Court: Beavercreek Twp. trustees can deny raises, can’t change them

Ohio’s high court has ruled Beavercreek Twp. trustees were working within their authority when they denied salary requests for two employees, but they overstepped when they set those salaries themselves.

The ruling earlier this month by the Ohio Supreme Court came in a case filed by Beavercreek Twp. Fiscal Officer Christy Ahrens in January. She asked the court to rule the trustees must approve her salary requests for two assistant fiscal officer positions.

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In a split decision, the court denied the request. But it wasn’t a total victory for the trustees, as the court also ruled they inappropriately changed the salaries.

Ahrens failed to demonstrate “that the board abused its discretion when it denied her specific salary requests,” according to the court’s decision.

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“We conclude that (state law) authorizes Ahrens to hire two assistants to the fiscal officer and to set compensation for those positions, subject to prior approval by the board … In addition, we conclude that the board exceeded its authority (in) setting the annual salaries for the two assistants to the fiscal officer,” the court’s decision reads.

The court determined the trustees should consider a new compensation proposal submitted by Ahrens, according to the decision.

Beavercreek Twp. Administrator Alex Zaharieff said the decision should not have an impact on the operations of the township.

“It simply clarified what the board already believed to be the case, that moving forward board approval is a prerequisite to the determination of the salary of any fiscal officer’s assistant,” Zaharieff said. “The Supreme Court also clarified that there was no evidence that the fiscal office was singled out to receive budget cuts.”

The case stems from a dispute over the salaries of Deb White and James Barone, whom the trustees hired in 2006 and 2007 respectively as assistants in Ahrens’ office. In 2016, trustees voted to drop the salaries for the two assistant positions from $57,158 to $28,200 for White and from $81,167 to $40,515 for Barone, according to township records.

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After he left the township to work elsewhere, the township filed a lawsuit against Barone in Greene County Common Pleas Court. The township claimed Barone lied on his application for employment by claiming he graduated from Youngstown State University. That case reached a settlement after mediation in August and is to be dismissed, according to court records.