Mayor cites possible conflict of interest; abstention means vote closely balanced
Ex officio Mayor Dan Kaman won't vote on the proposed Marina District project.
He won't even discuss it.
He's interested in the project and cares about the project.
But he will follow an Ohio Ethics Commission recommendation and abstain from votes on the district, he said Friday.
Kaman's abstention could impact the vote on the proposed residential and commercial project at 222 Meigs St. and neighboring parcels, but likely won't if commissioners in support of the project continue to favor it.
The ethics commission reviewed a letter and materials submitted by Law Director Don Icsman concerning three boathouses Kaman owns near the proposed 30-acre development.
According to state law, elected officials can't vote on matters that could positively or negatively affect their own property or any benefit of property.
Ethics commission precedent in related cases called for elected officials to abstain from voting.
"I will take their advice and not discuss or vote on the issue," Kaman said. "This has been a big thing for me. I wanted to do the right thing."
And for Kaman, doing the right thing means not voting.
"I don't want to tarnish my reputation," he said. "People say politicians are looking to line their pockets. If I voted yes, this would reek of that."
There is a loophole in the four- page letter compiled by the ethics commission giving Kaman the opportunity to hire a real estate agent to assess the value of the property and determine if the project would impact his property's value.
"In reality, anyone could find an appraiser to tell you what you want to hear," Kaman said. "But in my opinion that wouldn't be the right thing to do."
Icsman said Kaman's treatment of the entire issue has been difficult for the mayor, but not voting is the right thing to do.
"The appearance of impropriety is important to Dan," he said. Icsman added that Kaman joins the ranks of several former commissioners faced with difficult decisions, including Al Mason and George Mylander.
Vice Mayor Dannie Edmon applauded Kaman's display of ethics.
"I think he did the admirable thing," Edmon said.
Kaman doesn't want to complicate an already difficult decision for the city to make by the validity of his vote becoming a legal question.
Commissioner Brian Crandall said Kaman's abstention doesn't affect his opinion that citizens should be on the ones voting on the project, not the board.
Commissioner Dave Waddington said that as of now, he's in support of going forward with the project to "get out of the Stone Age."
"I was hesitant looking at the project trying to get a feel from the community on what they want," Waddington said. "Now that we've gotten further into it, I have asked for a 30-day review period for the people to see where all the parts are going to settle."
Kaman did vote in December to authorize the pre-development portion of the project, but it was voting on gathering information on what the possible project would entail.
Now, the voting will become increasingly definitive, Icsman said. "The closer you get, the clearer the conflict of interest," he said.
Kaman's ability to vote on the project came into question in February, but two months prior, the appropriateness of Dennis Murray voting was first considered.
Several citizens came to Icsman with the concern Murray voting wouldn't be appropriate because his family owns and operates their law firm downtown. Murray can vote because his business isn't in exceptionally close proximity to the project, Icsman later decided based on Ohio law.
The Ohio Ethics Commission is a bipartisan commission comprised of six members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Ohio Senate.