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Board members focus of ethics probe

Alissa Widman Neese • Oct 15, 2013 at 11:50 AM

The Ohio Ethics Commission appears to be investigating Huron board members John Caporini and Tim Sowecke, owners of Huron Cement and Ace Hardware, respectively.

Huron Schools has purchased products from both businesses on multiple occasions during each man’s time on the board, which is allowable if certain conditions are met.

There are three state-mandated requirements, including filing an affidavit with the district stating their exact employment within their agency, according the section of state law that outlines appropriate behavior of board members.

District treasurer Mike Weis said no affidavits were ever filed with Huron Schools, to his knowledge.

“I am unaware of any,” Weis stated in an email. “There may be some emails where this was discussed, but I would have no way to search by that criteria as we do not store that way.”

The other two criteria: The board member is “employed by a political subdivision, instrumentality or agency contracting with the board” and the board member does not vote on the contract, according to Ohio Revised Code.

Without the documents, any other exceptions for doing business with Huron Schools are moot, as all criteria must be met, according to state law.

A few months ago, the Ohio Ethics Commission requested invoices and paperwork regarding Huron Schools purchases at both Huron Cement and Ace Hardware. The Register obtained the documents this past month through a public records request.

The documents indicate Huron Schools paid Huron Cement about $30,000 over 64 transactions from 2002-12. The district also paid Ace Hardware a total of about $4,000 in 29 transactions from 2011-12. The district’s annual budget is about $15 million.

The Ohio Ethics Commission fields complaints against public officials and determines if 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.

According to Ohio Ethics Commission rules, a board member can do business with a district if he or she meets all four of the following exceptions:

• The board member’s business provides necessary goods and services.

• The purchase is part of a continuing transaction that existed before he or she was elected, or the goods and services are unobtainable elsewhere for the same or lower cost.

• 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.

• The board member has taken no part in the deliberations or decisions concerning the transaction.

Both Caporini and Sowecke say their business practices with Huron Schools have been ethical.

Caporini’s attorney provided the Register with a statement Friday, explaining Huron Cement has a history of business with Huron Schools, predating his tenure on the school board. The company also provided its products and services at comparable or lesser prices, the statement continued.

Sowecke, meanwhile, said he talked with Weis after winning a school board seat in 2011 to confirm Ace Hardware could still do business with the district, with Weis stating it could. Email exchanges with district officials confirmed this statement.

Caporini has been a Huron school board member for 18 consecutive years, while Sowecke has been a member for two years.

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