Westfield Council votes to involve itself in legal fight between mayor, clerk-treasurer

The Westfield City Council on Monday decided to get more involved in the ongoing and expanding legal fight between the city’s mayor and clerk-treasurer by launching an investigation into the matter.

In January, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook filed a lawsuit in Hamilton Superior Court 2 that aimed to force Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Gossard’s cooperation in a city-wide financial investigation. Although both parties said they felt the case could be resolved without a costly discovery process, they’ve filed a joint motion to continue a previously scheduled April 23 hearing to spend more time resolving the matter.

Even as that case was proceeding, Cook filed a second lawsuit against Gossard in mid-March, alleging she attempted to dispose of materials that were potentially relevant to that investigation.

On Monday, the city council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for an investigation into the fight, in an effort to provide more oversight of the process.

The resolution simply says the council “will undertake an investigation relating to litigation pending between the Mayor and Clerk Treasurer and expects access to all records pertaining to the investigation and cooperation of all those compelled in attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena.”

Westfield City Council President Mike Johns said he’s planning to ask the council’s oversight committee to tally exactly how much public money has been spent to fund the legal fight. He said he wants to keep the investigation focused on the financial aspects, but also wants to analyze the situation and find a way to reach a resolution.

“I’d like to try to come up with some ideas of how we can diffuse these things in the future, to figure out what went wrong this time and prevent needless waste of city funds if possible,” he said.

Jake Gilbert, the council’s District 2 representative, said the fighting between elected officials has given the city a black eye. He said he’s interested in exploring whether the city should consider mediation to come to a resolution.

“We would like to get engaged a little more formally as a council so we can be of some assistance moving forward,” he said.

Cook’s initial lawsuit, filed on Jan. 14, is tied to an ongoing examination of city finances that he launched last year after city councilors made allegations that a contractor at the Grand Park Sports Campus owed the city money.

Cook asserted in those filings that the clerk-treasurer does not have the authority to keep city leadership from accessing its financial systems. Gossard’s stated position was that she provided read-only files to ensure the documents weren’t altered or destroyed.

Part of Gossard’s response also requested Cook’s lawyers be disqualified from serving as his lawyer due to the fact that representatives from Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP were the ones conducting the financial investigation, but that motion was denied.

Cook’s second lawsuit alleges that, in February, Gossard instructed city staff to throw boxes marked with a green “X,” “ADP Payroll 2006-2014” or “Mayor” in the dumpster and recycling bin behind Westfield City Hall. The complaint states that Westfield Department of Public Works Director Jeremy Lollar heard about the disposal, and one of the examiners recovered more than a dozen boxes and placed them in a secure room.

Cook initially requested a declaration be made that the city retain the recovered documents, and that no department, officer or employee would destroy documents regarding city accounts until the financial examination is completed. His lawsuit was dismissed three days later after Gossard’s attorneys agreed to retain the documents that were discarded and make them available for the examiners’ review.

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