WEST CHESTER Twp., Ohio -- The man who holds the purse strings for West Chester Township hasn’t been allowed to regularly sit inside township closed door meetings or speak among his fellow officials since taking office in April 2012.
But if two West Chester trustees have their way at the township trustee meeting Tuesday, Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones’ role could change.
Trustee George Lang and newly elected Trustee Mark Welch said they hope to revive and settle the ongoing conversation about regularly allowing Jones into executive sessions at the first meeting of the year Tuesday.
The change signals a shift in elected leadership on the board, which has historically battled a long-standing clash over transparency in the township. Public comments highlighted the issue last year -- from the push to once again add the approval of township legal bills of $2,500 or more to trustee agendas in October to the recurring conversation about who should attend township executive sessions.
“I plan to bring it up casually during trustee comments and then make a formal motion to bring him in regularly,” Lang said.
Lang and Welch said separately Monday they also hope to change the “trustee comments” portion of trustee meetings to include all elected officials so Jones would have a chance to speak.
“If the fiscal officer feels like there is something for clarification that should be brought up, at this point he has to get behind the podium during citizen comments and it feels awkward to me, ” Welch said about Jones, who is his former campaign manager.
Tuesday is Welch’s first meeting as trustee, and the first meeting since township trustees voted 2-1 in favor of former Trustee Catherine Stoker’s motion to investigate the legality of information Jones included in a politically motivated email sent to hundreds before the election.
Jones, who’s now under legal review by county and state officials after being accused of including attorney-client privileged information in an email intended to stop Stoker’s re-election, is not permitted to attend an executive session unless he is invited in by the trustees when the topic involves him.
“It’s just poor policy to have ‘looky loos’ sitting in on executive session, and that’s what our conversation has been off and on,” Stoker said at her final meeting as a trustee on Dec. 17.
Since Jones took office in April 2012, the policy has had people talking — given the dramatic change in practice since former township fiscal officer Pat Williams was routinely invited into executive sessions during her more than 30-year tenure.
“I just think that’s wrong," Lang said. "He was elected by the people. He is a watch dog of the people’s money and for him to not be allowed in executive sessions for what I perceive to be purely political reasons is unconscionable."
Trustee Lee Wong, who has historically supported Stoker’s view on the township’s executive session policy, said he has no intention of bringing up or discussing the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
“That’s a non-issue for me,” he said. “I have no problem with township transparency issues.”
If the trustees do bring up either issue Tuesday, a roll call vote would be required to change the current practices, according to West Chester Township spokesperson Barb Wilson.
Trustees are also expected to discuss other issues like zoning regulations, infrastructure improvements and business development.