July 30, 2014

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Money crunch causes divide


Vermilion’s finance chief under fire

VERMILION — Vermilion’s latest financial woes have kicked off a fresh city squabble, and city Finance Director Wayne Hamilton is right in the middle of it.

Hamilton recently came under fire in September when the City Council learned that year-end amounts for the city’s water and sewer funds would be more than $100,000 in the red. The Council requested that Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor’s office conduct a fiscal watch review, which the auditor on Tuesday approved conducting.

In the letter sent to the state auditor’s office, Council President Fred Ostrander also stated that Hamilton refused to publicly state why the city was more than 90 days late paying Bramhall Engineering nearly $12,000, and more than 60 days late for more than $15,000 to another vendor.

“We didn’t feel that (Hamilton) was being open with us,” Ostrander said.

Hamilton says the bills got pushed aside while dealing with the multitude of daily responsibilities that come across his desk every day.

“Ideally you process stuff when it comes through the door,” he said. “When you don’t have the staffing, what can you do?”

It’s not that Hamilton hasn’t done the job before.

For more than 25 years, the 64-year-old was Medina’s elected director of finance. He said he’s finding Vermilion has a similar political climate to what he saw years ago in Medina.

“It’s not too different,” he said. “You have a city of old families and new families. It takes a while for factions to warm up to each other.”

Hamilton applied for the Vermilion job in January 2006, shortly after Vermilion Mayor Jean Anderson entered office. He succeeded former finance Director Larry Rush and was hired in March, just 10 days before the city’s budget was due.

“He had more than 28 years of elected experience in the city of Medina,” Anderson said. “I was convinced he was the guy we needed.”

But problems between Anderson’s administration and Council started on the first day Anderson took over for former Mayor Jimmy Davis, when her administration was forced to sort through 500 unmarked boxes of files that should have remained in their respective filing cabinets, she said.

Ostrander said Anderson, in turn, ruffled some feathers when she came in and cleaned house — ridding the city of employees from Davis’ 10-year-term and started fresh with a staff of her own.

“Some of us would have handled things a lot different than this administration did,” Ostrander said. “I think we’re doing the right thing for the citizens, but we are divided.”

Hamilton said while he knows all about working in a tough political climate, he’s still waiting for the familiar feeling of accomplishment to override the frustration that surrounds him.

“Here you put out the fire, and there’s another fire,” he said. “Sometimes, you don’t even get a chance to put the first fire out."

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com