Source: The Corydon Democrat

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Spencer Township residents seek transparency

by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor

January 28, 2014

Attendees of the Spencer Township advisory board meeting line the front wall of the Frenchtown Community Center on Monday evening, waiting to sign in, while dozens of others are already seated. Submitted by Sandy Dubois
Many Spencer Township residents left Monday night's meeting of the township trustee and his advisory board with more questions than answers.

The meeting, which was moved from Township Trustee Donald Satterfield's home, where the township office is located, to the Frenchtown Community Center, which is operated by the trustee, to accommodate the anticipated crowd.

Susie Flock Weigle, who was elected last month to the three-member advisory board to fulfill the seat of her late father, Kenneth Flock, presided over the meeting. Weigle said the other two advisory board members, Ed Sieg and Bob Smith, elected her as chair.

"We will allow taxpayers, considering there's a lot of you here, to question the budget/annual report," she said.

Weigle added that the meeting was a requirement before the annual report could be published next week in this newspaper.

Questions quickly arose about what was in the budget since copies were not made available to all attendees. And what was being circulated only had the expenditures and revenue for the community center.

Interest in the township trustee's budget came to light last fall after Satterfield ended a contract with LifeSpan Resources that allowed the nonprofit agency to serve hot lunches at the center on weekdays. Satterfield had indicated the contract was terminated due to an increase in utilities when the center was used by LifeSpan.

Bill Dubois, whose wife, Sandy, was the meal coordinator for LifeSpan, said that they were not just interested in the community center budget, but the overall budget for the township.

"We want to see documentation of what was spent and who it was paid to," Phyllis Patterson said. "I've seen no documentation ... Anyone can prepare numbers on a piece of paper."

Satterfield told Patterson that she could come to his house at 8 o'clock the next morning and he'd "dig them all out" for her.

Weigle, who said she thought she "was being kind" by allowing the public to ask questions, apologized several times during the approximate one-hour meeting, saying she was "brand new" to the board.

"I do want this to run well," she said. "This is my township, too, kids. ... We used to get along. I can be objective. ... If I've made a mistake, I'm sorry; we'll try to correct it."

Some who spoke thanked the advisory board, especially Weigle, for their work as elected officials and Satterfield for his years of dedication and his accomplishment of getting the community center.

However, "there's frustration on both sides," Ray Saylor said. "Transparency is what we're looking for."

He and others pointed out that, with just one electric meter for the entire building, which also houses firetrucks and equipment for the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept., there's no accurate way to determine how much electricity the community room uses.

"A two-meter system might be worth looking into," Saylor said, adding that people also need to offer solutions that are best for the township, not individuals.

Belinda Smith commented that Satterfield could have better prepared the seniors for canceling the contract with LifeSpan and encouraged him and the advisory board to find a way to allow the senior meal program to return.

When June Bary asked if Satterfield had considered taking less pay (he is the highest paid of the 12 township trustees in the county), Weigle reminded her that the purpose of the meeting was to talk about last year, not the future.

One man said the group understands that "there's just not money to throw away," but those who gathered at the center for the meals and fellowship had offered to pay more to help with the utilities' shortfall.

A woman asked if donations could be made to help, to which the township attorney, David Layson, replied yes.

Satterfield said there was a donation box in the center, "but there was never any money in it."

Several in the room said that wasn't true.

In response to Sandy Dubois' question about where the money went for 2013 that was budgeted in 2012, she was told that utility costs were higher than expected.

Sieg said the budget was "running in the red."

After about 60 minutes of questions and comments, the advisory board unanimously approved its annual report.

"We thought you would be reading the amounts," Patterson said after the vote.

Weigle initially offered the account amounts for viewing after the meeting but then read them, which prompted additional questions.

The taxpayers were told that some "adjustments" had been made after an audit by the State Board of Accounts.

Weigle, who provided her phone number to the residents, said she hoped they had made some progress in bringing the community back together.

Court sets pre-trial conference

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled in the case of the People of Spencer Township vs. Spencer Township Trustee Donald Satterfield.

The "people" are questioning Satterfield's competency to perform the duties of his office.

The pre-trial conference is set to take place Thursday, Feb. 6, at 10 a.m. in Harrison Circuit Court, located on the third floor of the county courthouse.

The petition of the court was made in October after a group of Spencer Township residents were unhappy with Satterfield's decision to end a contract with LifeSpan Resources that allowed LifeSpan to serve hot lunches on weekdays at the Frenchtown Community Center, which is operated by the Spencer Township trustee. The residents began to question the township's budget but were unsatisfied with answers.

Attorney C. Gregory Fifer, with Applegate Fifer Pulliam LLC in Jeffersonville, has been retained by the plaintiffs. Corydon Attorney David Layson is representing Satterfield.