WOODMERE — Council’s temporary suspension of credit card use in the village is preventing the police and fire chiefs from purchasing personal protective equipment needed for first responders, according to top officials.

With the current outbreak of COVID-19, having an ample amount of protective gear, now in short supply, tops the list of safety force leaders here and nationwide.

Mayor Ben Holbert said Fire Chief Johnny Brewington and Police Chief Sheila Mason are having a difficult time trying to purchase emergency supplies.

“It is a hardship,” Chief Mason said on Monday. “I have asked for a safety conference call because that’s a major concern.”

Chief Brewington asked council members to remember that the COVID-19 outbreak is a national, state and local emergency.

Earlier this month, Mayor Holbert appointed Benefits Coordinator Eric Hammond as the credit card policy compliance officer for 2020. Mr. Hammond served in this position last year. His duties include reviewing credit card statements for any errors or violations of the village policy.

But at the March 11 Village Council meeting, members delayed approving his position for this year after questioning whether Mr. Hammond was fulfilling his duties. Council pointed to Mr. Hammond apparently failing to catch the mayor’s use of the village credit card for two Uber rides on a personal trip in California.

Mayor Holbert said he inadvertently used the village card and reimbursed the village.

Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley said that with no compliance officer, the village was in violation of its policy. Council voted to suspend village credit card use until a compliance officer is confirmed.

Chief Mason said that she needs to purchase N95 masks, gloves, face shields and Clorox wipes to keep her patrol officers safe. Every company that the department could purchase these items from, except the vendor for face shields, does not accept purchase orders. With the credit cards suspended, department heads have turned to purchase orders.

The chief said that she reached out to Mayor Holbert about her concern for buying safety equipment, who referred her to the chairwoman of the Safety Committee, Ms. Earley. According to Chief Mason, Ms. Earley advised her to make the purchases on her personal credit card and the village would reimburse her. The chief said that she will not use her personal credit card for village business.

“This is a departmental issue,” she said. “I can’t ask my guys or myself to use personal cards for job related things.”

Chief Mason said that she had a call scheduled on Monday with Mayor Holbert and Law Director Frank Consolo to address this issue.

Chief Brewington said that he is also working to buy N95 masks and eye protection for his department. Although the credit card suspension does make it more challenging to order the protective equipment, he said that it was “more of a supply issue” due to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

Ideally, he said that the fire department would like to have enough protective equipment to last at least 30 days but will function with what they have.

Drawing on his 50 years of experience, Chief Brewington concluded that “although the mandate is the right mandate, unfunded mandates are hard to meet.”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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