Judge removes fiscal officer

Mecca Township to fill position tonight

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Attorney Michael Rossi, left, talks with his client, Mecca Township fiscal officer Debbie Drawl, right, as Drawl’s husband, Tom, listens, during a hearing last week on Debbie Drawl’s removal from office. Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan ruled Thursday to remove Drawl.

WARREN — Mecca Township soon will have a new fiscal officer as Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan ruled Thursday to remove Debbie Drawl from the position “to preserve the financial integrity of Mecca Township.”

Drawl, who was elected in November 2015 to the fiscal officer position with her term beginning in April 2016, had been at odds with township trustees over financial records since taking office.

Trustees and about 20 residents last year signed affidavits to have Drawl removed from office, claiming she was not doing her job.

A letter from Mark Altier, chief legal counsel for Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office, sent last year to Trustee Chairman Fritz Birkhimer and to Drawl stated the independent public accounting firm of Perry and Associates found Mecca to be unauditable in May 2017 and gave the township 90 days to get its financial records in order so an audit could be done.

Following the 90 days, the financial records were still not in order.

“The Auditor of State’s Office determined that the township failed to make reasonable efforts to bring its accounts, records, files and reports into an auditable condition, and that, as of this date, its records remain in unauditable condition…. The Auditor of State’s office is requesting the Attorney General take action against Mecca Township for removal of the fiscal officer,” the letter stated.

Trustees tried to have Drawl removed in 2016, but the attorney general’s office found “insufficient evidence” to remove her at that time.

Logan ruled “there was no evidence presented of an absolute malicious refusal to perform her task as fiscal officer. However, the evidence was overwhelming that Drawl was simply unable to perform the tasks due to a lack of knowledge on her part. However, this does not excuse her failure to perform the tasks as fiscal officer.”

He further ruled Drawl completed the required training, but did not attend additional fiscal officer training available through the auditor of state made available in 2016.

Drawl was offered additional training resources and mentoring from fiscal officers in Howland and Canfield townships separately, but did not take advantage of these opportunities, Logan states in his ruling.

Drawl did not participate in a Uniform Accounting Network training until 2017 during a conference. She was scheduled to attend the trainings in September and December 2016, but because of family emergencies, she was unable to attend the sessions. Drawl attended no training classes in 2016.

Johnston Fiscal Officer John Moran did provide some training to Drawl in 2016.

”The court is concerned about the reluctance of Drawl to accept the assistance offered by the surrounding community fiscal officers. Drawl’s insistence on working only with one certain individual puts the needs of the township in peril,” Logan ruled.

Trustees had agreed to hire Vivian McDowell of Howland and offered training with Canfield’s fiscal officer to assist Drawl, but the trainings did not come to fruition.

“Drawl refused both of these opportunities for training with fiscal officers because she did not personally select those individuals. This is unreasonable and is further evidence of Drawl’s ‘knowing’ failure to perform their tasks,” Logan said.

State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement “It is rare for our office to take action to remove an elected fiscal officer from office. However, this fiscal officer was incapable of resolving the many issues that made Mecca Township’s books unauditable. The citizens of Mecca Township deserved competent leadership. We are pleased that the court agreed with our position and that of the Attorney General’s office, but we take no joy in this.”

Drawl did not return an email seeking comment, but her attorney, Michael Rossi, said an appeal was filed Thursday with the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Birkhimer said trustees have scheduled a special meeting 7 p.m. today at the township hall to act on a fiscal officer and also to pass a resolution to have Local Government Services, a division of the state auditor’s office, help get the township’s financial records in order and books balanced.

Birkhimer said trustees have someone in mind to fill the fiscal officer position.

As to the court decision, Birkhimer said “We are extremely happy to be able to put this behind us. We have been waiting for a long time for this day.”

Trustee Vice Chairman James Governor said both 2016 and 2017 finances need to be placed in order.