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Council Members Clash Over Continuing Driveway Saga

Two members of the Highland Heights City Council clashed at the regularly-scheduled city council meeting on Tuesday night over the controversy involving the Planning and Zoning Commission chairman and the residents on Jillian Court.

As The River City News has previously reported, P&Z chairman Steve Crawford has been threatened with lawsuits from neighbors for the way he went about beginning the construction of a driveway for his residence on the street. Earlier this month, Crawford was asked to resign by a member of council.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Jeanne Pettit addressed the issue, responding to the $10,000 figure brought up by Councilman David Ramler at the last meeting. Ramler stated that the city had spent approximately $10,000 of taxpayer money to build a driveway from the end of Jillian Court to the property of Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steve Crawford.

Pettit broke down the $10,000 spent on the project, which was done without a permit and without consulting Jillian Court neighbors. She said that the costs were incurred by multiple people, including city employees and the concerned residents themselves.

According to Pettit, approximately $7,000 was spent to extend Jillian Court by eight to 10 feet to improve the plowing of snow and turnarounds, among other things. Over $1,000 was spent on acquiring documents and information requested by Jillian Court resident Gary Hunter in an open records request. Another $542.42 was spent for soil, straw, and other materials for the project. The final total came to approximately $9,500, according to Pettit.

Pettit also stated that after 14 months of work beginning at the end of Jillian Court, Crawford has attained the proper permits for work to continue.

After laying out who was responsible for each individual cost, Pettit accused fellow council member David Ramler of siding with the residents who have threatened a lawsuit against the city for improper work done without a permit. Pettit voiced a concern that a lawsuit would waste taxpayer dollars and would be an embarrassment for the city.

Ramler defended himself, saying “someone has a grievance and it is council’s duty to address it.”

“This money was not spent wisely,” he added.

Ramler went on to accuse Pettit of having a personal conflict of interest in the situation, stating that her husband is a member of the Planning and Zoning commission and works with Steve Crawford.

“I don’t think there’s a personal conflict there,” Pettit said. “They work together. They know each other. I worked with Commissioner Crawford on Planning and Zoning as well and I think you can accuse people of conflicts of interest in any situation. Just because you work with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to vote with them.”

Objectivity is key to making decisions for the city, Pettit said.

“Our responsibility to the city and the citizens is to remain objective. That’s my goal,” Pettit said.

After conflicting statements were made regarding the current state of the project, Hunter asked to address council.

Gary Hunter stated that no matter who incurred the costs for the project, it doesn’t matter.

“None of this money would have been spent if Mr. Crawford had gone through the proper channels,” Hunter said. “I request that the end of Jillian Court be restored to what it used to be as close as possible or I will file a lawsuit.”

Another resident of Jillian Court, Scott Taylor, addressed council and said that the controversy is an ethical and openness issue. Taylor said he wishes that someone had gone to the residents of Jillian Court and said that this would be done and that they would be given an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Mayor Greg Meyers responded, saying there was a Planning and Zoning committee meeting where the project was approved. Meyers then read the minutes of the January 14, 2014 Planning and Zoning committee meeting where the Jillian Court project was approved.

Taylor stated that he and other residents were not aware that the meeting would be held and that the issue would be discussed. If they were notified, Taylor said, they would have been there.

Taylor also believes that this is an ethical issue because it involves the Planning and Zoning Commissioner and a member of the Planning and Zoning commission, saying that commission member Joseph Krebs benefits monetarily because his company was hired for the project work. Taylor was also unsure how the Planning and Zoning Commissioner didn’t know that he didn’t need a permit.

Pettit responded saying that there was confusion between Crawford and Krebs as to who was supposed to get the permits, calling it a “mistake.”

Taylor also called for the resignation of Crawford and Krebs from P&Z, as Ramler did at the last council meeting, saying it would be in the best interest of the city and its citizens.

Written by Clayton Castle, RCN contributor

Image via Planning & Development Services