Three township trustees in Montgomery County have a combined $56,000 property lien placed against them for their actions as a board. The judgment lien, filed May 17 by the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts, stems from a legal dispute with township residents that is now being addressed by an appellate court.
Jackson Twp. Trustees William Peters, Thomas Sears and Debra Johnson now owe a combined $56,446.15 to Michael and Vickie Kilroy for what started as a neighbor fence line maintenance dispute and turned into the trustees’ objection to signing a letter of apology. The total amount in the liens reflects $15,000 plus attorney fees and interest.
At the heart of the dispute was a 2007 disagreement between Michael and Vickie Kilroy and their neighbors. The
Kilroys and their neighbors could not agree about clearing noxious weeds, brush and thistles from a fence line separating their property.
The trustees became involved because of a little-known Ohio law that requires a township to bid out or contract with someone to do the work if the offending neighbor does not solve the problem. The township “shall cause them to be cut” and then the amount is collected as tax from the offending neighbor and redistributed by the auditor back to the township.
The Kilroys allege the trustees never got the weeds and brush cut. The couple eventually settled their dispute with the neighbors, but did not drop their complaint against the township. In 2010, after a lawsuit and court-ordered mediation, the Kilroys and Jackson Twp. agreed to a settlement in which the township paid $15,000 and agreed to write a letter of apology — something the Kilroys wanted for what they considered board inaction.
Despite a resolution being passed in a 2010 public meeting stating those terms, the trustees’ attorney said the resolution wasn’t valid because they never agreed to the language of the apology letter. The resolution was rescinded a year later.
Ohio Township Association executive director Matthew DeTemple, who also is an attorney, said he hasn’t heard of liens being put on public officials and that it sounds like “a bit of aggressive lawyering where you’re trying to get someone’s attention.”
After oral arguments recently in front of a three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeals, the case is waiting a decision about whether an enforceable agreement was reached. The attorneys’ estimates for when the three-judge panel will rule on the case ranged from a couple weeks to a couple months.
Attorneys agree thatthe panel could find the resolution was binding and that the township must pay or that the resolution was not binding and the case would be remanded back to the Montgomery County Common Pleas trial court. Neither side knew if any other type of decision was possible.
The Kilroys’ attorney, Christopher Conard, said the case is about “the whole idea of how public officials are accountable and if they make a commitment, they have to be bound by that commitment.”
The trustees’ attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office civil division chief John Cumming, said “we argue that there wasn’t (an agreement) because this letter of apology was never agreed upon by the parties.”
The language in the two-paragraph apology the Kilroys wanted was: “We sincerely apologize for all of the pain and inconvenience we have caused you over the years by failing to perform our duty to clear the fence line between the property located at 12360 Hemple Road and 12332 Hemple Road.”
Cumming said despite the fact he hasn’t heard about public officials having liens put on them due to an action taken as part of their job, the case isn’t precedent-setting and has been blown out of proportion.
“It’s unfortunate that this didn’t get resolved years ago,” he said. “It’s really silly to be litigating over a phrase like that.”
“Our clients wanted a letter of apology because they incurred tremendous expense to try and have things worked out and satisfied,”Conard said. “And if the trustees had just done their job, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s that simple.”
Lien follows a court judgment and alleged broken settlement now being decided in appellate court