap area, it’s not for retirees. Unless I work for the state or somebody that keeps those 3 percents going.”
Dettwiller added that the tax will not affect those who have pensions or are on fixed incomes.
Christina Finney, a teacher at Madison-Plains, expressed concerns about the loss of jobs.
“In some cases faculty have left and not been replaced,” said Finney.
Thursday night decision
Dettwiler said that the district has known that they would be in the red since 2012. Thursday night’s decision was made by a unanimous vote.
“We really made a concerted effort to stay off the ballot the last few years,” Dettwiller said. “The trouble with it is, it can get lost in the mix when we don’t talk about it and we’re at the point where we need a solution.”
Since learning about the deficit, the district has already taken measures to cut operating costs. One solution was to implement a program which would allow teachers to retire early. The plan was put into action in 2013 and since then, the district has saved nearly a million dollars.
“Another thing we did was look at operating things and say ‘do we need this?’” said Dettwiller. “We tried to consolidate as much as possible. For example, in the high school, we had a teacher specific to chemistry. So we put that position back to half-time and that teacher found a full-time position elsewhere and another teacher took up those duties.”
Dettwiller said cutting positions is not something the district wants to be in the habit of doing, but the impending deficit has forced board members to make difficult decisions. He added that putting the income tax on the ballot is a way to potentially avoid having to cut school programs.
“The budget plan is really two-fold,” Dettwiller said. “The first part is possible revenue this May from that tax. The second is, with the help of the Auditor of State, looking at peer-schools and understanding their operations.”
Once the votes for the May election are cast, the district will move forward on their final plan.
“We’ll know what we’re going to have to do in June and we’ll be ready come August,” Dettwiller said. “If the ballot fails, the reductions will just have to be greater.”

Madison-Plains superintendent Tim Dettwiller and school treasurer Todd Mustain address attendees of the Madison-Plains Advisory Council meeting held Wednesday night at the Fairfield Township Hall. The group discussed the impending financial crisis that the school district is facing. The merits and disadvantages of which tax revenue option (property or income) to put on the May ballot were weighed. Should the levy not pass, the district would be forced into possibly taking out a short term loan, and definitely forced to make major cuts — which could include laying off staff, freezing of wages, and cutting programs. 
Madison Plains Local Schools News
Madison-Plains School District Superintendent Tim Dettwiller publicly announced his resignation at the district’s board of education meeting Tuesday evening.
He has been superintendent since August 2014, and served as the district’s treasurer/chief financial officer for four years prior to that.
Dettwiller had been receiving pressure to step down from the position from some vocal parents criticizing his decision regarding the handling of accusations made by three middle school girls. Allegations of “inappropriate touching” were leveled at a substitute teacher who also performed as a boys’ basketball coach.
The allegations were first brought to the attention of Dettwiller on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 26. The point of contention for some parents is that Dettwiller made the decision allowing the substitute to perform his coaching duties that same night and at a game on Saturday while still under investigation.
Reading from his letter of resignation, the superintendent emotionally addressed the packed room:
“Members of the board, it is with both sorrow and excitement that I offer to you notice of my pending resignation due to retirement from the position of superintendent at Madison-Plains Local Schools. Spending the last seven years of my professional life working towards making Madison-Plains the educational choice for parents in central Ohio, has been the great joy of my professional career. We have accomplished so much, most notably increasing student enrollment and meeting our student growth targets as defined within our Madison-Plains improvement plan. These goals were met on time and laid the groundwork now for Madison-Plains to direct its improvement energy to increasing student achievement. The sorrow I feel comes from all the challenges Madison-Plains faces that I will not be able to work toward meeting. I am, however, excited to begin my retirement and seek out new professional challenges. I thank the current Madison-Plains Board of Education as well the boards I have served since 2010. I would also like to personally thank Boone Hall, Vicki Blosser, and all those I have worked with over the years as part of the Madison-Plains family. My last day of service as Madison-Plains Superintendent of Schools will be July 6, 2018.”
Dettwiller then admonished the crowd to channel the energy that he perceived some had been spending as accusers, into getting the levy passed this spring.
“Folks that have keyboard courage, that feel they can pressure people to make decisions — they need to get involved, actively involved, not after the fact. We have a levy that has to get passed. This district will not survive as it is today if we don’t pass this levy,” he said. “Those people that have been passionate out there calling for my resignation and other people’s resignation, they need to use those skills they’ve honed in social media to go out there and get this levy passed.”
He concluded by saying that he would work hard to get the levy passed, and hoped those people previously mentioned would do the same.
The crowd reaction was divided, with some audience members applauding while others remained silent.
And while Dettwiller’s resignation might have been fraught with the most emotion, it was not the only one tendered at the meeting.
Also publicly announcing his resignation was Joe Penney, Director of Operations.
Penney has been with the district for 11 years, starting out in the position of Director of Technology before moving into his current directorship.
Penney’s stated reason for leaving is that he accepted employment with Fairfield City Schools, one of the largest school districts in the state.
His last date of employment with Madison-Plains is April 30.
Also at this meeting, the board recognized on behalf of Steve Stivers, the congressional student of the month.
Senior, Gage Farmer, is well-known for his intelligence and works extremely hard on his academics, striving for nothing less than excellence.
As an ardent supporter of the Golden Eagles, he cheers the teams on from the sidelines as a member of the jazz, marching, and honor bands in which he plays alto saxophone.
Farmer is also known for engaging faculty and administration in debates in a very professional manner.
Four younger students were recognized with the “Rising Eagle” honor, as well (none of which were in attendance).
Rising Eagle Students are noted for “high-fiving” the high school basketball players and detailing their scholastic and personal achievements to the crowds during halftimes.
The four being recognized were: Savannah Miller (first grade); Jaylen Martin (second grade); Tara Nagel (fourth grade); and Colton Willing (fifth grade).
The first annual Math Camp will be held this coming Friday at the intermediate building from 3-8:30 p.m.
The camp is open to students in third through sixth grades and is free of charge.
Students will rotate through 10 stations of various activities to learn different concepts of geometry.
So far, 150 students have signed up and 25 faculty members have signed on to volunteer their time.

