Butler County commissioners turn testy as new administrator prepares to start

A Butler County commission meeting turned testy on Monday, just days before the new county administrator takes the helm.

There was a resolution on the agenda to transfer Acting County Administrator David Fehr back to his previous role as development director and drop his salary to $106,433 annually. He has been earning $125,000 in his acting administrator role.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter asked to pull the item so the commissioners could discuss it in executive session.

After the 45-minute private meeting, Carpenter and Commission Board President Don Dixon were visibly angry with each other.

“It’s going to be fine Cindy, it’s fine,” Commissioner Don Dixon said when they returned from executive session.

“You know, you say that to me, but I don’t know,” Carpenter said.

Dixon then made a motion that Fehr’s $125,000 salary remain unchanged but the “acting administrator” title be removed. New County Administrator Judi Boyko is set to start this week, replacing Charlie Young, who left the post late last year.

“(Fehr’s) job duties will be similar to what he’s been doing all along since this transition,” Dixon said in his motion. “He will be still involved in the transition, working with the administrator.”

Dixon and Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News they could not discuss what they talked about behind closed doors, and Carpenter did not return messages.

“Through this transition we’re not sure where it’s going to work out, what your position will be when it all winds up, when it’s over,” Dixon said after he made his motion, which passed unanimously. “But you’ve done an excellent job. I can tell you the new administrator has said great things about you, so you certainly have a place with us in the top administration. We’ll get there eventually.”

About two years ago, the commissioners announced they needed to create an assistant county administrator position because of the large scope of the administrator duties. The commissioners paused the search in May 2017 and installed assistant Water & Sewer director Sue Vance temporarily. She was subsequently named director of the utility and has since left the county. The search for a second in command never resumed.

Boyko’s five-year, $172,000-per-year contract gives her the ability to hire more staff, within budget constraints. There is also a clause that gives her “autonomy.”

“It was very important to me that if I was to consider the position that the commissioners allow the experience and education and the professional acumen in public administration, that they allow me to bring those skills to the organization and that they allow me to lead and manage the staff — in a way obviously that’s consistent with their policy, their direction, consistent with the budgetary allocation — but to allow me to build an organization that could achieve the direction they would like the county to pursue,” she said.

The normally like-minded commissioners sparred another time recently, when the topic of health insurance was on the table. The commissioners were at odds when they voted last fall to replace the county’s health insurance provider to avoid a sizable rate hike. They voted 2 to 1 to hire Medical Mutual of Ohio.

“I have never more strongly disagreed with the decision of this board of commissioners, nor any previous board of commissioners, since I’ve been an elected official,” Carpenter said after an executive session at that time.

“I believe in my heart that this is completely the wrong decision to make.”

Then two weeks later — after Young said he unearthed some new financial facts about the two top providers — all three agreed to rescind the deal with MMO and hire United Healthcare.

Boyko will assume her new role Wednesday, and Dixon said she has been in close contact with Fehr and others in leadership for updates on county business.

She is leaving her post as assistant Hamilton County administrator. Previously she was the longtime administrator in West Chester Twp.

Facts & Figures: Butler County

$423 million: Total 2019 budget

2,182: Total full-time employees countywide

14: Number of commissioner departments

15*: Number of elected officials

7: Number of independent boards

* Includes all the elected judges

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