Vandalia manager ouster fuels city debate; records show communication worries

Multiple Vandalia residents have expressed concerns about transparency within city leadership after the sudden resignation of City Manager Dan Wendt this month, with City Councilman Corey Follick again responding publicly, while most other council members remained silent on the matter.

The city announced Wendt’s intent to resign earlier this month. He was placed on administrative leave prior to his exit, but city officials have offered few details about what led up to the move. Council also authorized a separation agreement that will pay Wendt just over $277,000 in severance.

Multiple residents spoke during council’s June 17 meeting, some with continued concern about Wendt’s resignation.

“Over a quarter of a million dollars were paid to (Wendt), now we have an interim city manager who will step in, then we have to look for another city manager,” said Liz Cicchetti. “That, to me, is a quarter to easily half a million dollars wasted and there’s no response to the citizens.”

Follick also spoke on the issue, asserting Wendt had “consistently performed at a high level with enthusiasm and an unprecedented commitment to our community.”

Wendt’s personnel file includes no disciplinary actions or notes of concern that would lend an explanation, and his most recent evaluation shows he had “exceeded expectations.” Wendt has declined to comment to the Dayton Daily News multiple times since being put on leave.

“I understand people have intense feelings over this, especially if it’s your neighbor or your friend, or you’re confused and you don’t understand what’s happening,” Councilwoman Amber Aivalotis-Weaver said at the June 17 meeting. “... We are restricted by laws that we can’t say so much, but we do have an obligation to do what is right.”

Follick addressed speculation that the Vandalia-Butler school district’s lawsuit against the city ultimately led to Wendt’s exit. In April, the district sued the city for what the school system alleged were years-long “breaches of revenue sharing related to tax-abated properties.”

That issue dates back well before Wendt was hired in 2021.

“Anyone who believes that Mr. Wendt was somehow responsible for this decades-long, complicated tax-sharing issue is simply misinformed,” Follick said. “This issue transcends multiple city councils, boards of education, city managers, finance directors, school superintendents, and school treasurers.”

Documents obtained from the city and school district via public records request reference multiple potential miscommunications between the two parties.

In a timeline of ongoing conversations about Community Reinvestment Areas and economic development between Wendt and the school district, which Mayor Richard Herbst had requested he compile, Wendt said he initially told Superintendent Rob O’Leary in October 2021 he “believed that the schools could be due monies,” but noted he was not sure at that time.

Conversations continued between school and city officials on the topic through 2023, and it appears a breakdown in communication between involved parties may have begun around July of that year.

Wendt wrote that he attributed the potential miscommunication on whether the city did owe money to the schools and, if so, how much, as being a result of “the telephone game.”

In early December 2023, according to Wendt’s notes, the city received a $34 million invoice from the school district. Wendt said Vandalia-Butler Treasurer Eric Beavers indicated in a letter that this sum was based on an estimate of $2 million per year for 15 years plus interest.

Communications and negotiations on the issue continued until the district filed suit on April 15.

In an email to council members and Wendt the following day, Herbst said he was “disheartened” to see the city’s relationship with the district devolve.

“It is also concerning to me that there is so much confusion around our counter-offer to the schools as discussed in the last executive session,” Herbst said in the April 16 email. “There seems to be a clear communication breakdown between the city council and staff as to what was presented to the school.”

The lawsuit was ultimately settled via an agreement in May that calls for the city to pay the schools $4.5 million.

The city has not confirmed whether this issue contributed to Wendt’s resignation, and just one official statement has been released, which acknowledged that city council had “discussed potentially removing the city manager” in an hours-long executive session on June 5.

“There was no single specific item that led to the discussion for change,” reads the statement, though it does mention that officials had “ongoing concerns” related to Wendt’s management style, communication, and direction.

No other council members have responded to multiple requests for comment from the Dayton Daily News.

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