Many Questions Unanswered in Martins Ferry Schools Treasurer Suspension

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank Martins Ferry City Schools Treasurer Karen Blake was placed on paid suspension without explanation Thursday. Superintendent Jim Fogle, left, refrained from commenting, as did Brian McFarland, to his right, and other board members. Board Member Scott Ballint is seated at the far right.

MARTINS FERRY — The Martins Ferry City Schools District is without a treasurer as of Thursday, when the Board of Education placed District Treasurer Karen Blake on paid administrative leave effective immediately.

Questions about why have gone unanswered.

Board Members Bill Suto, Nick Stankovich, Scott Ballint and Brian McFarland were present. Dorothy Powell was absent, and other school officials did not know the reason.

The board met at 8 a.m. and went into executive session at about 8:35 a.m. for the purpose of considering the potential dismissal or discipline of the treasurer, citing Ohio Revised Code 121.22(g)(1). They came out of executive session at 9:02 a.m. and voted to place Blake on leave effective immediately, pending further action by the board concerning her ongoing employment with the school district. Blake has worked for the school district for close to eight years. No reason was given for the decision.

According to the Ohio Checkbook through the Ohio Treasurer’s office, Blake’s salary in 2017 was $89,981.

Fogle left the room shortly after the executive session began and chose not to answer the majority of questions posed to him.

“She is on paid administrative leave,” Fogle said. “It was done in an executive session by the board, and that’s all I can say right now. I don’t know what the board’s going to do at this point.”

He was not forthcoming beyond those statements.

“I’m not commenting on it,” said Fogle. “There’s nothing I need to say at this point.”

Fogle also would not comment on the continuing management of the treasurer’s office.

Fogle also said he is confident in the district finances.

“Our finances are fine,” he said. “Our financial situation is very stable. We’ll continue conducting business in the manner in which we always have.”

In response to inquiries to the Ohio Auditor’s office, Benjamin Marrison, director of communications for the state office, said the state auditor is not conducting an investigation of the school district or Blake.

He indicated the latest audit of the district, covering July 1 of 2016 to June 30 of 2017 and released April 19 of 2018, included only minor findings.

Blake and the school board members present also refrained from commenting.

The next regular meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 9. Fogle said the public would be notified should any special meeting be set before that date.

In other matters, prior to the executive session, the board voted to resurface the baseball and baseball and softball fields using natural surfacing rather than synthetic, accepting a bid of $327,000. A timetable for the work has not been determined.