Like schoolkids throwing food at each other from opposite sides of a cafeteria, the situation among city officials in Macedonia has devolved from a disagreement over how the law department gets paid, to whether the finance director should even be working for the city.
There have been recriminations and even tears from behind the Council podium, as Councilors Rita Darrow, David Engle and Sylvia Hanneken are doing everything they can to keep Finance Director Scott Svab on board. Meanwhile, Councilors Janet Tulley and Nick Molnar and Mayor Don Kuchta want to let Svab go.
A brief timeline: In March 2014, Darrow, Engle and Hanneken pushed through a budget that eliminated the law department retainer and forced Law Director Joe Diemert to keep coming back to Council to cover his firm's expenses. Diemert ordered the finance director to pay the retainer. Svab refused, stating Council had only appropriated money to pay hourly expenses.
That issue was eventually resolved, but then Diemert let the fruit salad fly, stating his department had been investigating allegations against Svab since 2011. Allegations include ordering an employee to falsify a public record, failure to license contractors, conflicts of interest, circumventing a city ordinance regarding time clocks, wrongfully delaying purchase orders and violating city public records policies.
Svab responded with a cupcake, claiming the investigation was contrived by Diemert as retaliation for not having obeyed Diemert's orders regarding law department pay.
Engle, Darrow and Hanneken refused to uphold Kuchta's termination of Svab -- which is Council's right under the city charter.
Diemert shot back with Jello: Svab had allegedly conducted personal business on city time with city computers. The mayor issued a second termination letter and put Svab on paid leave after Council agreed to have an outside investigator look at the law department allegations.
Svab threw pie: On his way out the door last October -- he's since been paid $92,000 per year to do nothing -- Svab revealed he's been looking into the mayor's alleged improper use of the city's free trash and snowplowing programs for low income seniors.
So that gets added to the list of things to be investigated.
Two subsequent investigations did nothing to convince the three Councilors Svab should be fired. And allegations against Kuchta are being reviewed by the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Then someone new entered the lunchroom -- a retired police officer turned private eye.
Hired by Darrow, Engle and Hanneken for $10,000 out of their own pockets, investigator Timothy Dimoff claims to have been in the business for 25 years. But when I asked him if he had conducted any similar types of investigations in other communities, he said he couldn't name any because they were all confidential. He says one of them was a "school district," but he declined to name it.
His findings regarding Svab?
Polygraph results show Svab's "responses were truthful and do not support the allegations he is being accused of," states Dimoff's report.
However, Dimoff also said he did not have time to investigate all the allegations against Svab -- he told Council he had been provided with "so many accusations" that he only had enough time to investigate the "major accusations."
The overworked gumshoe then stood on a table, swinging cartons of milk in each hand, and attempted to soak everyone on the other side of the room.
He somehow managed to find time to report a trove of "reported questionable behavior" related to Diemert, Kuchta, and other officials. He used the word "illegal" to describe some of the behavior, said some of the claims were "likely" to be true.
Dimoff took care to point out that all those claims were "unverified," like the gossip he dug out of the garbage can regarding a certain member of the administration.
Dimoff said unidentified sources claimed the man is "vindictive" and a "compulsive liar."
Well, all good food fights have to come to an end, don't they? And it looks like the entire mess has landed in the principal's office.
The law department has filed a complaint in Summit County Common Pleas Court seeking an order that would force Darrow, Engle and Hanneken to allow Svab's termination. Diemert says Dimoff's investigation is just a bunch of baloney.
And some residents have filed their own complaint in Summit County Probate Court, using an obscure section of state tax law, citing some of the allegations against Kuchta that Dimoff uncovered but didn't have time to research. The complaint calls on Diemert to use the citizens' allegations to have Kuchta's removed from office.
While Svab maintains he's done nothing wrong and says he's happy to have the court give the entire mess an impartial review, it remains to be seen whether the law department will prosecute the citizens' complaint.
One thing is for sure, the mayor's seat is up for election in November, and the residents of Macedonia will have the chance to pick the next class president if they want to.
Former Mayor Joe Migliorini has filed for election, and Hanneken and former Councilman Michael Miller have pulled petitions to seek that office. Kuchta said July 24 he has not yet decided whether to seek reelection.
It will be interesting to hear what the candidates say they can do to clean up this mess.
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433