PORT CLINTON - Two high-ranking city employees have been placed on unpaid administrative leave until an investigation into missing scrap metal is complete, three local elected officials said yesterday.
Councilmen Glenn Chapman and Jeff Morgan both said that the investigation of Rich Babcock, Port Clinton's safety-service director, and Kenneth Heschel, the city's service department supervisor, is centered on scrap metal missing from the old Waterworks building - a city-owned facility.
Mayor Tom Brown said he hand-delivered notices to both Mr. Babcock and Mr. Heschel Tuesday informing them they were being placed on unpaid leave. Up to three more city employees are being investigated, the mayor said, but none of them had been suspended.
When asked if the missing scrap metal was linked to the two city officials being placed on unpaid leave, Mr. Brown said: "Yes, they are all related."
Mr. Brown said then-Port Clinton Auditor Nancy O'Neal's office sent a letter to Law Director George Wilber on June 28 notifying him of questions concerning receipts for recycling scrap metal.
When pressed for details, Mr. Brown summoned an administrative assistant into his office, who pointed to an e-mail from an attorney instructing Mr. Brown and others how to respond to questions about the investigation.
"All I can say is we're investigating issues of compliance with the city's deposit policies and procedures," Mr. Brown said.
Port Clinton hired Marshall & Melhorn, a Toledo-based law firm, about a month ago to run its investigation.
Mr. Brown said the city is paying the law firm $175 per hour for its services, or about "$5,000 to $10,000 by the time this is over."
Mr. Brown said the law firm advised him that releasing any documents about the missing scrap metal would jeopardize the on-going investigation, which he said should be completed within a week.
Repeated attempts to reach Mr. Babcock and Mr. Heschel for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
Mr. Babcock has been employed by the city since 1972, beginning as a laborer in the water distribution department. He was appointed to his current position as safety-service director by Mr. Brown in 2002, and his current salary is $71,022.22.
The city hired Mr. Heschel as a light-machinery operator in 1979. He was named the service department director by city ordinance in 2005, and now oversees the cemetery, street, and water departments.
Mr. Heschel, who is paid $22.71 per hour, was suspended by Mr. Babcock for two days and ordered to attend an emotions-management class earlier this year.
A review of Mr. Heschel's personnel file shows that he tossed several city employees' paychecks out of his truck and onto the ground while visiting those workers at a job site.
Two weeks later, Mr. Heschel used abusive language toward another city employee. Mr. Heschel was notified of his suspension in a letter from Mr. Babcock dated Jan. 12.
There were no disciplinary actions against Mr. Babcock found in his file, but a city employee said it is common practice to remove such items from personnel files after three years.
Mr. Chapman, a Port Clinton councilman, said Mr. Babcock was the "de facto mayor," and "the city's top guy."
Mr. Chapman also said city council was being kept "out of the loop" during the investigation.
"All I know is, it has something to do with missing scrap metal," he said.
Mr. Chapman said the city normally recycles scrap metal at Burns Iron & Metal Co., Inc., in Fremont.
A phone message left for Richard Farmer, listed as Burns' general manager on the company's Web site, was not returned yesterday.
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