Huber Heights’ city manager plans to retire and be re-hired by city council under a contract that would pay him an additional $39,000 over three years to establish a residence within the city, but not require him to live there.
Rob Schommer, the city manager since 2014, said the contract is designed to settle ongoing questions from citizens, who upheld the city's existing residency requirement in the May election despite state law prohibiting such requirements.
“For the past 21 years now I’ve been fortunate to serve in a variety of roles, always keeping a focus on being a public servant for Huber Heights,” Schommer told the Dayton Daily News. “The decision was truly to resolve the question and concern of the community and was initiated by me out of respect for the community voicing its opinion.”
Schommer voluntarily agrees to establish city residency “as a good-faith effort to provide compliance and respect to the charter of the city and the council and citizens of the city,” according to the contract.
It also says residency “shall not be considered a condition” of Schommer’s employment, nor does it require him to establish domicile — a principal place of residence — in the city.
Under the contract, a majority of council “shall not unfairly publicly challenge, harass, or in any other way imply that such residency is insufficient” under law.
Schommer and his wife purchased a home in Union in 2002, according to county auditor records.
“I’m going to be in a situation where I will basically have two households, and that’s on the short term,” Schommer said. He said the agreement allows “multiple options” in the future.
Under the proposed agreement, Schommer would maintain his $141,060 annual salary.
Additionally, he would receive a lump sum of $15,000 after signing. One year later, he would then receive $1,000 per month for two years. If Schommer doesn’t follow the residency portions of the contract, he would be allowed to keep half the payment and required to return the other half in a lump sum.
In addition to covering moving, relocation and ongoing living expenses, the proposed payment to Schommer is also a consideration for him to release Huber Heights from any potential claims he may have against the city.
“In the past, Rob had made claims against the city … regarding working conditions,” said city law director Jerry McDonald. “He had made claims, so I had recommended, as I would with anybody, that if council wants to make a new agreement they should clean up the past.”
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In July, Schommer’s attorney said in a letter to McDonald that Councilwoman Janell Smith engaged in “extreme and out of control behavior.” Smith denied the claims in an interview with the Dayton Daily News.
The attorney’s letter stated he would “discontinue any additional conversations about Rob establishing an interim residence in the city” due to the events, which he said included Smith allegedly making comments about his residency on Facebook.
On Facebook Wednesday, Smith said, “We’re better off leaving his current contract as is. We’re paying the city manager to promise not to sue us for a hostile work environment, yet those claims have been unfounded.”
Schommer declined to respond, telling the newspaper, “I do not monitor, respond to or involve myself with the antics of social media, and do not need an opportunity to do so.”
The Huber charter, written in the 1980s, requires the city manager to live in the city. But Ohio lawmakers in 2006 passed a law prohibiting cities from enacting and enforcing residency requirements.
After legal challenges and appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the law in 2009. About 130 cities and villages in the state had some type of requirement then.
In May, Huber Heights voters rejected a proposal to repeal the charter section requiring that the city manager live in the city. The issue failed 60-40 percent.
“The residency issue has certainly caused some question and some concerns,”Schommer said. “It was put out to the community and I respect the fact that the residents made their positions known at the polls.”
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Schommer, a former Huber police officer and chief, would also retire from the state’s police and fire pension fund and be rehired under the state’s public employee retirement system.
The resign/re-hire move is common to resolve pension issues, though the residency portions of the contract are more unusual, a Dayton labor and employment law attorney said.
"It's novel in the sense that, here you have the city trying to enforce their language in their charter regarding residence, while at the same time trying to hire and retain someone they want to lead the city," said Doug Anspach, a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister.
“It looks like they’re going above and beyond to satisfy as many people as they can,” said Anspach, who is not involved in the negotiations. “To the extent that the citizens are OK with it, I think the city has done a good job here.”
The resolution to approve the contract was moved to a second reading by council on Monday night.
“There’s a clear divide among council and, apparently among the citizens, about whether the city manager can be forced or required to live in the city,” said McDonald, the law director, before Monday’s meeting.
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Schommer said he has not determined whether he will rent or buy a residence in Huber. He said he intends to vote in Huber Heights, but was not aware Ohio election law defines a person's voting residency in part as "the place where the family of a married person resides."
“If there’s something legally because I have family members at a residence in a different location, then that’s out of my control,” he said. “I imagine that’s probably something that would need to be interpreted or reviewed further.”
Various residency issues have long dogged Ohio politicians and public servants alike.
The 6th District Court of Appeals in 2006 upheld cancellation of a Kelleys Island councilman’s voter registration because his wife lived full-time and voted in Florida.
The Dayton Daily News revealed in 2008 that then-state Sen. Jon Husted and his wife simultaneously claimed tax breaks for "principal residences" on properties in Montgomery and Franklin counties.
A 2014 newspaper analysis found 37 percent of city of Dayton employees left the city after it was forced to eliminate a residency requirement. Five years earlier, city leaders predicted the mass exodus.
This month, a Dayton school board member left his seat more than a month before the end of his term, because he said he had officially moved out of the school district. Adil Baguirov said he intends to run in 2018 for the 40th Ohio House District seat, where incumbent Republican Mike Henne must step down after 2018 because of term limits.
Staff Writer Cornelius Frolik contributed reporting.
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