Southwest Licking water, sewer district rejects consulting contract for past board member

The Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer Board rejected a proposal to hire a former board member on a three-year consulting contract.

A contract proposal to hire former member Rob Platte failed in a 2-1 vote with Etna Township Appointee Trent Stepp and City of Pataskala Appointee Melissa Carter voting against and Harrison Township Appointee Larry Kretzmann casting the lone vote in favor during a special meeting Jan. 19.

Platte served as the City of Pataskala's representative on the utility board for three years, but he was not reappointed late last year after his term ended Nov. 19.

Rob Platte, of Pataskala, was hired by the Jersey Township Trustees as the township's first administrator during a special meeting on April 11.
Rob Platte, of Pataskala, was hired by the Jersey Township Trustees as the township's first administrator during a special meeting on April 11.

Melissa Carter, who had served on Pataskala City Council since 2014, resigned from the 2nd Ward seat Dec. 5 and was appointed the following day as the city's representative on the water and sewer board.

Carter said at the time Platte had done a wonderful job as the city's representative, but the optics of his position as the Jersey Township administrator made her "uncomfortable." Platte was hired as Jersey Township's first administrator in April.

During the Jan. 19 meeting, Carter raised similar concerns while the board interviewed Platte.

When asked by Carter about how Jersey Township officials feel about Platte taking on consulting work in addition to his full-time position as administrator, Platte said the Jersey Township Trustees were aware and did not see it as a potential conflict.

Platte said the agreements between the water and sewer board and Jersey Township were put in place about a decade ago and there was nothing further that would pose a conflict for him.

When he was still a SWLCWSD board member, Platte said he recused himself from any matters that dealt with Jersey Township.

Later in the meeting, Kretzmann said that bringing Platte on as a consultant will help the district during a time of transition because of his depth of knowledge about the district. Besides Platte no longer serving as a board member, the district is losing Andrew King as its in-house legal counsel after he was elected as judge for Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals.

In her comments prior to voting, Carter said the contract didn't appear to be transitional. She said Platte does not lack the qualifications, but she was concerned his position with Jersey Township could impact the recommendations he would provide to the utility board. She suggested seeking a firm that could could assist them moving forward.

"I just want to make sure that we continue on a solid path and not rocky. This feels rocky," she said.

If the contract had been approved, Platte would have provided the district with consulting services related to economic development for a period of three years retroactive to Jan. 1 and through Dec. 31, 2025. Platte would have earned $4,000 per month for a total of $48,000 annually.

Utility board members earn an annual gross salary of $17,394.11.

The contract also include a termination clause that required 180 days notice. Meaning if either party decided to end the contract at any time or for any reason, a written notice must be provided roughly six months in advance.

Platte said he was open to restructuring the agreement to a one-year contract with a 90-day notice period instead.

Prior to voting, Stepp said being able to lean on Platte's expertise though a consulting agreement is appealing to him because Stepp knows the district will benefit. But Stepp did not want to enter into an agreement without residents getting an opportunity to comment on the contract. Public comments were not included on the Jan. 19 agenda.

Based on Platte's comments during the meeting, Stepp said he was not opposed to moving forward with an amended agreement in the "hopes of making it a more palatable solution for the district."

The district's next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26.


Twitter: @MariaDeVito13

This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Utility district rejects consulting contract from past board member