City not funding or working with Middletown Visitors Bureau ‘at this point,’ councilman says

Mary Huttlinger is the new Director of Government Affairs for the REALTOR Alliance of Greater...
Mary Huttlinger is the new Director of Government Affairs for the REALTOR Alliance of Greater Cincinnati.(Provided/file)
Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 8:25 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2022 at 11:45 AM EDT

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WXIX) - The city of Middletown is not funding or working with the Middletown Visitors Bureau at this time Councilman Rodney Muterspaw tells FOX19 NOW.

“I can only confirm that the city is not working with the Middletown Visitors Bureau at this time,” he said Thursday morning. “We haven’t done anything permanent yet, we just agreed not to fund the visitors bureau at this point and work more directly with Butler County’s visitors bureau.”

The website for Middletown Visitors Bureau (MVB) appears to no longer be active, at least as of Thursday morning, and the city’s website now directs users who click on “Additional Information” about MVB to the Butler County’s visitors bureau’s Middletown page.

MVB’s social media also is down as well.

FOX19 NOW has repeatedly reached out to MVB’s offices and its board president for comment and for records but has not heard back.

It’s not clear when the visitors bureau’s board last publicly met.

MVB’s executive director, Mary Huttlinger, quit in April after Middletown City Council members questioned how the non-profit agency planned to spend $224,000 from an American Rescue Plan Act grant.

Concerned that money was only going to promote a few community events: Portopia in Torchlight Pass, GeoCache and Mural Walk, Council wanted to change how the grant money would be divvied up, FOX19 NOW has learned.

Ultimately, council members voted to give MVB part of the money but requested a new spending plan.

“Mary brought energy and enthusiasm to the Middletown Visitors Bureau and made great strides in promoting our city. Working alongside an all-volunteer force with individual passionate, vested interest in an organization’s success is both a blessing and a challenge,” Mayor Nicole Condrey said.

“I look forward to continued progress with the next chapter, in whatever manner it ultimately shakes out.”

Huttlinger has a new job. She started this month as the director of government affairs at REALTOR Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, formerly the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, according to an email sent to more than 1,000 members of the organization.

FOX19 NOW requested comments from Huttlinger and Rich Fletcher, REALTOR Alliance’s chief executive officer.

Huttlinger did not respond, but her new boss did in the following statement to us:

“The REALTOR Alliance of Greater Cincinnati is excited to have Mary join our team as Director of Government Affairs. With over 20 years of experience in government affairs and a clear passion for serving professional associations, Mary was a standout candidate and a clear choice for us. She brings a level of unmatched expertise that will help our organization continue to serve our members and advance policy initiatives that protect home ownership, property rights, and the real estate industry in Southwestern Ohio.”

Before Huttlinger worked in Middletown, she was the executive director of the non-profit agency Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.

She was hired in January 2016 but put on paid leave the following year following the discovery of invoicing discrepancies and an internal audit was launched, city records show.

She quit shortly after.

The audit found Keep Cincinnati Beautiful overbilled the city by nearly $16,000 and lacked any written policies to guide program operations resulting in “confusion” and “inconsistencies,” a copy of it shows.

The audit also determined Huttlinger misrepresented her work on time sheets.

She said she was granted 13 days of leave, but counted that time as days she worked, resulting in an overpayment of $3,924.96, according to the audit. Her annual salary was $78,500.

Huttlinger served as a political strategist and consultant for various campaigns through 2018.

Huttlinger’s departure from Middletown has been one of many in this southwestern Ohio city of 48,807 residents that is located along Interstate 75 between Cincinnati and Dayton.

The city’s economic development director, Chris Xeil Lyons, also quit in April after she was put on administrative leave from her job with pay in late March “pending further investigation into matters relating to (her) employment,” city records show.

City officials have never explained what prompted the interim city manager, Fire Chief Paul Lolli, to place her on leave.

City manager Jim Palenick, and Middletown City Council mutually agreed to part ways earlier this year, the city said in a news release on March 14.

Palenick brought developers interested in building the proposed $1.3 billion Hollywoodland development to the city but the council never voted on it after criticism from residents.

Douglas Adkins, another onetime Middletown city manager who was ousted by City Council in 2019, sued the city earlier this year alleging he was on a “hit list” because he is an older white male, court records show.

Adkins, 59, claims he was discriminated against due to his age, gender and race.

His lawsuit also states he was subjected to “hostility and retaliation.”

Adkins is represented by Freking, Myers & Reul LLC in downtown Cincinnati.

City attorneys have denied the allegations in court records and requested the lawsuit be dismissed at his cost.

“Thank you for reaching out to us; however, the City does not comment on pending litigation,” wrote Missy Knight, city spokeswoman, in an email to FOX19 NOW.

Adkins worked for Middletown for nearly 20 years, his last five as city manager before his contract was terminated in 2019, according to his lawsuit.

A “significantly younger female” took over then as acting city manager, Susan Cohen, a 39-year-old white female, the suit states.

She was the acting city manager until Palenick, a 60-year-old white male, was hired in July 2020, according to the suit.

Cohen resigned earlier this year to become the administrator in Clermont County’s Union Township.

The current assistant city manager, Nathan Cahall, has been managing Middletown’s economic development department.

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