City officials blame Murray for grant money payback

October 24, 2012

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

The Portsmouth City Council has voted to pay back the remaining $11,435.73 to the Ohio Community Department of Development in order to keep the flow of grant money to the City of Portsmouth. The payback was requested for as the result of a grant the city utilized to pay Jack Vetter (Vetter Construction) for work he performed for the city, which was controversial, and involved a change order. The state told the city they would withhold funds until repayment was made. Earlier, the city authorized the first part of the payback in the amount of $29,000.

Fourth Ward Councilman James Kalb asked for an explanation of the issue.

“There was a change order, I guess, back in 2010 on this particular project,” Mayor David Malone explained. “The change order involved mainly this amount of changes that the city paid.”

City Auditor Trent Williams picked up the discussion.

“There is a rather long explanation and I don’t have all the details,” Williams said. “You had a mayor (Jane Murray) who wanted a bill paid that should not have been paid. You had time frames that were told to her that had been exceeded, and demands still coming from her that this be paid for the work that was allegedly done. We contacted the state and asked for (its) advice. Actually, word for word, I said in my email, because I don’t want to come back a year from now and have an audit that says we have to pay this money back. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m bright enough to know that there were going to be problems with this.”

Sixth Ward Councilman Steve Sturgill inquired of Malone if he knows whether or not Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones had looked into the contract in question.

“He did indicate that he would continue to look into this issue and see if we could get this money back from the contractor,” Malone said. “Up to this point, it hasn’t been successful. In fact, their (Vetter Construction) attorney has sent us a letter stating that they felt like their hands were washed of this, and that they did their part, and they felt like the city owed them what was paid to them. So they are fighting this issue.”

Again, Williams followed Malone’s remarks.

“I think I do remember some correspondence between Mike (Jones) and the construction company and their attorney after the $29,000 payment was made, which obviously didn’t result in money back to the city,” Williams said. “I do remember that Mike has made at least some attempts.”

Sturgill asked if the work was actually done.

“The work was done, but the problem was that the inspector who was supposed to do the final inspection, didn’t get to do it,” Malone said.

“She (Murray) wouldn’t allow the project engineer of record to perform their duties,” Williams said. “She wouldn’t allow Strand (& Associates) on the property to inspect this property.”

“There was an internal inspector that inspected this work,” Malone said.

First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson moved to suspend the rule requiring the reading of the ordinance on three separate occasions. That passed unanimously, then by a vote of 5-0 Council voted to repay the remaining $11,435.73.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at flewis@heartlandpublications.com