Forthright? Not a chance Todd. Forthrightness is missing from your character. -- Jim
From the Delaware Gazette:
Commissioner moonlights as consultant
Thursday, August 20, 2009
ANDREW TOBIAS Staff Writer
Since shortly after being appointed to his current position early this year, Delaware County commissioner Todd Hanks has held a second job making referrals for a civil engineering firm that is looking for work in the county.
As part of his private-sector job, Hanks in May invited employees from Civil and Environmental Consultants to meetings between county economic development and Village of Sunbury officials to discuss a re-development project, the Gazette has learned. Hanks insists that his moonlighting has not presented a conflict of interest.
Since January of this year, Hanks has worked part-time for the Pittsburgh-based CEC. According to its Web site, CEC specializes in environmental, civil and site development engineering, ecological water resources and solid waste management. It maintains a branch office within Delaware County in northern Columbus.
Last year, CEC offered Hanks a $50,000-a-year, 24-hour-a-week job as a regional sales representative, according to a Nov. 7, 2008 letter to Hanks from CEC. Hanks’ job, according to the letter, is to develop professional contacts and refer them to CEC; he receives a commission based on the amount of actual work those contacts buy from the firm’s contractors. The job description prohibits Hanks from making references while “on the county clock,” in accordance with ethics laws.
Federal Business Opportunities, a government Web site, lists Hanks as a CEC contractor with specialties in architecture and engineering, contracts and for-profit organizations.
Two closed-door meetings took place the week of May 18 between Hanks, county economic development officials, Village of Sunbury officials and CEC employees, according to public records.
Officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Development also attended the second meeting, held on May 20.
The meetings were held to discuss a local landowner’s plans to apply for a state grant to re-develop the site of the former Nestle Plant in Sunbury.
At the May 20 meeting, county economic development director Gus Comstock said he would see if the county could contribute revolving loan funds to help the landowner pay for the project, according to Sunbury Village Administrator Dave Martin. Comstock also indicated he would help guide village officials through the grant application process, Martin said.
Landowner Dan Cashman, reached by phone, said he has paid for the first part of the study and did not want or any county money. He did not say what company he hired.
On Wednesday, Hanks said he invited the CEC employees, who had experience with projects similar to the Nestle redevelopment, to the meeting to try and find them business opportunities.
“I was retained by CEC to make introductions,” he said. When asked if he was acting as a CEC employee or a county commissioner at the meetings, he said: “I’m never not a county commissioner.”
Martin said Wednesday that at the time of the May meetings, he did not know Hanks was employed by CEC, and didn’t know he would be bringing CEC employees with him. At the second meeting, Hanks signed in as a representative of Delaware County, and not a CEC employee, according to a sign-in sheet. Martin and Cashman both said they had no prior familiarity with CEC.
At the second meeting, Bill Acton, a senior project manager for CEC, wrote on a sign-in sheet that he was representing Cashman.
Hanks said he has been open with others about his private job, but he didn’t know if he identified himself to the Sunbury officials as a CEC employee. He also said he didn’t remember if revolving loan funds were discussed.
Elected officials are legally allowed to hold outside work, and the practice is not uncommon, Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) Executive Director David Freel said. However, there are legal restrictions.
Public officials can hold an outside job only if they can recuse themselves if a conflict of interest arises between their public and private work, Freel said.
Ohio ethics law also specifically prohibits public officials from using their influence and relationships with other public officials to financially benefit themselves or the company they work for.
Hanks said he believes the May meetings did not pose a conflict of interest. He said he has abstained from voting on the three occasions that CEC had private work approved by the government entities (the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission, the county commission board) Hanks was a part of.
“I’ve always been forthright, and people know it,” he said.
Hanks took a $14,000 pay cut when the former county auditor was appointed to the county commission board earlier this year. He said he took on a part-time job to make up for the difference in pay, and noted that several previous Delaware County commissioners before him owned businesses on the side. Also, Commissioner Ken O’Brien worked as a teacher for Worthington Christian Schools before taking a leave in June, he said.
“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I have to have a part-time job to make ends meet,” he said.
Contacted Wednesday, Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost said he didn’t have enough information about the May meetings to form a legal conclusion.
On Feb. 16, Hanks wrote through a private attorney to the OEC to ask if his work with CEC was legally compatible with his duties as a county commissioner. In the letter, Hanks included “informal opinions” from the prosecutor’s office that said that the two positions were compatible, as long as Hanks was mindful of the restrictions imposed by ethics laws.
The ethics commission has not responded to Hanks’ inquiry yet, but a response is “in the pipeline,” Freel said.
Freel said he couldn’t comment specifically on Hanks, but noted ethics law applies the same to all elected and public officials. However, as an official gains more responsibility, there is a greater potential for conflict, he said.
CEC has no present contracts with the county, but did about $7,500 worth of work for the county’s environmental services division between Aug. 2007 and Aug. 2008, prior to Hanks’ employment with the firm, according to public records. CEC also regularly conducts business with developers within Delaware County, county engineer Chris Bauserman said.