by Eric Stearly
On Sept. 17, the Lagro Township Board met in the Lagro Township Fire Department for its second meeting of the year in which it voted on the 2015 budget. Board members Ralph Ranck, Max Chamberlain, and Terry Bassett were joined by Deputy Trustee Beverly Burns and nearly 30 members of the community. Township Trustee Andrew Delong did not attend.
During the board’s first meeting of the year, just two weeks prior, the board questioned a number of expenses. According to the board, Delong walked out of the meeting soon after the questions began.
“He says he’s operating within the law, but it’s very narrowly within the law on a couple of things here,” said Ranck. “I say there’s more than law involved. Simple ethics and the oath we took to the people need to be observed.”
The township trustee is in charge of purchasing necessary equipment and services for the township and volunteer fire departments. They also maintain cemeteries. Currently, the board has unanswered questions about several large expenses, totaling more than $90,000.
“I’ve tried to call him all week, just about every day, and he wouldn’t return my calls,” Ranck said during the meeting.
The Paper has found this to be the case as well. Following the meeting, we attempted to make contact with Mr. Delong on a number of occasions. After messages left on the township office phone and the trustee’s provided cell phone went unanswered for more than a week, Deputy Trustee Beverly Burns was able to schedule a meeting with Delong during regular office hours on Oct. 14. Delong did not show up.
Under his direction, Burns rescheduled the meeting for Oct. 23. During the nine days between these appointments, we tried again to contact the trustee in hopes of an earlier meeting. In addition to township phones, we attempted to make contact through his employer, INDOT, and Facebook. His mother was also called, unintentionally, when dialing a phone number published with his name.
Delong replied through email, stating that a meeting date and time has been set, and there is no reason that we need to keep calling. The message included a bolded, all-caps order not to contact him through his work, family, or Facebook, but only through the trustee landline and cell phone. Again, Delong did not show up to the Oct. 23 meeting. He was unable to be reached on the trustee cell phone, even when contacted by Burns.
To date, the only contact we’ve received from Mr. Delong was the two-sentence email ordering us not to contact him further. Not a single message has been returned since the board meeting; more than a dozen have been left. The last message informed Mr. Delong that, though The Paper wants to hear his side of the story and include any explanations he may have, we have delayed publication for three weeks and cannot wait any longer.
Unable to get any of their questions answered, the board voted to cut the budget by more than 28% from last year in an attempt to stop what it sees as wasteful spending.
The board started to question a number of purchases after Ranck dug into the township’s records and discovered receipts for large, previously unknown items. Primary among these was a 2007 Chevy Tahoe, purchased at Stoops Buick GMC on June 13 for $14,549. According to Ranck, after this discovery, Delong explained to the board that the Tahoe would be used by firefighters when they need to run errands for the department.