Butler County veterans board wants member removed

Butler County Veterans Service Commission voted unanimously Monday to recommend the removal of fellow board member Jim Eriksen after he failed to attend about half the monthly board meetings since his 2021 appointment.

The board met in executive session and voted unanimously and without comment to petition to have Eriksen removed. A statement sent to the Journal-News said the matter ”was not taken lightly” and the commission will not comment further.

“This action was initiated after Commissioner Eriksen did not respond to the Commission’s request for his resignation, resulting from his failure to perform the statutory duties expected of each commissioner. The Board of Commissioners, individually and as a group, are bound to adhere to the laws and procedures governing the office. Upon swearing in, commissioners commit to focus their efforts to assist and serve veterans, their families, commission employees, and taxpayers of Butler County,” the statement reads.

“These responsibilities include attending monthly local meetings and two bi- annual statewide conferences. ln addition, each commissioner is expected to complete all required annual training and to participate in veteran outreach activities occurring throughout the year.”

As a commissioner on that board Eriksen earned $8,868. He told the Journal-News he didn’t want to comment and hasn’t decided whether he will contest the removal.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Noah Powers appointed the U.S. Army Colonel from Liberty Twp. to the board in January 2021. The Journal-News pulled meeting minutes since Eriksen was appointed and found he has attended 11 meetings and was absent from nine, including special meetings.

Eriksen is commander of the West Chester VFW post and one of only three vets recommended to fill the seat vacated by former Commissioner Dave Smith, who did not seek reappointment.

Powers told the Journal-News since he presides over vet board and will have to make the final decision on Eriksen, he cannot comment on the petition.

County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser confirmed the board consulted with him over this matter and what happens next depends on Eriksen.

“He will presumably respond in some way affirmatively and if there’s a need for hearing we’ll have a hearing on it,” Gmoser said. “He’s entitled to due process and we’ll certainly give him all the due process he’s entitled to.”

The vet board is charged with serving about 22,000 veterans and is funded by a slice of the county’s general fund. The budget for this year is around $3 million.

Selecting veterans service commissioners is the responsibility of the Common Pleas Court and Powers has been the appointing judge for several years. The commissioners serve five year terms so he appoints or re-appoints new members annually. The members are nominated by local posts for the American Legion, AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and an at-large member.

Often confused with the Veterans Administration, the independent board is charged with helping vets navigate the Veterans Administration system to get medical help and other services, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The past few years have been peaceful on the five-member board that had been plagued with turmoil since at least 2014. The board experienced some issues that included a snafu with the board appointment process, accusations against the former executive director of bullying and making racial slurs and against a former board president of creating a hostile work environment.

There were disagreements about a wage survey, travel policy, advertising — which the board has found to be an important outreach tool — and other matters were routinely stalled by arguing commissioners.

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