Robert Landon’s Rocky Road as Marion City Auditor

The post of municipal auditor is usually a post that stays behind the scenes of local government, but for the town of Marion, the office has been quite the opposite for the past two years.

Since the end of 2019, municipal auditor Robert Landon, a Republican, has been at the center of attention. It all started when he was criminally charged the day he was elected for subsequent campaign finance violations.

Landon last week resigned his post as auditor, the timing of which has become its own controversy. Landon said his last day would be November 19, but on Thursday Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer appointed Assistant Auditor Marden Watts as interim auditor. Then Landon fired Watts, stating that Watts had betrayed him, from his post as Assistant Auditor, leaving a legal battle to unfold on Friday afternoon.

Schertzer told The Star on Friday that Landon did not have the authority to fire Watts, and until legal counsel advises him differently, the city views Watts as the interim municipal auditor.

The episode sheds light on what has been an eventful two years for Landon. As he prepares to step down, the Marion Star examined the events leading up to today and whether his colleagues felt he had any chance of success.

In his resignation letter, Landon cited his battle with COVID-19 as one of the main reasons for his resignation. Since contracting it in late August, Landon has said he’s been in and out of the hospital, hooked up to breathing machines, and can only work a few hours a day without shortness of breath or chest pain. A video he posted to his Facebook page while in church on an oxygen tank gave insight into his condition.

And while Landon has now missed more than a month of in-person city council meetings where they discuss many ongoing situations in his office, Schertzer, a Democrat, is not buying COVID as an excuse.

Schertzer said Landon’s battle against COVID-19 did not begin until August of this year. And for Schertzer, Landon skipping meetings is part of a trend. Each month, Schertzer said he meets with the auditor’s office to review the city’s finances; In the last 20 months of meetings, Schertzer estimated that Landon was there half the time.

Under attack, attack, attack

Landon also said he was resigning because of the “political games” played by the council and the mayor. In a conversation with the Star, Landon said he felt he never had the chance to be successful as a listener. Rather, he said that every one of his mistakes was microscopic and sensationalized.

“I can only hope that the council and the mayor will spend more time serving the people and less time playing their games,” Landon said in his resignation announcement.

He cited the Election Day charges of General Counsel Mark Russell, a Democrat, as the start of the attacks on his office.

Marion County GOP Chairman Bob Schultz echoed that sentiment and said the political games played in council are not the city he knows. He said that if Landon was a Democrat, some of this year’s issues would not have come up or exaggerated.

“They attack, attack, attack and if that doesn’t work, attack more,” Schultz said.

This is also how councilors Karen Fosnaugh of R-5e saw some of the issues raised at council meetings. She added that with Landon’s young age, 30, he could have been a successful listener if more experienced officials had reached out and helped him in the beginning.

Schertzer said he wanted to see Landon do his job right, but being criticized for real mistakes is not a political attack. Schertzer went on to list several errors from Landon’s office, including sending $ 1.28 million to the wrong account, not balancing the city’s books to state standards, and not paying the loan. of the Ohio Public Works Commission.

And while Fosnaugh believed some of the listener’s criticisms were politically motivated, she also recognized that Landon needed to improve his management skills. Reflecting on Landon’s tenure, she said there could have been better ways to handle situations instead of launching personal attacks on Landon.

Schertzer said Landon suffered self-inflicted injuries, not politically motivated attacks, and now the mayor is afraid of the unknown issues awaiting the new auditor.

During board meetings, there were discussions that Landon’s office was not disclosing exact information. A recent example of this can be found with the city’s book balancing for 2020.

Landon took to Facebook and told The Star that the city’s books were balanced almost a week earlier and are now awaiting state approval. An October 13 email from Allie Dumski, the state auditor’s press secretary, however, said that the state had not received all the information needed to balance the books and therefore the books of the city are still not balanced.

As Landon prepares to step down, Schertzer has said he can leave the office without dealing with the problems he has created.

“He can walk away after leaving a mess and not picking up his toys, and I think it’s very disappointing that he couldn’t do the job he was elected to do,” said Schertzer said.

See enemies everywhere

Landon has come under intense scrutiny since taking office – beating incumbent Kelly Carr, who was popular with the local Democratic Party. But he also didn’t hesitate to snap photos of his social media presence, even suggesting that Congress should make efforts to keep Donald Trump as president in December 2020 from his now-deleted Twitter account.

