Middleburg Heights — You think you have a long commute?
The man who's been in charge of safety forces in Middleburg Heights lives about 700 miles away in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Mayor Gary Starr hired John Ligato as safety director. Ligato was sworn in 18 months ago in February 2017. He's a decorated Vietnam veteran and former FBI agent.
City council approves new hires and councilman Tim Ali says they would have voted differently had they known where Ligato lives.
"I highly doubt anyone would have voted for a safety director who doesn't live anywhere near us," Ali said.
The Ohio Association of Public Safety Directors was equally surprised. "I cannot think of anyone that I know who I've worked with that lives out of state and serves in this role," said Rachel Massoud, the association's executive director. "It would be difficult to oversee very closely a department that you're not there interacting with people every day."
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Ligato declined an on-camera interview. He said Mayor Starr hired him as a part-time employee, working 50 hours a month. He says his job included a search for a new police chief to replace John Maddox, who is suing the Mayor and the city for unused sick time and for falsely accusing him of committing serious crimes.
Maddox believes Ligato was hired to dig up dirt on him, but that's an allegation Ligato denies.
Channel 3 News obtained an email that Ligato sent to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations accusing Ligato of criminal wrongdoing. But the state declined to investigate.
Mayor Starr failed to respond to a series of written questions regarding the Ligato hire. He said his lawyer advised him to not talk to the news media because of the pending litigation. He added Ligato is leaving the city now that he achieved a number of city goals including the hiring of a new police chief.
Ligato admits he worked as a consultant for the city in the ten months before being named safety director. His company, the Patriot Group, received more than $25,000 for work he says he did to find a new chief.
Councilman Ali was surprised to hear about the consulting fees.
"We just found out about the Patriot Group and we're trying to find out what the money was spent on," Ali said.
City council records show that Ligato attended only about half of council's meetings while serving as Safety Director. Ligato admits there were health and safety-related issues on the agendas of the meetings he missed, but felt the police and fire chiefs were capable of dealing with them. He also said that while he did not attend the meetings, he was in Middleburg Heights conducting other city business.
Ligato said his last official day was last Friday, but added he has a pending project to complete before he calls it quits in Middleburg Heights.
Ali says there are many unanswered questions about Ligato's duties and his payments as a consultant.
"We need to figure this out," Ali said.