April 17, 2014

Medina
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County looks at ethics of loan

Becky Tener
The Gazette

MEDINA — The county is looking into whether Commissioner Pat Geissman violated Ohio’s Ethics Law when she acquired a loan last year through the Fix-It-Fund program.

County Commissioner Sharon Ray said she was looking to use the loan program for her house this year and found, according to an advisory opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission, it would be a violation of Ohio Ethics Law.

“I was not a commissioner when the Fix-It-Funds were approved, so I checked with the county prosecutors to see if I could,” said Ray, who did not seek re-election this year.

At Monday’s county commissioners meeting, Geissman admitted to using the program and said she did not know at the time she acquired the loan that it might be a violation. Geissman said she took out the loan in 2009 for her roof and has since paid it off.

“If I knew it was wrong, then I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.

Fix-It-Funds are home improvement loans offered by the Medina County Treasurer’s Office for homeowners to repair or remodel their homes. It’s a Linked Deposit Program, in which residents can take out a low-interest loan from the bank, and in exchange the county Treasurer’s Office takes out a certificate of deposit with the bank for however much the bank loans to the resident. The residents must pay off the loan in five years, and the county’s CD matures at the same time.

According to a letter from the county prosecutor’s office to Ray, a public official cannot gain monetarily from these types of public programs, county Commissioner Steve Hambley said. “If we approve it, then we can’t use it.”

The letter from the prosecutor’s office cites the opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Ohio Revised Code 2921.42 (A) (3) states “no public official shall knowingly … during the public official’s term of office or within one year thereafter, occupy any position of profit in the prosecution of a public contract authorized by the public official or by a legislative body, commission, or board of which the public official was a member.”

Whether Geissman has violated the ethics law is under review by prosecutor’s office, Hambley said, and commissioners also are waiting on the office for guidance on how to proceed.

A spokesman at the Ohio Ethics Commission said he couldn’t speak to specifics, and referred to the Ethics Law section in the Ohio Revised Code.

Contact Becky Tener at (330) 721-4012 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.

  • commoncents

    If the Prosecutor wrote an oppinion that a County Commissioner can’t do it, that it is against the law, what is there to review? How disturbing that something like this would happen here, it just goes to show you that these politicians need to be watched closely and that we need to keep an eye on what they do with our common cents.

  • bobby

    Give me a break. HOW PREDICTABLE from Ray and Hambley. Ray is still seithing from her little friends loss in the polls to Frederick. Lets run to the prosecutor and pay him to what jail her! How politically motivated can one ex commissioner be and another that should quit stirring the pot because he’s going to be outnumbered FINALLY. Wait, maybe we should call in some people to Analyze the situation and pay them big bucks because out common sense can’t do that.

    Geissman probably made a HONEST mistake, she’s human and she is the ONE commissioner that has always went to bat for the Medina County Residents. She knows the residents are struggling, she has stepped up with the veterans, stood by the sheriff’s deparment, she has tried hard to curb the spending in Medina. She paid the loan back in a YEAR, so what harm did she do. Take money away from someone else? Doubt it, I’m sure there was more than enough to go around. .

    And then Ray’s pick Truman she FORGETS to pay property tax on property she bought, What did she think it was tax free? Gee, maybe we can all use that excuse.

    .

  • commoncents

    Bobby, how did Ray and Hambley get Geissman to create an entity that subsidizes private loans with my tax dollars? How would they force her to violate the law and privately benefit from her position? The Prosecutor’s office has made it very clear (to all of our county’s employees) that ignorance is no excuse for violating Ohio’s Ethics Law. This is a travesty, Pat Geissman should be thrown in jail (assuming that she took the money), you are exactly right. Of course, this is America, so she should first be indicted and allowed to defend herself in a court of law on what appears to be a very serious charge. This is the second time in a year Ms Geissman’s ethics and character have come under scrutiny, please remember the donations for contracts scandal with the CPF previously. As a tax payer in this county, I have the right to a responsible and transparent government; Commissioner Geissman has shown herself to be neither, and I hope she realizes that she needs to step down.

  • commoncents

    Also, where does it say in the article that she paid that money back within a year? How would you know that?

  • commoncents

    After listening to Bill Thorne and Frank Gasper of the Medina County prosecutors Office give their presentation on Ethics February 20th, the old adage that what you don’t know can’t hurt you goes right out the window. This is an extremely thorny subject. (Sorry Bill, but I just couldn’t resist.) The talk, held in the Department of Planning Services’ conference room, was well attended. And judging by the number and quality of the questions, local government officials have a lot of interest in this subject, and rightfully so.

    “Ethics” can be defined as “The basic principles of right action.” (Funk and Wagnall) The Ohio law regarding Ethics is aimed at preventing public officials and employees from acting in situations where there is

    or there appears to be a conflict of interest. This applies to ALL government officials (with a few exceptions), ALL government employees and those who do business with them. Basically “Whenever the personal, financial or fiduciary interest [such as a trust] of a public official or employee, his family, or his business associates are involved in a situation before the official or employee, there is an ethics issue.” (These are Bill’s words. Not to give him credit might be, well, unethical.) The relevant sections of the state law are several and are not necessarily consistent with each other. In other words, you can be acting ethically according to one law but still be in violation of another. What makes things worse, a conviction of an ethical violation can result in civil or criminal penalties or both including being removed from office, voiding the actions taken, fines or JAIL. Major ethical issues are Conflicts of Interest, Public Contract Restraints (Having an unlawful interest in a public contract.), Post-Employment Restrictions, Confidentiality Violations, Influence Peddling, Supplemental Compensation (Getting paid extra for doing your public duties for which you’re already being paid.), and Receiving Honoraria. And there is even a separate regulation just for townships. The good news is that state ethical provisions cannot restrict your constitutional rights to, say, speak before a local board, as long as what you’re doing is available to every citizen. What to do? When you’re in doubt of a conflict of interest or any of the other ethical questions, contact the Ethics Commission or the County Prosecutor ’s Office. And be careful out there.

    http://www.planning.co.medina.oh.us/newsletters/april2003newsletter.pdf

  • commoncents

    Any updates on this?