Malvern water plant operator resigns amid Sebring probe

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By Nancy Schaar

FPS Correspondent

 

James V. Bates submitted his resignation to Malvern fiscal officer Pat Griffith last week.

Mayor Angela Lambert asked for Bates’ resignation early last Monday morning after an investigation began into Bates’ actions as water plant superintendent for the village of Sebring became public.

In the resignation letter, Bates simply states, “I resign my position with the village of Malvern as of Jan. 28, 2016.  He turned in several pieces of equipment including a laptop computer, keys, note pads and day minder book for 2015.

Bates served the village of Malvern as village administrator and water superintendent until early last fall when he resigned from both positions.

The village then began a search for a water superintendent.

Former Malvern Mayor Alan Artzner told council during a September meeting Bates was the only applicant for the position of water superintendent and was hired.

Bates subsequently did not attend three council meetings in a row, which was a requirement as water superintendent. When Artzner was questioned as to his absence, he told the media that, as a water department employee, Bates was not required to attend council meetings.

Artzner was then questioned when Bates became an employee and not the water superintendent.  Artzner said Bates had been employed as a licensed operator of the water plant, even though the distinction had not been made in open session of council.

The village of Malvern filed a law suit against Bates in October 2015 to reclaim more than $12,329 owed by Bates to the village for PERS payments according to findings for recovery issued following a state audit of village books.

The case was settled and dismissed in January after Bates agreed to pay a reduced amount to the village.

The Ohio EPA suspended Bates’ water plant operator license Jan. 25 for his actions, or lack of actions, as the village of Sebring’s water superintendent after the EPA released news of elevated lead levels in the city’s water supply.

Sebring City Mananger Richard Giroux, also Malvern village administrator, placed Bates on administrative leave with pay Jan. 25 while the EPA’s investigation continues at Sebring.

The OEPA claims they have reason to suspect Bates falsified reports and opened a criminal investigation against him.

Giroux told members of the media Jan. 25 he was surprised by allegations against Bates and said, “I’ve always had a good relationship with Mr. Bates.  He always followed through with directives from my office.”

Giroux is also currently involved in the investigation in the village of Sebring by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency due to lead being found in the village water supply.  The investigation was a request of OEPA director Craig Butler to the federal EPA.

Giroux is also being questioned by the OEPA regarding his lack of action when he was notified of the elevation of lead levels in the city’s water supply.

Giroux claimed he did not receive any notice regarding the lead elevations until Jan. 21 even though EPA officials say that is not the case.

The OEPA released a timeline regarding water issues with Bates, Giroux, and the village of Sebring with the following information:

June 5, 2015 – Bates had not repaired or replaced for at least 19 days, issues with a computer recording turbidity in the water supply.

June 25, 2015 – OEPA conducted a sanitary survey of Sebring PWS (public water system).

July 24, 2015 – A second sanitary survey was conducted at Sebring PWS.

Aug. 2015 – Samples are again obtained from Sebring PWS.

Oct. 10, 2015 – OEPA was informed of elevated levels of lead.

Nov. 10, 2015 – 30 day deadline was missed by which tested households were to have received their water testing results.

Nov. 17, 2015 – Bates was sent a letter from the OEPA for failure to report sample results within the required time.

Nov. 19 – Bates replied to OEPA that turbidity computer had been repaired.

Nov. 29, 2015 – Deadline passed for public notification of elevated lead levels.

Dec. 10, 2015 – Deadline passed for the water system to have complete notification.

Dec. 11, 2015 – Bates’ lead and copper monitoring report was submitted to OEPA but was incomplete and lacking addresses of sampling sites.

Dec. 17, 2015 – Giroux is notified additional violations are discovered from the Nov. 12 testing.

Dec. 20, 2015 – The deadline for the water system to have been reported to the OEPA the documentation of communication and public education efforts passes.

Dec. 22, 2015 – A verification of lead consumer notice issuance signed by Bates notifying levels found up to 21 parts per billion was submitted to the EPA.

Jan. 15, 2016 – The OEPA wrote a follow up letter to Giroux, explaining public education requirements on the lead findings and asking for verification of public notice.

Jan. 21, 2016 – OEPA issued three violations against Sebring which triggered notification to the public.

In addition, in a 44 page document from Allison Cycyk, district engineer, Division of Surface Water of the Northeast District Office OEPA, dated Oct. 16, 2015, Giroux was notified a response from Bates and/or Giroux was not within the 30 day time frame requirement regarding the turbidity monitoring and reporting requirements not met by OEPA standards.

Included also was a letter dated Nov. 17, 2015, to Bates notifying him of his failure to report sample results to the OEPA within the required time frame.

Action was required with 30 days of the date of the letter. If the requirements were not met, fines and penalties were to be administered beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

This is not the first time that Bates has come under investigation by the OEPA.  In 2009, Bates received notice from environmental regulatorst he had been operating in a manner that endangered public health.

Additional records from that time are said to report that he also “attempted to ignore poor water readings and submit misleading, inaccurate, or false reports,”

Last week, Bates told reporters the allegations against him “are an outright lie”.

 

 

 

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