XENIA — The ability of the Xenia City Council president to spend taxpayer money without council approval was questioned during a recent meeting.
Councilman John Caupp broached the subject last Thursday after reviewing invoices from Columbus-based law firm Zashin and Rich — which advised the city regarding concerns about the city’s law department in 2014.
Approximately $9,200 was spent in contracting the law firm last year according to city Finance Director Mark Bazelak. That contract was executed by Michael Engle without proper authorization, Caupp said.
“My contention is that (Engle) went to Zashin and Rich and spent money without council consent,” he said. “He was spending money like those were his attorneys. Nobody on council can spend taxpayer dollars.”
However approval for the expenditure came from City Manager Brent Merriman, who has the authority to spend up to $25,000 without council approval. And it wasn’t a surprise move, according to Engle.
He said before approaching Merriman he did inform council of his intentions.
“I was very transparent with all members of council we were obtaining external legal counsel,” Engle said. “We absolutely needed independent advice. I had a sense based on informal comments made to me by a majority of my colleagues that they were in favor of this.”
Merriman said he approved the expense because there were concerns by council and he was assured that engaging with the law firm was what council wanted to do.
Caupp also said that according to invoices from the law firm that contact with Engle was referenced more than 20 times.
“I never had 25 different updates from the council president,” Caupp said.
But Engle said it would only make sense that the council president be the local point person.
“I would be contacted by them and asked for information,” Caupp said. “There would occasionally be follow up as you would imagine.”
Engle then questioned the timing of the concern — a year later.
“I find it curious that this would come up a this time after all members of council were aware of what was going on at the time,” Engle said.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.