Madison-Plains superintendent steps down
His resignation comes with a challenge to parents
By Andrew Garrett - agarrett@aimmediamidwest.com

Fixing problems and moving forward 
Mt. Sterling officials react to audit and plan for future
By Michael Williamson - mwilliamson@aimmediamidwest.com

  Following the release of the two-year special audit from the State Auditor’s office, Mount Sterling officials say they are looking toward moving past the incidents of the last five years.
“We are well aware of being in a fiscal emergency and will be probably for the next two years,” said mayor Billy Martin. “That’s why we’re putting so much work into cutting costs.”
  The released audit details how former administrator Joe Johnson and former mayor Charlie Neff made it so that financial matters regarding the village were decided by them. This piece of legislation was then corrected after Johnson’s resignation in March 2016.
  The village’s fiscal officer Courtney Bricker wanted to remind the community that the report is about Johnson.
“This audit means Joe Johnson’s case is over,” she said. “This is obviously Johnson’s story.”
  She said council’s job is to move toward making the village strong.
“We’re here to make residents trust us again,” Bricker added.
Most of the measures being taken to correct the village’s organization are being handled at the council and committee meetings.
  At Monday’s meeting, council went into executive session to discuss the “continued employment of the street supervisor,” according to village law director Mark Pitstick. Brett Towler, the village’s street supervisor, was hospitalized in October 2017 with an injury and will be recovering for an indefinite amount of time.
  In a previous special meeting, council met to amend the 2018 budget which consisted of taking Towler’s salary and moving it to the general fund with approval by the State Auditor.
  Mayor Martin also said that meetings will function to help council work to get the operations back in order from the changes made by previous administrations.
Also at Monday’s meeting, they put an ordinance on a second reading that would amend the rules of council dealing with those financial decisions.
  “This is simply an ordinance that puts the power back where it belongs: your village council members,” Martin said. “As you all well know, it hadn’t been like that in the past and we suffered for it. But they’re doing their job now.”

