WOODMERE — Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell, who chairs the Finance Committee, adjourned the meeting early on Nov. 2 due to an argument that began on the virtual call between council members and Mayor Ben Holbert. The argument centered on disputes between village officials over the last two years and not on agenda items.

Tensions have been high in the village since a petition was submitted to recall four council members, including Ms. Brockwell, Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley, Glenda Todd Miller and Craig Wade. All except Ms. Earley are members of the finance committee, and Ms. Earley was also present at the finance meeting.

Ms. Brockwell kicked off the meeting with a statement about holding Mayor Holbert accountable for his actions.

“A lot of things that are being said are extremely untrue,” she said. “And before the rumors keep going out, everyone needs to know the truth, and I’m going to start with Benjamin Holbert, the mayor.”

She said that the mayor did not tell the truth about the costs of Christmas gifts purchased for an employee party in 2018, a personal use of the village credit card and the cost of the proposed sidewalk on Brainard Road, which was voted down in October.

Former Treasurer Tom Cornhoff, who now serves as the financial consultant, Law Director Frank Consolo and Engineer Ed Hren donated $1,200 total to the village in 2019 to end the quarrel over the Christmas party gifts. Mayor Holbert reimbursed the village for two personal Uber rides after he was notified of the mistake with his credit card. Mr. Hren has consistently said that the sidewalk would cost between $230,000 and $240,000 rather than $1 million, which is the figure listed on the grant application.

Ms. Brockwell said that she received an unsigned letter from the Woodmere Project, the group of residents who collected signatures for the petition to recall the council members. Resident Rachel Kabb Effron is the attorney representing the group. Ms. Brockwell called the members of the group “cowards” because they did not sign the letter.

“[We] maintain that the four council members have presented themselves to be unethical, lacking critical thinking, displaying nepotism, favoritism and incompetence,” the Woodmere Project letter stated. “The council members in question have been in office for too long; they have made a mockery of their office and diminished the image of Woodmere in the eyes of the community, village neighbors and elected officials who have advocated to advance Woodmere.”

Mayor Holbert mailed out a letter to residents, who signed up for the vullage newsletter, informing them of the legislation that did not pass at the October council meeting and included local newspaper articles. Ms. Brockwell said that the letter was a “smear campaign” and asked if taxpayer dollars were used to send the letter.

“Yes, those letters were sent out and they were necessitated because we have to try to communicate to our residents and that’s the only mechanism that we really have to be able to do so,” Mayor Holbert said. “Your description of it being a smear campaign, I would say that’s totally inaccurate.”

Ms. Earley reminded council members that in 2019 she sent a packet of information on the village’s letterhead to residents regarding events that led to an emergency council meeting. Council met to override the mayor’s veto on legislation that lowered his spending authority from $5,000 to $2,500.

She said that Mayor Holbert took issue with her printing expenditure and the council members had to approve it. Ms. Earley said that the same rule should apply to the mayor’s printing expenses this time. Ms. Todd Miller asked why she did not receive the letter, and Mayor Holbert said that he has a list of residents to send information to, but not all residents are on that list.

“I really don’t need the discernment in your tone,” she said.

Mr. Consolo said that he could not comment on the matter because he had not seen the mayor’s letter. Ms. Earley asked for an audit of the copy machine at Village Hall to ensure that taxpayers dollars are being used properly. She also asked Mr. Consolo and Treasurer Bernice Schreiber to look into the issue because it is an “ethical or legal issue because you cannot hand pick who you send information to with taxpayer dollars.”

Council met on Nov. 11 virtually.

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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