Huber Heights Mayor Tom McMasters’ refusal to sign travel requests submitted by three city councilwomen has gotten the attention of the Dayton Unit National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
An anonymous, formal complaint was filed with the NAACP earlier this week by a Huber Heights resident against McMasters due to his decision to not approve the travel requests, according to Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP.
Foward said the complaint refers to McMasters’ approval of a $2,000 travel request for a white male councilman (Tyler Starline) earlier this year, but denying requests made by two white councilwomen (Judy Blankenship and Jan Vargo) and a black councilwoman (Lu Dale).
“I believe it to be unfair to not allow a black woman to attend a conference along with the other white women who are not allowed to go, when a white male was allowed to attend a conference in Washington D.C.,” Foward said the complaint alleges.
“My ask of (McMasters) specifically is to allow this due to this being part of their budget and to not play politics with education,” Foward said. “Do not let politics overrule his conscience of allowing his teammates to be educated, thereby helping the city to move forward.”
McMasters said last week he’s not signing the travel requests “because I don’t feel that it’s the right way to spend the money,” suggesting the dollars would be better spent for parks and recreation.
“My position still hasn’t changed and I think we need a priority discussion,” McMasters said at the close of Monday night’s council meeting. “Someday that will happen, perhaps.”
Dale is a member of the Dayton Unit NAACP’s executive committee, as chair of the Freedom Fund, according to its website.
The complaint was filed on Monday, and Foward spoke that night at the City Council meeting. He said on Wednesday the complaint was not filed by Blankenship, Dale or Vargo.
Foward said he believes McMasters’ motives are purely political, with four council seats up for grabs Nov. 3.
“Our hope is he does the right thing,” Foward said. “We’ve been watching the disruption that has taken place since his tenure in office. He gives the appearance that whatever happens, he’s challenging it. If you have a theme in your city to come grow with us, why would you cause so much negativity and embarrassment to the city that you’re the leader of?”
The councilwomen have asked to go to the National League of Cities conference in Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 3-7, where thousands of elected officials from all over the country are expected to attend the annual event. McMasters said in an email Wednesday that Vargo withdrew her travel request.
City Council has a travel budget of $12,000 for this year, and nearly $9,000 remains unexpended, according to city documents. Also, there is an approved budget of $4,500 to cover the cost of registration fees for events.
The registration fee for each council member is $745, according to the travel requests obtained by this newspaper. The price goes up $110 per registration after July 31, Clerk of Council Anthony Rodgers said.
City attorney Alan Schaeffer said McMasters is not committing any violations by not signing the paperwork. While millions of dollars are budgeted each year, a process is required to spend the funds, such as passing legislation, or in this case, an approval signature, he said.
Schaeffer said there are two alternatives that can be considered — McMasters approves the travel requests and asks that the topic be discussed at the appropriate council committee meeting, or council changes who has approval power.
The mayor of Huber Heights is given the responsibility to approve travel requests for council, the city manager, clerk of council and assistant clerk of council.
McMasters’ refusal to sign off on money approved in the 2015 budget continues his pattern of controversial behavior since he took office last January.
McMasters has been censured by City Council twice; city staff filed a complaint against McMasters; he attached, without authorization, a memo to city manager Rob Schommer’s contract stating his disapproval; and he has refused to sign legislation that was passed by council.
In May, McMasters approved a travel request and expense report for Starline for nearly $2,000. Starline attended the Community Leader Fly-in in Washington D.C. May 11-13.
Since he took office in January 2014, McMasters has approved nine travel requests, including submittals from Blankenship, Dale and Vargo last November to attend the NLC Congress of Cities in Austin, Texas.
“When I signed the approval(s) … I personally believed that the money could be better spent within the community,” McMasters said in an email, referring to Starline’s request this year and the trio’s trip to Texas last year. “I signed those requests deferring my preferences for the professional assessment of the value to those individuals making the requests.”