The Auditor of State’s office released the special report on the Village of Mount Sterling Tuesday morning, detailing a two-year investigation into the village’s finances. The special audit orders 11 individuals, including the village’s former mayor, to repay a combined total of $998,050 — $871,545 of which is tied directly to former village administrator Joe Johnson.
“This report marks the final chapter of one of the most deplorable and devastating cases of local government corruption in recent memory,” Auditor Dave Yost said in a message released by his office. “Hopefully taxpayers can find some solace in the knowledge that those responsible are answering for their crimes and will never again have a chance to ransack the community.”
Auditor of State Assistant Legal Counsel Robert F. Smith served as special prosecutor.
Johnson’s facts and figures
According to the audit, Johnson took the $800,000-plus through a variety of means between getting hired as village administrator in January 2012 to his resignation in early 2016. The majority of the money came from Johnson paying himself $368,682 in excess of his approved salary over four years. He also charged $228,420 to his village-issued credit card to buy himself items such as vehicles, electronics, snow plows, trailers, a camper, a tractor and automotive equipment.
The credit card also paid for a four-day vacation at the Westin Resort in Cape Coral, Florida during 2014. Johnson’s theft lead to an indictment on 30 counts in July 2017, which landed him a 10-year prison sentence. The large sum of money, according to Yost, is the prime contributor to the village being in fiscal emergency.
An additional $17,129 was charged through the use of village fuel cards.
Johnson was able to manipulate the payroll system through legislation that made the village administrator and mayor responsible for village finances. Through that manipulation, Johnson increased his $28 per hour starting rate to nearly $50 without approval by council.
Former mayor, administration and employees
Another major figure in the case was former village mayor Charlie Neff. He was convicted of theft in office, falsification and dereliction of duty in August 2017. According to the audit, Neff is accountable for $1,611 in improper payments to himself and others, and jointly liable for another $64,551. In December, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years of probation and ordered to pay nearly $10,000 in restitution.
Two of the village’s former fiscal officers, Vicki Sheets and Lana Cydrus, were also named in the special audit as being responsible for disbursements without proper documentation. Cydrus was responsible for three disbursements totaling $1,732 and an additional $200 in unauthorized food and gas purchases. The auditor is requiring Cydrus to pay back $1,953 in total.
Sheets plead guilty to the falsification of Johnson’s resignation date in March 2017 which allowed him to collect his pension earlier than expected. According to the audit, she is being ordered to pay back $44,899 in funds.
Bonnie Liff, Neff’s utility clerk and administrative assistant at the time, was named as one of seven employees who owe a combined $76,733 for accepting improper leave payouts. Of that amount, $44,887 went directly to Liff who eventually plead guilty to theft in office.
The seven employees who accepted the payouts were Bonnie Liff, Brett Towler, Chris Beaver, Chris Ladley, David Cline, Madison Newsome and Ronnie Vansickle. The village also paid the seven employees $30,838 in bonuses but, according to the audit, they appeared to be properly authorized.
Move Ohio Forward Grant
Another factor in the declaration of the village’s fiscal emergency was the $185,825 Move Ohio Forward grant reimbursement, used in the demolition of 16 condemned properties in Madison County. Since the emergency, the village has paid back a portion of the funds and at the end of 2017, the village’s Cash Summary by Fund showed the deficit closer to $40,000.
According to the audit, details about the reimbursement from the grant, which was administered by Johnson in accordance with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, appeared to be done properly.
Special audit
On Nov. 1, the State Auditor’s office held an exit conference with the village council explaining the details of the investigation.
Council had five days to respond and did so on Nov. 8, allowing the changes to be reflected in the finished special report.
A copy of the full audit can be found on the State Auditor’s website.

Mt. Sterling audit released
By Michael Williamson - mwilliamson@aimmediamidwest.com