By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester City Councilman Mike Coolman said he was breaking with his own personal protocol to not discuss non-council issues during a council meeting to tell his side of conversation with former city community affairs employee Amanda Lemke.
On June 26, Lemke resigned from her position in the city in a letter to Mayor Mike Ebert saying she was grateful for the opportunity Ebert and the city afforded her in serving Canal Winchester.
“…I feel we both can be pleased with the many positive effects we’ve had on this wonderful community,” wrote Lemke. “As the sixth anniversary of my employment draws near, however, I have felt increasingly inclined to look toward the future and to consider the trajectory of my own career. In this analysis, I have found myself reflecting not only on my current personal situation and future, but on the vision I have for the developing communication and community affairs needs of the city of Canal Winchester.”
Lemke said she was concerned that hers and the city’s visions may have some distinct differences. She said she never understood the rationale placing management of the community affairs staff under the construction services administration.
“This structure, by way of arbitrarily creating a hierarchy with unrelated lines of business, is bound to cause difficulty,” wrote Lemke. “Nonetheless, I continued to work with passion and purpose. As my role, my education, and my expertise further developed, I assumed that at some point this arrangement would be revisited and ultimately corrected.”
When Lemke and the mayor met last fall to discuss the matter, she wrote that when she left the meeting, she felt positive that her concerns about “the absurd nature” of the arrangement were heard.
As of the date of the resignation letter, nothing had been reconciled.
After a June 1 meeting—where she was the only communication expert during which department heads discussed the city’s response to peaceful demonstrations, and despite a decade in public relations and communications, highly specialized training in crisis communication and an advanced business degree—she felt her opinion and recommendation on sharing information with the public was not respected or held in appropriate regard.
She said she was considering her resignation when she got a call from Coolman regarding alleged reporting of community affairs issues to the council clerk instead of the construction services administrator.
Lemke felt threatened by an alleged threat by Coolman that if she shared aspects of the phone call, he would deny ever having said anything and call her character into question.
During the Oct. 5 city council meeting, Coolman said the situation has become increasingly distracting to the council and he wanted the council and the public to hear his side of the conversation.
“Amanda Lemke and I have been friends for many years and in the last 12 years, we have worked together through different organizations,” said Coolman, who said he offered Lemke use of an outdoor movie screen, but was told because of COVID-19, it was unlikely the city would hold that type of event.
He alleged the two also discussed back and forth the listing of a city and Destination: Canal Winchester sponsored drive-in movie event in August.
“I jokingly said if you repeat anything about this conversation, I’ll call you a liar and deny I ever said it,” said Coolman. “I was laughing as I said it and I even said, ‘Amanda, that’s a joke.”
According to Coolman, at the time of the conversation, he alleged Lemke was aware that he was not bullying her and said they ended the conversation on a “very” pleasant note.
“What happened after that phone conversation that made Amanda decide to write what she did, only Amanda can explain,” Coolman said. “I hope this answers a lot of questions that any of you had.”
Public comment rules
Council is in the process of amending rules regarding public comments during a time when council meetings are not open to the public due to COVID-19.
Currently, and according to the direction of Attorney General Dave Yost and the Ohio Public Meetings Act, written public comments are accepted until 3 p.m. the day of the meeting.
On Oct. 19, council will hear the third and final reading of an ordinance moving the acceptance period for a Monday meeting back to the preceding Friday at noon. Any public comments received after that cut-off will be pushed to the following council meeting.
According to Yost, “Nothing in Ohio law affords the public the right to make comments, pose questions or otherwise speak at a meeting of a public body. Generally, most public bodies do give those attending in-person the opportunity to speak, usually under reasonable, defined and uniform limitations.”
Councilman Will Bennett said the rules amendment will make the comment process cleaner and easier to understand.
“The nice thing is this is not going to be forever,” Council President Mike Walker stated. “This is a one in 100-year pandemic we’ve been going through, and I can’t wait for it to be over and get back to normal.
Councilman Chuck Milliken apologized to the public for any misconceptions or problems they incurred when presenting public comments to the council.
“It’s not our intent to bury things,” said Milliken. “We want your voices to be heard and I think we ask for a little bit of grace in this trying time.”