Hanks employer communicated with firms with county ties
By ANDREW TOBIAS
A local engineering firm that formerly employed Delaware County commissioner Todd Hanks communicated with two businesses with ties to the Delaware County government while Hanks worked for them as a marketing consultant, e-mails obtained through a public records request show.
One e-mail shows local engineering firm Civil and Environmental Consultants knew about a controversial proposed waste-to-energy project before the public or all the members of the board of commissioners say they did.
On June 1, CEC geologist John DiNunzio e-mailed information about a proposed federal legislation to fund waste-to-energy projects to three executives with Viridis Waste Control Inc., DiNunzio’s e-mail contains little else, other than the subject line “The wheels are starting to turn” and the phrase “FYI.” Hanks was copied at his CEC address on the e-mail.
CEC employed Hanks as a marketing consultant from January 2009 to October 2009. He received a $1,900 biweekly salary plus a potential commission to refer business to CEC.
At the time DiNunzio sent the e-mail, the county was in negotiations to hire Viridis, and Hanks later introduced a motion to award the Dublin-based company a $3.13 million no-bid contract facility in Delaware County.
Hours after the e-mail was sent, county commissioners met in a closed-door session with the same Viridis executives to discuss as a board the potential of hiring the company for the first time.
Commissioner Ken O’Brien has said that meeting was the first he’d heard of the project.
Hours after the commissioners meeting, Hanks forwarded the e-mail to county economic development director Gus Comstock, making it a public record.
The project was not discussed publicly until more than two weeks later, when Hanks introduced the contract, under which Viridis would have independently hired subcontractors to perform engineering work and other services pertaining to the study.
Later that month, Hanks and commissioner Tommy Thompson voted to award the contract, with O’Brien voting against. However, county auditor George Kaitsa refused to certify the contract because the county didn’t have enough money to pay for it. Hanks switched his vote three days later, killing the project.
Hanks and Thompson have since said the contract was intended to be paid for through a federal grant. CEC has expertise in the waste-to-energy field; the company is included on a federal Environmental Protection Agency Web site listing potential vendors for projects like the one detailed in the $3.13 million contract. Viridis is also on the same list.
When asked about the email, Hanks said he didn’t remember if he had talked to CEC about the waste-to-energy project or Viridis. He also said he couldn’t speculate why he would have been copied on DiNunzio’s e-mail, or how they knew about the project.
DiNunzio did not return messages seeking comment.
Another e-mail shows that Hanks attempted to bring a CEC representative with him to a meeting with a Delaware County business that had an open county contract.
A June 11 e-mail from Hanks shows he, Comstock, and a CEC employee were to meet with two executives with manufacturer Sky Climber to discuss potential locations of wind turbines, an industry Sky Climber and CEC are both involved with. The meeting fell through, however, after Hanks dropped out over a scheduling conflict.
At the time, Sky Climber had an outstanding county contract for $7,500, awarded in 2008 by the previous board of commissioners, to provide services through a work development program for the county’s department of jobs and family services.
No county money was awarded to Sky Climber through the contract. Hanks and other county commissioners voted to de-fund the contract in September and October.
When asked about the proposed meeting with Sky Climber, Hanks said he “couldn’t speculate about a meeting that never happened.”
The Ohio Ethics Commission has said Hanks’ former employment with CEC was theoretically legal as long as he observed ethics laws.
The commission didn’t address specific actions Hanks may have taken. Public officials are allowed to hold private sector jobs, but they are required under Ohio ethics laws to clearly separate their private work from their public office.
When asked, the OEC said they can’t comment on any information for this story or any specific situation. But, OEC chairman David Freel said: “Ethics law prohibits representatives a public official from taking action or using the resources of their authority on behalf of their employer or someone with whom they have an ongoing business relationship.”
Sources have told the Gazette that another meeting that Hanks, Comstock and CEC representatives attended may have created the potential for a conflict of interest.
Geoffrey Mearns, dean of the Cleveland State University Marshall College of Law and a formal federal prosecutor, has previously told the Gazette Hanks’ actions at the meeting made it confusing about whether he was representing the county or CEC.
As previously reported, Hanks invited two CEC representatives to a pair of May 2009 meetings between county officials and other area government officials to
redevelop the former Nestle plant in Sunbury.
Hanks told the Gazette at the time he brought the CEC employees to make business introductions, in accordance with his private job description.
The plant’s landowner has since told Sunbury officials he has hired CEC to work on the project. Comstock has also helped with the redevelopment process and has discussed the possibility of awarding the project revolving loan funds, which are administered by the county commissioners.
Mearns has previously told the Gazette he could not comment on what the law says about Hanks’ actions at the meeting.
But, Mearns said: “We should hold our public officials to a higher ethical standard than “Is this conduct illegal?”
Hanks recently announced he would not seek his first elected term. In a written statement, he said his wife and three young children had been “attacked” on the Internet.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Todd Hanks: The evidence speaks for itself
From the Delaware Gazette -- one paper that still prints the news. -- Jim