Fittest loser
Article updated: 5/30/2013 9:56 AM

Grafton Twp. turns over a new leaf

Grafton Township Supervisor James Kearns is leading several changes in the township that was known for its infighting, multiple lawsuits and rocky finances.

Grafton Township Supervisor James Kearns is leading several changes in the township that was known for its infighting, multiple lawsuits and rocky finances.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

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Grafton Township, marred for years by lawsuits, infighting and rocky finances, is experiencing a resurrection.

Not only has the new board approved a preliminary balanced budget of nearly $1.27 million that cuts no services, it also paid several bills from the prior administration and hired a township attorney.

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Legal fees are expected to shrink since one of the three lawsuits involving former supervisor Linda Moore was dismissed last Friday, according to court records. Two other lawsuits are pending.

"We've been just trying to get our arms around everything and do things to knock the biggest things off first and get the other things second," Supervisor James Kearns said. "We're aggressively moving forward to try to contain the cost of these lawsuits."

It's been quite a turnaround for a township board known for its bickering and being delinquent on some bills. Those days, hopefully, are gone, said Betty Zirk, the lone trustee remaining from the previous board.

"Everybody is in cooperation with one another," said Zirk, a trustee for 14 years. "Everybody can speak their mind or put in good input into what we're trying to get accomplished."

The board rehired Joseph Gottemoller as township attorney during a special meeting last week. He previously resigned from the post in 2009 after four months on the job.

"It was really impossible to do the job right, it's just what it boiled down to," Gottemoller said of why he quit. "If you have impossible clients, you have an impossible task, so hopefully it will be much more peaceful now."

The township had not had regular legal representation since it fired its attorney during the last administration. Later on, the prior board, supervisor, assessor and road commissioner each hired their own attorneys and billed the township. Legal fees ballooned into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The legal fees, estimated between $450,000 and $600,000, were to blame for the township's dire financial straits. When Kearns took over last week, there was just $20,000 left in the town fund to make payroll, he said.

Thanks to an initial property tax installment of about $73,000 that the township received Friday, the board was able pay off $38,000 in outstanding bills, Kearns said.

"If this money had not come in, it would have been extremely tight," Kearns said. "We are taking all the precautions not to make mistakes. ... We're going to try to run a very, very tight ship."

The board is going over previous financial statements to determine how much debt remains from the last administration. An estimate should be available in three weeks, Kearns said. Township services are not due to be cut, and Kearns is trying to see if the township can secure donations to help pay for senior bingo and the shuttle bus for seniors and the disabled.

People like Janice Shuff, a resident who uses the bus and is a bingo regular, is delighted her life hasn't changed since the new administration took office.

"They're putting their best foot forward. You've got to give (Kearns) kudos for getting in there and getting busy," she said. "It was a smooth transition from what I can see. I mean, he didn't go in there and fire everybody, and I do know that so far, everybody that works over there seems to be happy. If they're happy, everybody else is happy."

Kearns said, "I don't know if we're doing it right, but somebody else will tell us when we're doing it wrong."

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