Kruger challenges dismissal by Clark Metro
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press May 2007) At its April 16th Board of Trustees meeting, Clark Metro Development Corporation Board of Trustees dismissed guests at the meeting to discuss a settlement of a wrongful discharge matter, which former Executive Director Steve Kruger has threatened to file against the corporation.
A Special Meeting of Clark Metro’s Development Corporation’s Board of Trustees was held on January 10th for purpose of selling the organization’s parking lot. Minutes from that meeting and minutes from two executive sessions held during the meeting reveal the circumstances that led to the dismissal of Kruger.
The January 10 minutes say Clark Metro Board member Bessie Vrettos asked Executive Director Kruger to leave the room. She then explained to the board some recent posts to an Ohio City yahoo group where she was named. The minutes of the executive session state that Vrettos was concerned that the postings “could affect her reputation and/or business.” The minutes state that Vrettos claimed that “someone would have to have insider knowledge” to know who dropped her off at the previous month’s board meeting.
The notes of the executive session say Vrettos then asked each of the board members if they had posted the information on the yahoo site. They all said no. The minutes then indicate that Vrettos asked board members what could be done about the yahoo posting. The minutes say Vrettos said “It would negatively impact board recruitment if members were subject to personal attack.”
According to the minutes of the executive session the board decided that Executive Director Kruger would make a posting on behalf of CMDC asking that “these types of personal attacks cease and desist.” In addition, the board decided Kruger “would make a post attesting to the character of Clark Metro Development board members.”
The board then came out of executive session. According to the minutes, Kruger was given the postings from the yahoo group and asked to review them. The minutes note Kruger asked the board “Who is Ward 14 Vigilante? (The author of numerous posts).” The minutes indicate that Vrettos repeated the charge that she made in executive session that the content of the post indicated insider knowledge from someone who had attended the CMDC board meeting in December. The minutes indicate that Vrettos asked Kruger “if he had told anyone this information and he failed to provide a direct answer.”
Asked about what transpired when the board came out of executive session, Kruger told the Plain Press that Vrettos was waving a stack of papers supposedly downloaded from a Ohio City website that she said defamed her. “I didn’t know what she was talking about,” he said. He said Vrettos wouldn’t let anyone keep the documents long enough to read them, so he felt the board made its decision “based on her tirade.” He said he felt the board was accusing him of lying and that the charges “came out of the blue.”
Kruger said, “If Bessie Vrettos had an issue with me. She could have come to me personally rather than sabotaging me at a board meeting.”
The minutes then state the Board President Randy Buchko asked Kruger to post a clarification on behalf of Clark Metro. The minutes say, “He said no, became enraged, and asked what was being recorded in the minutes. Bessie asked if the reason he was questioning what was being recorded in the board minutes was because he was positioning himself for a lawsuit. His behavior continued to be uncontrollable. Randy again reiterated the board decision and requested him to refute the posting attacking board members. Steve responded by asking why Randy did not do so. Randy stated it was the board’s decision for Steve to do so as the agency director.”
Kruger presents a different story than that reflected in the board’s minutes. Kruger said he told the board, “I did not know who did it. I didn’t know who the Ward 14 Vigilante was.” Kruger said he did not refuse to do what the board wanted. He said the board asked that they approve the posting before he sent the posting. Kruger said he simply asked the board to reflect in the minutes what he was being asked to do for his own protection in case someone wanted to question his action at a future date. He said this was how he had been accustomed to dealing with board requests in the past.
Kruger says, “the supposed hostility on my part was directed by Bessie Vrettos and I was simply responding to it. And, I was also frustrated by the fact that none of the other board members, at any time, were defending me, or asking Bessie Vrettos to talk to me in a more civil tone. Also, they kept asking me to leave the room and come back again. Every time I would come back into the room they came up with another attack and another allegation. I thought this was just totally unfair. Not only was it like guilty without having a chance to prove my innocence, but they were setting me up.”
After this exchange between Kruger and board members, the board went back into executive session and decided to suspend Kruger for a week without pay. Kruger says two days after the January 10th Board Meeting he filed a grievance hoping to appeal his suspension before the personnel committee of the Board of Trustees. He said he was never given the opportunity to present his grievance to the personnel committee. He met with some board members on Monday January 15th and was told to resign or he would be fired. He said he was never given the opportunity to say anything.
Kruger believes the animosity of Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago toward him stems from the decision of Clark Metro Development Corporation to hold public meetings on the proposed La Copa Night Club. Kruger believes Santiago, a supporter of La Copa, was upset with CMDC’s decision to remain neutral and to host meetings so residents could air their concerns about La Copa’s proposal.
Kruger says the board had, until that January meeting, resisted pressure from Councilman Santiago to fire him. He said the board had given him a vote of confidence to remain as director and he had agreed to take a pay cut to help the board weather its financial problems until more funding could be secured.
As for Vrettos accusations that “I told everyone that Tom Coyne dropped her off at our board meeting. The board is a public board, and as a board member she is a public person,” said Kruger.
Kruger raised a question about Vrettos’ motives, “That was the same board meeting (December 2006 meeting) that she brought the Councilman (Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago) without telling Randy” (CMDC Board President Randy Buchko). Kruger says at the December meeting Vrettos berated him in front of Councilman Santiago. Kruger said Board President Buchko attended a family function instead of the December meeting because there was nothing important on the agenda. Kruger says Buchko later told him if he had known Santiago was coming to the meeting, he would have come. Kruger believes that by Vrettos actions, she appears to be attempting to take control of the board and raises the suspicion of having a hidden agenda.
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