You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.

X

Welcome to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Ethics cases prompt concerns over disclosure rules

Charter schools, township trustees exempt from filing financial disclosure forms.


Nearly half of the Ohio Ethics Commission’s caseload this year dealt with concerns about conflict of interest by public officials, but many of those under scrutiny are exempt from publicly disclosing their personal business interests, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

Charter schools and township trustees are exempt from filing financial disclosure forms, though they accounted for 24 percent of the 185 cases handled by the ethics commission this year, according to state records obtained by the Daily News. Is ethics form too intrusive? Reporter fills one out and posts it online.

“I think that would make sense if you apply one standard, you apply it across the board,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering.

Lehner has twice tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation applying the same disclosure rules to townships that apply to cities. When presented with the newspaper’s findings, she said charter schools should be included as well.

Ohio Ethics Commission Director Paul Nick also supports expanding the requirement. It would identify potential conflicts of interest, serve a flag to the school or township and alert the public, he said. The filing fees — which range from $30 to $95 depending on the office — contribute 31 percent of the Ethics Commission’s $2.2 million budget.

But groups representing townships and charter schools say the requirements would be both unnecessary and intrusive, possibly dissuading people from holding office. “People are going to say it’s not worth it, if I have to disclose who I owe money to, who owes me money, who holds my mortgage, what my investments are,” said Matt DeTemple, director of the Ohio Townships Association.

The four page ethics form includes questions about the source of the officials’ income, businesses owned, names of family members, gifts received and debts owed to and by the official. Not all ethics forms are public. State employees and some boards submit confidential ethics forms that are kept on file and reviewed only by the Ethics Commission.

Township trustees

Lehner sat on the Ethics Commission in the 1990s and said the issue that township trustees are exempt from filing repeatedly came up. “I just can’t find any rational reason why you would exempt this group of public officials,” she said.

She has tried twice to pass legislation requiring townships with more than 5,000 people to file forms, making the rules uniform with cities and villages. The first time, in 2011, the measure passed the Senate and died in the Ohio House. This year she put it in the budget bill, but it was stripped out amid opposition form the Ohio Township Association.

DeTemple said his primary concern is with small townships that have a hard enough time attracting people to run for office.

“They have a budget of a quarter million dollars and they’re trying to stretch that so they can chip and seal the 40 miles of roads they have,” he said. “There’s not a lot of wining and dining that go on at that level.”

But there are townships with multi-million dollar budgets, many of which pay their trustees more than city council members in similarly sized or larger cities, a recent investigation by this newspaper found.

And while ethics findings against them are not frequent, they do happen. An Ethics Commission investigation led to a guilty plea last year of Carl Douglas Walker, former trustee and administrator of Union Twp. in Clermont County, on charges he steered hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to his son’s engineering firm.

The Ethics Commission in July issued an advisory opinion saying fire department employees are allowed to attend classes taught by the fire chief, but that it’s improper for the chief to to mandate or approve the tuition payments. This was an issue in Xenia Twp. in Greene County, where then-Fire Chief Daryl Meyers sent firefighters to attend a class he taught at Sinclair Community College.

Charter schools

Potential conflicts of interest involving charter school board members and officials have led to criminal charges in some cases.

William Peterson of Dayton pleaded guilty last month to unlawful interest in a public contract after he steered business to companies he owned while CEO of a Cleveland charter school. Still awaiting trial is a former board member who owned the company that leased facilities to the school.

All public school superintendents, treasurers and business managers have to file financial disclosure forms with the Ohio Ethics Commission. The forms are not made public. School board members have to file forms, which are public, for any district with more than 12,000 students. That exempts roughly 600 school boards across the state.

No one from charter schools has to file.

“When we reintroduce this legislation I think that’s well worth consideration,” Lehner said, arguing at a minimum the same standards should apply to charter and public schools.

But Ron Adler, president of the charter school advocacy group Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, said requiring probing financial disclosure would make people more hesitant to volunteer for charter school boards. Problems with charter schools would be better addressed with more screening of new schools, Adler said.

“If you have somebody that has broken the law…I don’t think you should keep raising the bar for everybody else that’s been doing things right over the years,” he said.

Cities, public schools

The 185 cases handled by the ethics commission this year are an increase from the 158 handled last year, though within the normal range, Nick said.

Of this year’s cases, 85 were closed: 27 with some sort of settlement, and 14 with censure of the official.

Cities and villages accounted for 27 percent of the cases handled by the ethics commission this year, and public schools accounted for 23 percent, though it was unclear from state records how many of the individuals investigated had to file forms.

Sara Clark, deputy director of legal services for the Ohio School Board Association, said her agency has no official statement on whether the threshold should be lowered for filing, but that the ethics law applies to all board members whether they file or not.

“I believe Ohio’s ethics laws are working,” she said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Springfield asks voters for tax increase to fix roads, fight drugs
Springfield asks voters for tax increase to fix roads, fight drugs

Springfield city leaders want to increase local income taxes to maintain services, fix roads and hire more police officers, but opponents believe it will make the city less attractive for prospective residents and businesses. Residents will vote May 2 whether to raise the city’s income tax for 5½ years from 2 percent to 2.4 percent. &ldquo...
Springfield won’t follow Dayton, plans to keep red light cameras off
Springfield won’t follow Dayton, plans to keep red light cameras off

The city of Springfield won’t be resuming its red light camera program any time soon, despite Dayton’s proposal to turn its red-light and speed-detection cameras back on later this month to improve safety at intersections. Springfield leaders have said they won’t turn the city’s cameras back on until the issue is settled statewide...
Jon Husted takes steps toward run for Ohio governor
Jon Husted takes steps toward run for Ohio governor

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s as-yet-unannounced bid for governor moved forward today with the announcement that his office’s press secretary would join the Husted for Ohio campaign. Josh Eck said his last day in the office was today and he will become a spokesman for the campaign. “I have been a fan of Jon Husted’s since...
Supreme Court orders refunds for people whose criminal convictions are overturned
Supreme Court orders refunds for people whose criminal convictions are overturned

People who are freed from prison when their convictions are reversed deserve a refund of what they paid in fees, court costs and restitution, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.  "They are entitled to be presumed innocent" once their convictions are thrown out, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the state "has zero claim"...
Turner, state lawmakers upset state declined money for Wright-Patt
Turner, state lawmakers upset state declined money for Wright-Patt

Area lawmakers are upset Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was shut out of a share of $5 million in state aid vowed changes Thursday to a state panel that decided to split the money for projects at two Ohio Air National Guard bases. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and state Reps. Niraj Antani and Rick Perales spoke at a Thursday press conference about their frustrations...
More Stories