ONTARIO — Auditor Jane Hammond said business is running smoothly for the city despite a spate of controversy surrounding her office.
“I am fulfilling my duties as auditor for the city,” Hammond said. “All of the bills are getting paid and all of the employees are getting paid and all reports are turned in on time.”
Hammond and the City of Ontario have been named defendants in a federal lawsuit by an employee she supervised and fired.
Sarah Sherk filed the suit March 5 in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, against the City of Ontario and Hammond, an elected official, seeking $400,000 for compensatory and punitive damages.
In addition, Hammond, who announced her retirement in November and rescinded that retirement in December, is under investigation by the Richland County Board of Elections in connection to a claim she works and lives outside the county.
According to the lawsuit, on or about March 1, 2012, Sherk became aware Hammond prepared and or approved an “improper” purchase order for furniture from Ontario City Councilman Mark Weidemyre. According to Weidemyre, the furniture was advertised on Craig’s List and she purchased it for $300 for the office and signed a receipt.
According to the lawsuit, as part of her job duties, Sherk prepared the check to pay this purchase order after being directed to do so by Hammond — and submitted it to the city treasurer.
Sherk approached Ontario police and later the same day was fired by Hammond, according to the suit.
In a resignation letter dated Nov. 21 to Richland County Democratic Chairman Joseph Mudra, Hammond announced she was retiring from her position effective Feb. 28. Her term expires Dec. 31, 2013, and she is not seeking re-election. Her annual salary is $38,625.
“With a heavy heart I need to inform you that I will be retiring from the City of Ontario as the auditor on Feb. 28, 2013,” Hammond wrote. “The reason for the later date is for several reasons. 1. To close the books for 2012. 2. To prepare for State Audit early 2013.”
But Dec. 21, Hammond rescinded the letter of resignation in an email to Mayor Larry Collins, Council President Dan Zeiter, Treasurer Linda Stoodt and Dave Metgzer.
“At this time and date due to the future stability of the city I am rescinding my retirement to serve the remaining year of my term. I don’t feel it is in the best interest of the city to turn it over to an unqualifed person,” Hammond wrote. “I have been asked to do this by members of the Democratic Party. So that is what I am doing. Sincerely, Jane Hammond Auditor City of Ontario.
“Oh and Mayor this is not for release to the media!”
The Richland County Board of Elections on Friday received a written complaint from the former Ontario service-safety director alleging Hammond lives and works in another county.
Board of Elections Director Paulette Hankins said the board will have to decide with the advice of the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office on whether to hold a hearing or how to proceed.
A letter dated April 4 and signed by former Service-Safety Director Charles H. Au states, “It has come to my attention the current Auditor of Ontario Mary Jane Hammond is no longer a resident of the City of Ontario. It is my understanding she does own property on Park Avenue West but this property is rented to others.
“Additionally, Ms. Hammond is working full time in Licking County, Ohio, under the name of Janie Baker. Her license plate sticker for her leased vehicle is for Fairfield County. The law requires a person to list his or her full-time residence to get this sticker.”
Au declined comment Tuesday.
“As a resident of Ontario and a concerned citizen, I conclude this action by Ms. Hammond is not in the best interest of the City of Ontario and its citizens,” Au noted in his letter.
“I believe a full investigation concerning this matter is warranted.”
Tuesday, Hammond said, “I do still have my house at 2411 Park Avenue West, and I do reside there.”
According to the Richland County Auditor’s website, Hammond is the property owner.
Hammond is employed as the business manager at RCD Sales Co. in Hebron, which sells Recreational Vehicles, according to www.rcdhebron.com.
The office receptionist told the News Journal Jane Baker (Baker is Hammond’s maiden name) does not work on Tuesdays. The receptionist transferred the call to Baker’s voice message machine when the News Journal called the business around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Hammond was working at Ontario City Hall on Tuesday.
She declined further comment Tuesday and referred questions to her attorney, Roeliff E. Harper.