Resident threatens to sue Union Township over property lease

October 19th, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

Union Township resident Alex Lambros threatened the board of trustees Oct. 9 with legal action should they not have a single mother of two evicted from a township-owned property. According to Lambros, the lease agreement between the woman, Susan Brown, and the township, is both fiscally questionable and invalid.

“I’ve presented you with a lease agreement between Union Township and one of your employees, Susan Brown,” said Lambros. “She’s leasing a house from the township for $100 per month. Is there any explanation as to why the house goes for so unreasonably cheap?”

Lambros presented the trustees with a copy of the lease, and said that other leases in the area for a similar dwelling would go for $900 or more a month, instead of $100. Trustee Bob McGee, however, expressed a degree of amazement at Lambros’ assessment of the lease.

"Unreasonably cheap?" asked McGee. "The reason the $100 came to pass, we purchased the house some time ago because in that area we plan on expanding the park, or the police or service department in the future. We purchased other houses there, and this is the third occupant we've had in that building. Mrs. Brown is a single parent with two children. She needed a place to stay, and our former administrator made an agreement with her. For $100 she stays there and takes care of the property, she has to pay water/sewer, gas, electricity and take care of the upkeep. The house, property, everything; she has to replace appliances that go bad, and I understand that she's replaced the refrigerator and the carpeting in that house at her own cost. She watches out for that building too. One house just down the street from her has been vandalized. We have kept this from happening to this house, she's a caregiver for us."

However, having suggested that the township is cheating the taxpayers by charging so low an amount for the lease on the property, Lambros advocated that the township instead pay a property management company to take care of the property, rather than Mrs. Brown. Lambros also said that the lease was invalid anyway, as the agreement had been reached by former administrator Ken Geis instead of the trustees, which Lambros said was against the law under the Ohio Revised Code.

"The township administrator approved this, or the township?" asked Lambros. "Are you OK with this lease? According to Ohio Revised Code, 505.11, the only people authorized to approve for leasing or renting property is the township trustees, not the administrator. That lease is illegal and should go to competitive bidding. You need to move forward and void this lease."

Administrator Doug Walker said that, as a matter of policy, the board transfers that authority to enter into contracts, such as a lease, to the administrator on a yearly basis in order to streamline township operations. Walker said that the township would seek a ruling from their law director on the issue, but denied Lambros' repeated demands that the lease be terminated, stating that they viewed the lease as valid until it was ruled otherwise by a qualified attorney.

"I tried to give you an opportunity," said Lambros. "The next choice I have is to turn it over the prosecutor, because you know I'm right. I'll turn it over to the state auditor and the ethics commission. I gave you an opportunity to right a wrong."

Union Township Law Director Larry Barbiere, however, said that there isn't a wrong to correct. The process of delegating the authority for contracts, including leases, is perfectly legal, he said.

"My view is they can delegate this to the administrator," said Barbiere. "This is an administerial decision. There is nothing in the statute that says the trustees have to sign the lease. In my view, it's an administerial act that they can delegate."

McGee said that the township has used this method of property maintenance for years in other areas, including cemeteries, where a live-in caretaker can do a better job of ensuring that the property is properly cared for. Part of the compensation plan, he said, is a cheaper place to stay in return for that service.

"In our cemetery, we had a man who stayed in our cemetery for 40 years, lived there at no cost to him," said McGee. "He was the overseer of that property. He watched over it and took care of it, it was part of his job. Mrs. Brown is the caretaker of this property. If she moves out, who knows if someone would pay $900 to live there? We would also have to pick up the cost of insurance, which we are not doing now."
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