October 23, 2014

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Ex-Lorain official convicted of theft won’t get job back

LORAIN — A disappointed Chuck Camera walked out of City Hall on Monday.

Camera

In the last two months, Camera had pleaded guilty to stealing from Lorain Youth Baseball while league president, been fired from his streets commissioner job and been grilled by a city lawyer last week in a six-hour hearing appealing the firing.

Now, Civil Service Commission members had upheld the April 10 firing.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Camera said of the decision.

While investigators said about $231,000 in bingo tickets used for league fundraising were unaccounted for, Camera — ordered March 26 to pay the league $10,000 as part of pleading guilty to records tampering and theft charges — insisted he never profited from the league.

Camera did admit to looking the other way while bar owners and casino night dealers skimmed profits meant for the league. He insisted it was the only way to get league fields built and pay fees for underprivileged players. Players fees run from $60 to $110, with team sponsorships costing $325.

The three-member commission didn’t buy it, saying in a written statement that a “preponderance of evidence” showed Camera engaged in “immoral conduct, dishonesty and discourteous treatment of the public” while league president. Commission members refused to elaborate on their decision after the hearing, citing the possibility that Camera may appeal their decision in court.

However, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said there was a link between Camera’s job and his league position. Camera admitted having league spreadsheets on his work computer and league equipment is kept at the city garage.

Camera, a city worker since 1976 and commissioner since 1991, said he was overwhelmed by the job and the league’s board rebuffed his suggestion to hire a paid accountant. However, Bambi Dillon, a former league secretary who blew the whistle on Camera, said he rejected her advice to hire an accountant. “He said, ‘It’s easy and we can take care of it,’ ” Dillon said by phone Monday.

Ritenauer said Camera’s theft conviction undermined public confidence in him and the city. He noted that Camera, who earned $75,346 per year and was responsible for a $5.3 million annual budget, had a fiduciary responsibility to residents.

“All of those things when considered, we felt, rose to the level of termination,” Ritenauer said.

A decision on whether to fill Camera’s position or redistribute his responsibilities in-house hasn’t been made, Ritenauer said.

The publicity surrounding Camera’s case has hurt the league, which has lost sponsors and some 400 players since Camera left, according to Ron Cordy, league vice president. The league’s annual budget of about $110,000 is down substantially since it stopped getting revenue from casino nights and bingo ticket sales.

But Camera said he wasn’t to blame, noting he quit as president in 2008.

“They better start looking at their own (backyard) before they start tossing criticism at me,” he said. “Get their own house in order.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.