LOGAN – Public records obtained by The Logan Daily News, in connection with a complaint that was recently filed against Hocking County Engineer Douglas Dillon, shed more light on the dispute Dillon is having with a land development company over the way his office has regulated a lot split project off state Route 374.
Last month Ohio’s State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers & Surveyors ruled on the complaint that had been filed against Dillon by land agent Andy Matyac on behalf of Rockbridge Management, the firm that’s trying to do the lot split. The board found that Dillon had not violated any state regulations, either in the requirements that he has imposed on surveys Rockbridge has submitted to his office for approval, or in his failure to disclose to the board that he was convicted of criminal offenses in Stark County in 2018.
Though the legal and technical issues in the surveying aspect of the dispute are somewhat complex, it appears that essentially they boil down to a strong disagreement over how the surveyors documenting the lot split should calculate rights of way for the site.
Dillon has insisted that this should be done using existing “monumentation”- physical markers set in the ground whose locations are indicated on survey maps from the past. The land developers say in the case of the Route 374 project that’s simply impossible, because most of the monuments indicated on the 1941 map Dillon wants them to use can’t be found. They cite communications they’ve received from the Ohio Department of Transportation, in which they say ODOT has told them that the currently accepted practice is to calculate rights off way from the center line of the existing roadway – in this case state Route 374.
Dillon’s response is that they’re misreading ODOT’s message. What ODOT has actually said, according to the engineer, is that this center-line method should be used “in the absence of monumentation.” In a recorded phone conversation Dillon had with a principal of Rockbridge Management, which Matyac submitted as evidence to the state board with his complaint, Dillon can be heard telling the developer that in the case of the Route 374 property, “we are not absent monumentation. The monumentation exists.”
In an email to Matyac dated Jan. 13, included among the exhibits submitted to the board, an ODOT official tells the land agent, “on state routes where there were no monuments set, we have to use the existing road for monumentation to establish center line right of way.”
The problem with that, say the developers, is that in fact they have looked hard for the 14 or so monuments that are supposed to be in the ground at the site, but with little success.
When Bob Buess of Rockbrige Management spoke with Dillon by phone about the lot split dispute, he told the engineer that the company’s surveyors have been able to find only three monuments, and he asked how, being unable to find them all, Rockbridge can be expected to satisfy Dillon’s requirements. “What’s the cure for that?” he asked Dillon.
Dillon’ response was essentially that they should look harder, and extrapolate from what they can find.
“You go up and down the road and find as many (monuments) as you can,” he advised. “And through mathematical and statistical analysis, create a best-fit line.” The original monument pattern, he insisted, “is mathematically re-creatable.”
The developer complains that Dillon seems to be demanding that his company take a very expensive, roundabout route to accomplish something that can be done much more easily, and to provide documentation that the county itself should have.
“How much work do you want my surveyors to put into finding a county or state road?” he asks. “You want them to survey all of 374? You want them to spend the next six months out there and charge me a half million dollars? Where does this end?”
In his written complaint to the board, Matyac argues that Dillon’s insisting that surveyors work from a 1941 monument map, rather than letting them measure rights of way from the Route 374 center line, is “foolish and unprofessional.” In a rural area like Hocking County, he says, “over the years many roads have changed course” so they no longer match the 1941 map, and “many of the monuments and/or pins have simply disappeared.”
Dillon’s requirements aren’t just onerous for the land developer, he adds; if adhered to, they could “create overlapping parcels, unexplained gaps, and worse, double-taxing the citizens of Hocking County due to the overlapping parcel lines, property disputes, and technically two individual road right of ways for the same road.”
Because of Dillon’s approach, he alleges, “Our county development and property transfers are slowly grinding to a standstill, and surveyors are starting to refuse to work in Hocking as he is forcing them to locate something which cannot be found, so they are simply turning work down as opposed to putting their licenses in jeopardy.”
In a laster email to a board official, Matyac also suggests that his company is not alone in its concerns about the engineer. After an article about the dispute ran in The Logan Daily News Jan. 23, he claims, “other surveyors and citizens have come forth” who have had “recent similar problems with Mr. Dillon... this is quickly becoming a contentious topic within the county.”
In his own submission to the board, Dillon calls Matyac’s claim about transfers grinding to a standstill “a remarkable statement,” given that Dillon was only elected in November and his first day in office was Jan. 4 – just three weeks before the state board sent him a letter informing him of the complaint. He notes that the Hocking County Map Department received 14 survey submissions in January 2021, as compared to six in December 2020, four in November, and 13 in October – numbers that on their face don’t seem to suggest a major slowdown.
The other main focus of the complaint is Dillon’s past convictions, and whether he violated professional standards by not reporting them to the registration board.
In his submission to the board Dillon states that he is “familiar with the Massillon Municipal Court proceeding” that Matyac references in his complaint, “the final disposition of said proceeding did not involve a felony conviction,” and therefore did not create an obligation for him to disclose it to the board.
Despite the board’s “no violation” finding on Dillon, those behind the complaint have indicated they still may seek to have him removed from office through action in Hocking County Common Pleas Court.
If they attempt to do so they would rely on Ohio Revised Code section 315.06, a state law enacted in 1953 that allows any person to “bring a civil action in the court of common pleas against the county engineer, alleging such engineer’s incapacity, misconduct in office, or neglect of duty… Such cause shall have precedence over other business, and, if upon trial thereof, the court finds an engineer guilty of any of the charges, by the judgment of the court he shall be removed from office.”