Ohio Ethics Commission requests board member business documents

Commission is investigating the business practices of two Huron school board members, according to documents the Register obtained this past week.
Alissa Widman
Oct 6, 2013

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.

Comments

donutshopguy

I thought this couldn't get any uglier but I was wrong. At least this is about a pro Fox supporter and a anti Fox supporter . Which side do you take?

Unassumer

Did you run out of S's? It's Ohio Ethics Commission. Even though they may have only one ethic (their own twisted one).

Jason Werling

The government shutdown strikes again. No funding for "s"s. we fixed it. Thanks.

bondgirlM

so are you saying the Government owns or has financial dealings in the Sandusky Register? HMMMM could there be a legal scandal here as well?

Jason Werling

No bondgirl, that was sarcasm. I should have saved that comment for another story.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Funny!

Dudley Do-Right

Alicia Widman please request purchase orders, payments, and emails between Huron City Schools and Huron Cement and ACE Hardware from 2007 until present. These are public records as well. You will complete the picture for your readers.

UgtaBkdnMe

Dudley, someone shared with me that she has just been given more information. She has enough to continue this story. The Journal has it, too. If Mr. Westerhold won't let her continue, the Journal can pick up where she left off.

UgtaBkdnMe

It is about time! My understanding is the the complaint is against Cap but the OEC asked for records on both members. Sowecke wasn't on the board in 2011 so it doesn't matter what he sold during that year. Mr. Weis has stated through email that he told Mr. Sowecke that he could continue sales but was dead wrong. Mr. Sowecke stopped selling three months later when good 'ole Asher posed the question if it was ethical for Ace Hardware to do business (not Huron Cement, but Ace Hardware). Here is some interesting information about the laws that Cap violated:

1) the subject of the public contract is necessary supplies or services. We can assume this is true; however, one might argue whether the concrete-heavy design of the “access road” at Woodlands was necessary, or whether the thickness of various concrete pours (e.g., the bus garage) were necessary.

(2) The supplies or services are unobtainable elsewhere for the same of lower cost, this is probably not the case in many instances, or are being furnishes as part of a continuing course of dealing established prior to the public official’s taking office. As the ethics opinions Dane Gaschen produced explained, the various projects are not part of a continuing course of dealing, but must be analyzed as separate contracts. To put this another way, section (2) is not simply a “grandfathering” clause; rather, it allows the District to continue some established project without disruption. There is no record that the district has checked with other cement suppliers on the majority of its purchases. Huron Cement has also been selling non-concrete items such as general maintenance suppliers and cleaning supplies. The district records support that these items are not being sold at a better price by Huron Cement.

(3) The treatment accorded the District is either preferential to or the same as that accorded other customers or clients in similar transactions. I would be interested in whether he does this when contractors buy from him when working on a District project.

(4) The entire transaction is conducted at arm’s length. There are emails and voicemails that support Caporini was intimately involved in securing and resolving contracts between Huron Cement and its contractors and the District. There is no record that Caporini disclosed to the Board or the public that any given contractor is going to buy from him for a contract they are awarded, and the public official takes no part in the deliberations or decision of the District with respect to the contract. This is the nail in the coffin. After reviewing Board minutes, I do not see that Caporini has ever recused himself from any vote on a property improvement project or the like. To the contrary, his emails suggest that his greatest area of interest was on building projects and concerns about the grounds. He was involved in the deliberations and voted on all such contracts. Remember, if Caporini violated any one of the four rules, he has failed to meet the exception. At the March 2013Board meeting when he tried to discredit a community member, he said he “fell under two of them.” Not good enough. If you don't believe me, go to the Register link and watch the video.

R.C. 2921.42(C) provides an exception to these rules if all of the following conditions are met. Chapter 2921 is part of Ohio’s criminal code. Chapter 3313 is specific to Boards of Education. As Gaschen’s email to Weis indicated, R.C. 3313.33 renders it unlawful for a member of the board to have any pecuniary interest, directly or indirectly, in any contract of the board. “Pecuniary” simply means money. Given the express prohibition on “indirect” interests, the arguments from Caporini and his defenders (that he doesn’t sell directly to the schools, there is always a contractor in between) will not hold up.

BTW, who approved the purchase orders for 10 years? Fred Fox, of course!

