KINGSVILLE TOWNSHIP — Township trustees had a special meeting Wednesday night where they fired road department superintendent Neal Stewart, who was placed on administrative leave at the last meeting.
The vote to fire Stewart was unanimous, and came after a contentious meeting.
The trustees entered an executive session with superintendent Stewart at the beginning of the meeting. After the trustees left the room, township residents took to the floor, expressing their displeasure with the trustees’ actions.
Tom Burris, a township resident, led much of the discussion while the trustees were out of the room.
“If we leave here tonight knowing that Neal’s been canned, election day can’t come soon enough,” Burris said.
This is not the trustees’ first sparring match with Stewart, who was suspended in April for falsifying his time-card. At a special meeting in April, trustees made a motion to fire Stewart for falsifying his time card. After discussion, trustees instead suspended him for 15 days without pay, and required him to attend leadership classes within six months.
Before a motion was made to fire Stewart, Trustee Jim Branch asked Stewart for permission to read through the disciplinary actions against him.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Stewart said.
Stewart was suspended in 2018 for telling off trustees about a complaint made by a resident, according to disciplinary records.
Stewart also served as the township’s volunteer fire chief until June, when the township hired a full-time fire chief, which was also criticized at Wednesday’s meeting.
Stewart also failed to deliver adequate reports to the trustees, according to the disciplinary reports.
“From our standpoint, this did not happen overnight,” Branch said.
After describing the list of disciplinary issues, Branch addressed the concerns many people had raised. “I can tell you for at least myself, this has not been an easy process. I have not looked forward to having special meetings all the time, having to go over this stuff. This is the last thing I would want to do. When I came into office,
I was hoping Neal would go out on his own terms, and that, heck, we could name the new building after him, but when it comes down to it ... at what point do we become irresponsible by not addressing these issues?” Branch said. “How would you have proceeded in terms of some of these infractions we’ve been witness to?” he added.
“Do you have someone following (Stewart)?” a person in the crowd asked after the list of disciplinary actions was read.
Branch said no, and that the issues had been brought to the trustees. “We didn’t go after this information,” Branch said after the meeting. “This information was brought to us by residents. ... We had to act on it, in some way or another. We feel like we were lenient in many cases over the last year and a half or so,” he added.
Issues with the road department have been numerous this year. The township’s new garage has been delayed significantly over the last several months, and has only recently neared completion. Additionally, work on Brydle Road, which was planned to start earlier this year has been stalled by weather. Initially planned for some time around Memorial Day, earlier this summer, the work was delayed due to wet weather.
At the Aug. 14 meeting of the township trustees, a resident complained about the lack of work on the Brydle Road project, and Stewart’s inability to give residents a firm date on when the project would be finished, or even when it would start.
“Following guidelines, reporting to somebody, having to be accountable for one’s actions, that’s something Neal has a very difficult time doing. As long as Neal’s making the decisions, and he doesn’t have to answer to anybody, he’s completely fine. But the second he has to justify his actions or answer to anybody else, that’s when issues arise,” Mike Cliff, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said.
The Board of Trustees stated that they followed the progressive discipline process outlined in the township’s policy manual.
“We followed our policy manual that was written in 2006, before any of us were trustees. To accuse us of coming in here and forcing all these rules, this may be one of the first times the board has followed the policy manual,” Trustee Karl Burnell said. “I feel almost embarrassed that we haven’t done this before today,” he added.
Neal Stewart could not be reached for further comment.