Saturday, August 26, 2000

Late checks latest snafu in Deerfield

Clerk calls events political backstabbing

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TWP. — Accusations flew, gavels pounded and tempers flared Friday at a trustees work session when several angry employees and their families showed up to complain about not getting their paychecks on time.

Kristin Spiekerman
Kristin Spiekerman
        Shock and dismay were two words used by 110 township employees when they went to the township offices Thursday to get their paychecks and were told they weren't there. Even more disturbing was the reason why.

        Township Clerk Kristin Spiekerman “didn't have time to sign the checks.” That's the explanation township trustees gave in a news release issued Friday.

        Mrs. Spiekerman claims the delay was not entirely her fault. She says she had neither the time nor the appropriate help to get all of her assigned duties completed.

        She added Township Administrator Hazel Dotson was supposed to have delivered signed payroll authorizations to the clerk's office by Wednesday morning so Mrs. Spiekerman would have time to process the payroll. Mrs. Spiekerman said Mrs. Dotson delivered the authorizations Thursday morning.

        “I deeply regret that the paychecks were late, but there are more people at fault here than just the clerk,” Mrs. Spiekerman said Friday. “Hazel knew that I needed those authorizations in my office by Wednesday. This is just more of their little game to make me look bad.”

        Ms. Dotson said in a written statement that she delivered the authorizations by 9 a.m. Thursday. However, “it is not the responsibility of the administrator to get trustee signatures on authorizations. That is clearly the responsibility of the clerk.”

        The paycheck debacle is just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of discord between Deerfield trustees and the clerk. Just last month, trustees revoked the clerk's authority to transcribe meeting minutes, which prompted Mrs. Spiekerman to file a lawsuit. The two sides also locked horns in a dispute earlier this year when trustees moved Mrs. Spiekerman's office into what she called “the township's garage.”

        Early on, many township employees dismissed these isolated incidents as petty political squabbling. But now that the run-ins are affecting the way the township does business and their livelihoods, many employees are both angry and concerned.

        Members of the township's fire department, a vital safety cog for the community, were so disgruntled by the payday fiasco they have threatened to walk off the job if it ever happens again.

        “This is very devastating for us,” said Sharon Waldbillig, whose husband, Dennis, is a township firefighter. “We live paycheck to paycheck. We count on that money being there every other Thursday just like the community counts on my husband to be there every time there is an emergency in the township.

        “I wrote a check to pay our mortgage thinking that my husband's paycheck would be there and it wasn't,” she said. “Now I'm playing a game that I don't feel comfortable playing, trying to get my husband's paycheck to the bank before that check clears.”

        Tim Sutter lost that game when a check he wrote earlier this week to pay a bill didn't clear. The part-time firefighter said it was the first time he ever bounced a check.

        Jeff Wolfe, a part-time firefighter, said he was almost homeless because his paycheck was late. He said this isn't the first time the clerk has been late with paychecks, but hopes it will be the last.

        “This has been a tremendous stress on me, my fiance and our little girl because we just moved into a nice, new house,” said Mr. Wolfe. “Our first payment was due Thursday and I didn't have it. It doesn't look too good to your landlord when you can't make the first payment on your house.”

        Explanations from trustees and the clerk did little to pacify livid employees who had to wait until 11:30 a.m. on Friday to get paid. Though only a handful of disgruntled workers showed up for the work session, the meeting became so contentious that a finger-pointing, gavel-pounding, shouting match erupted between trustees and Mrs. Spiekerman. Things got so heated that trustees called a sheriff's deputy for additional security and threatened to toss Mrs. Spiekerman from the meeting if she didn't keep quiet.

        “If anyone has had any doubts that Kristin Spiekerman isn't doing her job, they shouldn't need any more proof than this,” said Trustees President Bill Morand. ""Constantly fighting against (trustees) is one thing. Denying our dedicated employees their pay is another. This pattern of neglect cannot be tolerated.”

        Mr. Morand said trustees will pay for any bounced checks or fees that employees incurred because of the paycheck delay.

        “I'm mortified by this,” he said. “It's a tremendous embarrassment for the township and I apologize emphatically for anybody whose life this has disrupted.”


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