SoldOnAcorns

Cap, Cap, Cap...what a tangled web you've woven...I have a feeling this is gonna get really interesting ! What is the Ol' Sly Fox up to ? Haven't seen him around lately !

whazup

Oh he's around, flapping his jaw about how the levy will fail, his friends will be elected, he'll be reinstated in January, and the levy will pass in February. LOL!

james4

The "Good Ole Boy Network" ..... Their Motto is .. "They will never know"

Darkhorse

Where are the minutes of the meeting where the board member voted on the expenditures? There must be more to this then meets the eye. Was there just a complaint filed or is this issue really into an investigation? There is a difference.

whazup

This is an actually an investigation on Caporini. I know 5 people personally who have been interviewed and was told about several others. Sowecke is not under investigation, or at least that is what the 5 people I spoke with said.

Justme...

According to the article, board approval is no required for expenses of less than $15,000.

UgtaBkdnMe

The article is misleading and so is the treasurer. When a board member is tied to the business in which goods and services are purchased then ALL purchases must be disclosed to the board (including third party sales), the board member can't be part of the discussion, and it must be voted on with the board member refraining from the vote. This has not been the case. Old Cap should have kept his mouth closed at the March meeting. He is responsible for his own demise!

james4

This is starting to "stink" like dead fish in a dumpster!!!

Darkhorse

Justme is exactly right. It is because of the little expenses under the allotted amount that is not known to the public because it doesn't have to come before the elected officials for approval. No one ever knows about the expenditures. It is what the public doesn't know that can hurt them.

UgtaBkdnMe

I will beg to differ with you. ALL sales involving Huron Cement (direct and indirect) MUST come before the elected officials according to the OEC and ORC 3313.33.

Justme...

Alissa your interpretation in bullet point #2 does not seem correct to me, when I look at the attachment you provided of OEC rules:

"However, if there was simply a practice of purchases, or if there are any significant changes to the contract (including cost), the official cannot meet this exception."

It seems to me the exception applies if they are in the middle of contracted work before he became a board member, according to how I read it. And what about purchase made after 2007? Why would the OEC only request those years? And why wouldn't the reporter inquire about years since 2007?

cam

LOL. I did not go to Huron nor do I live in Huron. But I do know John Cap. He has done more for the Huron School System then most will ever know. And those of you that do know what he has done shame on you for not standing up for this man. Most of this is a witch hunt. He made a stand on how he felt on the Fox deal. Because he isn't nor will ever be just a yes man and wasn't on this some of the "OLD SCHOOL" Huron people will make him pay.

UgtaBkdnMe

Please share with us what all he has done. There doesn't seem to be records of all of the so-called generous donations that some people want to give him credit for. I think you have him confused with his old man.

Informed

Caporini is one of the most arrogant men I have ever met. God forbid you ever question him on anything, or even offer a suggestion different from what he thinks. He responds to parents very disrespectfully. He has been on the board way too long and needs to go. The sooner, the better.

Justme...

Cam do you know how many times we've heard that arguement in the last 2 years regarding the people involved in this? There's RIGHT and there's WRONG. Laws need to be followed and the excuse cannot be "yes, but look at all the good he did." This is a school system for goodness sakes. We can't excuse public officials when they fail to follow ethics guidelines.

donutshopguy

John Cap is one of the biggest "yes" men. What ever Mr. Fox wanted Mr. Cap agreed. He started out with good intentions but now considers the school system his kingdom with Mr. Fox , Mrs. Buela and Mr. Asher.

Wa Tu Lo

My, My, What wicked webs we weave. I understand now why Mr. Caporini wants Mr.Fox back as superintendent and supports him so adamantly.

Whazup: I have heard the same intentions of the Fox posse in your statement earlier. This is to make the Huron Schools better? What an example they are teaching our children. To not support the levy now and use taxpayers money to put it back on in February, if Fox's friends get elected, is evil and unethical behavior. You will have the same corruption that went on in the past if this happens. I thought Judas was evil for what he did. These people are out of the same mold.

I will be contacting the other four candidates for signs.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Just me...I agree with your interpretation. Please, Alissa, follow through with the story. It was not an honest oversight. There are years of documents that show the laws were flat out disregarded time and time again.

whocares

If the dream team brings Fred back, they will never pass another levy. People have loss respect for him and are tired of the PAC. Huron just hired the best Superintendent a school system could have.

donutshopguy

Yeah, and his name ends in a vowel.

Julie R.

whocares says: "Huron just hired the best Superintendent a school system could have."

donutshopguy says: "Yeah, and his name ends in a vowel."

That was toooo funny.

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