LET'S hope that all members of Perrysburg city council have signed up to attend the state auditor's seminar this afternoon at Owens Community College on Ohio's public records and open meetings laws. They obviously need a refresher course, badly.
After months of sniping and back-stabbing around the suburban community's city hall, we learn that Jim Bagdonas, Perrysburg's long-time administrator, is on his way out.
Technically, Mr. Bagdonas is resigning, effective Oct. 1, but dissatisfaction with his performance is clearly an issue. A $65,345 golden parachute is proposed to break his fall.
Why he is leaving is apparently a matter of some debate among Perrysburg council members, who decided to keep the controversy over his departure a secret from the public by failing to make publicly available all documents relevant to the personnel decision.
The reasoning, from Council President Tim McCarthy: "We didn't want to have our human resources people and other people aware of this conversation," he said. "We just wanted to deal from council to Jim."
When it comes to human relationships, keeping secrets like that can lead to misunderstandings and is normally considered a bad idea. But when it comes to the responsibility of a city to practice openness, the law is clear. Mr. McCarthy should know that.
The public has a right under the law to know what their city council is doing. If a city official isn't performing his duties to council's satisfaction, the public has a right to know that, too, even if embarrassing or uncomfortable details are revealed. And, if council is planning to pay the city administrator more than $65,000 in taxpayer funds to go away, the facts should be out there for all to see, before it happens, not after.
In this case, Mr. Bagdonas will be placed on a 35-week leave of absence beginning Oct. 2. His salary during this time will be $1,857 a week, plus health and dental insurance. The pay will continue even if he gets another job.
After the leave, the city will continue to pay him $250 a month, the minimum amount necessary to maintain his status as a public employee. The stipend will continue through Feb. 28, 2007, apparently just long enough to fill out Mr. Bagdonas' pension.
Whether the administrator's leadership and community relations skills weren't up to par is not the issue here. The issue is how Mr. McCarthy and city council handled the matter, which is why they all should be at the state auditor's seminar, where we trust some very valuable information is certain to be shared - publicly.
They'll find out that secrecy in city affairs is counterproductive and unwise policy.
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