Ohio Ethics Commission requests board member business documents
Alissa Widman Neese
Oct 6, 2013 at 3:00 PM
The documents — dozens of invoices and supporting paperwork on Huron Schools' purchases at Huron Cement and Ace Hardware, two local businesses — suggest Huron school board members John Caporini and Tim Sowecke are the subjects of the state probe. Caporini and Sowecke own the businesses, respectively.
Download and view the documents requested in the pdfs below
The Ohio Ethics Commission fields complaints against public officials and determines whether an accused individual's behavior is unethical. Its representatives will not comment on ongoing investigations until they have released an official report on their findings, which only happens if an individual is found to be unethical.
The commission requested the documents from Huron Schools a few months ago, however, making them a public record accessible through a request the Register submitted this past week, district treasurer Mike Weis said.
The Register submitted an identical public records request to Huron Schools in June. At that time, Weis said no such documents existed. District attorneys initially told Weis the documents were not a public record, so Weis denied that request, he said Friday. The attorneys have since changed their stance — they said Weis could provide the documents to the Register.
"I don't know what (the commission) is up to," Weis said. "We audit any purchases every year as a related-party transaction and we've never had a problem with it. We're a small town; there's only certain places you can go get things before it becomes an added cost to go elsewhere."
The documents Weis provided indicate Huron Schools paid Huron Cement $20,000 from 2002-07 and paid Ace Hardware about $4,000 from 2011-12. The district recorded 24 transactions with Huron Cement in a five-year period and 29 transactions with Ace Hardware in a two-year period. The district's annual budget is about $15 million.
All purchases were less than $15,000, so they did not require board approval, Weis said.
According to Ohio Ethics Commission rules, a board member can do business with their district if he or she meets all four of the following exceptions:
•The board member's business provides necessary goods and services.
•Transactions are part of a continuing business relationship that existed before he or she was elected or the goods and services are unobtainable elsewhere for the same or lower cost.
•Treatment the board member provides the district is the same or better than treatment he or she provides to other customers or clients in similar transactions.
•Transactions are conducted at arm's length, the district has full knowledge of the board member's interest in the sale of the goods and services, and the board member has taken no part in the deliberations or decisions concerning the transaction.
Both Caporini and Sowecke contend their business practices with Huron Schools have been ethical.
After winning a school board seat in 2011, Sowecke asked Weis if Ace Hardware was allowed still allowed to do business with Huron Schools, with him contending it was, Sowecke said. Email exchanges with district officials Sowecke provided confirmed his statement.
Business as usual continued, with maintenance employees making small, day-to-day purchases at Ace Hardware, Sowecke said.
"It was the same arrangement that had existed for the past 25 years, long before I purchased the store in 2001," Sowecke said. "I welcome the review of the relationship between Huron Ace Hardware and the school district. I asked the right question before I took office and was told by the district's top expert on policy, treasurer Mike Weis, there would not be a problem."
Caporini referred the Register to his company's attorney, Jim Peters, of Reminger Attorneys at Law, who said he preferred questions be emailed to him. Peters did not respond to the email sent Friday afternoon, a few minutes after he called.
At the end of his four-year term, which was renewed in 2011, Caporini will have been a board member for 20 years.