Complaint claims Springfield tax committee failed to report finances

Springfield city manager calls allegations ‘absolutely untrue.’

Springfield attorney Dan Harkins, who also served as the treasurer for the anti-income tax increase group Citizens for Responsible Springfield City Government, filed the complaint Wednesday with the Clark County Board of Elections. He’s asked the matter be referred to the Ohio Elections Commission.

Harkins also believes taxpayer money was used to fund the campaign. Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller called those allegations “absolutely untrue.”

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The complaint alleges the Board of Elections received reports of a $500 donation to the committee from AFSCME Ohio Council 8 on Sept. 30 and another $500 donation from Dayton-based McGohan Brabender Agency Inc. on Oct. 7 — but those haven’t been reported by the committee.

Expenditures for campaign materials purchased by the committee posted in Springfield also weren’t reflected in its campaign report, the complaint alleges.

Committee Chairman David Estrop said he didn’t have enough information to comment because he hadn’t seen the complaint yet.

“If we didn’t cross our Ts and dot our Is in some fashion, we certainly will,” Estrop said. “I don’t know what Mr. Harkins is alleging.”

The finance report has yet to be audited by the board of elections, Director Jason Baker said.

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Pre-general election campaign finance reports due Oct. 27 were required to disclose activity through Oct. 19.

On Nov. 1, the committee reported $4,000 in campaign contributions from three entities — including $2,000 from the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters and $1,000 contributions from Springfield-based Kapp Construction and Kansas-based engineering consultant Black & Veatch.

The report also shows no money having been spent.

“It’s a little bit difficult to believe given the extensive campaign that occurred,” Harkins said. “They put up several large yard signs and sent several mailings.”

Another issue is how much of the campaign was funded through committee money or city tax dollars, Harkins said.

“Some of the campaign literature was meant to be educational, which didn’t say ‘Vote for Issue 2,’ but says ‘Here’s what happens when it passes and here’s what happens when it doesn’t,’” Harkins said. “The city has gone on the razor’s edge as to what is a permissible expenditure.”

State law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars as advocacy for any type of campaign, he said.

The tax increase committee did its own fundraising for its campaign materials, Bodenmiller said.

“If they didn’t file something appropriately, I’m sure they’ll rectify that,” Bodenmiller said. “There was no intention (from the committee) to be misleading in any way shape or form.”

The city’s educational materials were purchased with non-city tax dollars from its Economic Development fund, he said. The fund generates money through development incentive agreements, Bodenmiller said.

A post-general election finance report for activity between Oct. 20 and Dec. 9 is expected to be received by Dec. 16. It’s possible the committee wasn’t billed for its campaign materials until after Oct. 19, Baker said, but the committee’s checks would have to match up.

Springfield will likely cut services and some police officers may be pulled off the streets after voters appeared to have narrowly rejected a request to increase the municipal income tax last week.

The proposal to raise the city’s income tax from 2 percent to 2.4 percent fell short by 55 votes, according to final, unofficial results. It could face a recount — or even pass — depending on the outcome of about 1,500 provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted.

The ballots will be reviewed by the Board of Elections at 10 a.m. Monday and the official certification is at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Baker said.