This political fire brought many enemies, as many Democrats questioned from day one whether Landon could do his job. Landon has even been prompted to publish statements defending the council’s perceived political attacks.

That defensive stance reached near paranoia levels recently when Landon accused Councilor Josh Daniels, I-At Large, of stealing his mail after Daniels posted an unpaid bill online. The Marion Police Department cleared Daniels after discovering there was no mail to steal – the bill was emailed – but some of Landon’s most ardent supporters have argued online that it was just a cover-up and the police were not being honest.

“The bottom line is this: If every time the auditor did his job and discovered some wrongdoing or error on my part and I filed a police report, I’m sure the situation is reversed, he would submit me to the ethics committee, ”Daniels said. to the star. “And he would probably have a conversation with the attorney general’s office about coercing a public official. Maybe he needs to research that part of the revised Ohio code before going out and filing false police reports. “

An email exchange between Landon and the police department also showed him accusing the police of not taking the investigation seriously.

It was a point of frustration for Police Chief Jay McDonald as he said he put his best homicide detective, Major Chris Adkins, on the case. This is also Landon’s second investigation with Adkins into the case after he alleged that someone tampered with Assistant Auditor Kim Hutchinson’s computer in the office. This allegation was also found to be unfounded by MPD after the investigation.

City Councilors Mike Neff, R-At Large, declined to comment at the Marion Star’s request. Additionally, City Councilor Joshua Feliciano, R-4th Ward, was not available when the Star requested comment.

A chronology of the controversy

The Marion Star has drawn up a chronology of the main points of Robert Landon’s time as Marion’s listener.

  • November 5, 2019: Landon ousted Democratic incumbent Kelly Carr in a close election despite election day charges against Landon brought by General Counsel Mark Russell, a Democrat.
  • January 1, 2020: Landon has officially taken up his duties as auditor of Marion City.
  • May 22, 2020: Landon’s campaign for Marion City Auditor has been returned to the state for possible violations.
  • June 26, 2020: Assistant Auditor Kimberly Hutchinson accidentally deleted IRS account information from the city’s auditor’s office system without the knowledge of anyone in the office at the time.
  • January 29, 2021: Landon discovered that the bi-weekly payments to the IRS had not been made when preparing the year-end reports.
  • February 10, 2021: Landon sent $ 1,369,489.12 to the IRS to cover the outstanding balances.
  • March 1, 2021: Landon revealed to city council that his office mistakenly sent $ 1.28 million to the state that was intended for the IRS.
  • March 10, 2021: Guest Judge James S. Rapp has dismissed the charges against Landon on election day.
  • March 15, 2021: Landon said $ 1,193,280.04 of the $ 1.28 million had been returned to the city’s account by the state.
  • April 3, 2021: Landon reported that the remaining $ 184,734.88 of the $ 1.28 million had been returned to the city’s account by the state.
  • June 1, 2021: Landon’s hiring practices came under fire from city council after an employee fell into a $ 4,000 email scam using a city credit card.
  • 23 August 2021: The state auditor’s team reported that the city’s books were not balanced for the whole of 2020 by their standards. Landon was not present at this meeting because he had contracted COVID-19.
  • September 22, 2021: Landon called for an investigation in his office for unauthorized use of a computer after city employees reported “Hutchinson Payment Company” at the bottom of their checks instead of “City of Marion.”
  • September 24, 2021: The Marion Police Department’s investigation into the unauthorized use of a computer was found to be unfounded as it was determined that Hutchinson was logged in at the time of the incident and there was no further evidence for prove that a criminal act had taken place.
  • October 7, 2021: Landon accused City Councilor Josh Daniels of stealing or tampering with his mail and called for an investigation into the matter from the MPD.
  • October 7, 2021: Landon announced that his office has balanced the city’s books and is awaiting state approval. In addition, he said the deadline with a federal bond rating agency was also met at that time.
  • October 11, 2021: Police Chief Jay McDonald announced the mail investigation was over and there was no mail to steal in the first place. The report was found to be unfounded.
  • October 13, 2021: On contacting the state auditor’s office, the Marion Star found out that the city’s books are still unbalanced and the SA is still working with the city to get the books properly balanced.
  • October 14, 2021: Landon has submitted his resignation letter which will take effect once the Marion County GOP appoints a new municipal auditor.
  • October 15, 2021: Landon fires the assistant auditor Schertzer appointed interim auditor, sparking a new power struggle for the post.

Mitch Hooper Story | 740) -244-9935 | [email protected] | @ _MH16 on Twitter

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