Board members focus of ethics probe

The Huron school district doesn’t appear to have the documents necessary that would allow it to do business with the companies owned by two board members.
Alissa Widman Neese
Oct 15, 2013
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.

Comments

Wa Tu Lo

Caporini did this to himself. If you remember he told Ms. Catri that he met two of the four ethics requirements to sell to the school. This happened at the school board meeting. Little did Caporini know that a woman from the ethics committee was in the audience. He incriminated himself. If you think this is a witch hunt your wrong. Get your facts straight or are you blowing smoke.

bnjjad

Informed and Justme clearly have insider knowledge. As for what happened this really is a small time deal and the amounts are not worth the huge cost that I am sure this investigation is costing the OEC.

They should buy local and as I see it if a local business owner is selling items to the school that they happen to serve on and are offering discounts I don't see a problem with it. Corporate clients always get better deals than short-term customers. Every business operates this way with corporate purchasing contracts. If I had business where I can provide cheaper products I would certainty provide a discount to my local school district if they wanted to be a customer.

They should just correct the mistakes and move on and continue business as usual. Huron does not have the money or the time for these petty games.

FYI: It is 3 Requirements with 4 exceptions to be met as well. READ

Justme...

Read the OEC guidelines and you too will have insider knowlege. I have based my opinion on that, rather than "as I see it". No matter how strongly people may feel about buying local, that is not part of the guidelines and we can't make up our own rules. You don't HAVE to be a board member if you own a business that has a history of selling to the district and you want to continue to do so.

bnjjad

I would rather have successful business owners on my board then people who are more interested in their own personal ego.

"Moving on is much easier when people admit they did something wrong. Hiring attorneys and denying doesn't help us move on" - You clearly know exactly what is going on in the investigation with comments like that. Or you are making assumptions.

I made my opinion on both. I have read the guidelines, I also have read the articles and talked to other people who are aware of this situation. I also have experience in purchasing/sales on the corporate side of things. Corporate clients are not like single customers. They are always treated differently.

Point-blank, they need to get the paperwork filed, and a procurement process needs refined on the School side and move on. But do not blacklist/fire/fine people who were trying to do something for the school district and the local tax base. If they were trying to buy a 10K hammer then maybe I would feel differently.

Justme...

No insider knowlege, nor assumptions. The paper quotes his attorney. As for your last paragraph, tell it to the OEC. They are the one's investigating.

UgtaBkdnMe

Justme, wonder who these posters are mad at? The OEC hears Caporini make a statement that exposes himself and the agency decides to investigate him. Was the OEC investigator suppose to ignore it? What is the point of having ethics laws if they don't apply?

Tsu Dho Nimh

It is up to the OEC on who they investigate, not the citizens of this town. I think the agency understands the laws and would not investigate something if the evidence did not warrant it.

Informed

No, I don't have insider knowledge. I read. I research. And we aren't talking about just discounts--we are also talking about things being overpriced (see the hose mentioned above for just one example).
And right, the four exceptions must be met. Caporini/Huron Cement did not meet them. The district can buy local all they want from a board member if those conditions are met. They weren't. For years they weren't. And now that it's trying to be handled, people like you make excuses for it and think it's no big deal.
As far as how much this is costing the OEC--it's their job to investigate complaints. That's part of what they get paid to do.
I don't think there is a single person that thinks someone is making millions of dollars here. But there is an improper relationship (sound familiar?) and it needs to be looked into and consequences have to be given.

bnjjad

In my experience with corporate procurement. I would overlook a item that is $30 more with the company that I am working with on a larger quote or project if I am getting better prices on everything else regarding that quote. I especially prefer to work with companies that i have a standing relationship with and have good contacts with so everything goes much more smoothly.

Guess that is why my company is doing pretty well with the things we have and my account reps like working with me and I like working with them.

I am not making excuses for anything. It is just a small non-big deal. They should correct the mistakes and move on. Nothing is going to come out of this investigation except for hurt feelings, bad press and the school board will have even more trust issues and hate directed at them. Not to mention possibly removing 2 people who so far have done nothing wrong for the SD other than this.

Informed

Um, the OEC would disagree with you. You cannot overlook something, even if it is just $30. And that was just one example. There are many, many purchases.
This wouldn't be a problem if Cap wasn't a board member. But he is.

whazup

Rules are for fools! It's best to just do what you want and ask for forgiveness when caught.

UgtaBkdnMe

It doesn't really matter what all you crap house lawyers think or interpret. Here's what a real attorney has to say. The same attorney Mr. Caporini wanted to investigate Fred Fox.

From: Gaschen, Dane
Date: Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 3:51 PM
Subject: Ethics Concerns and Course of Dealing Exception [BRICKER-WS.FID191447]
To: michael_weis@huron-city.k12.oh.us

Mike,
In response to XXXXXX ‘s questions from this morning. The one statute at issue is R.C. 2921.42. In terms of whether the course of dealing exception applies, as noted in Ethics Opinion 90-003 (copy sent separately this morning) on page 4 it notes that if any material changes are made in the agreement between the parties the sales would not fall within the exemption because such changes alter the original understanding between the parties. Separately, in Ethics Opinion 90-005 (copy sent separately this morning) the Ethics Commission stated that each individual sale was a separate transaction and thus prevented the continuing course of dealing exception from applying. This would appear to be particularly applicable to your situation with the hardware store. Additionally, I have attached three other Ethics Opinions that addressed the exception in 2921.42. All of these would show that each contract that Mr. Caporini is involved in would need to be considered separately and does not constitute a continuing course of action. Further, there is an additional statute (attached) R.C. 3313.33 which prohibits a board member from having directly or indirectly any pecuniary interest in any contract of the board. So, even if you could get past the ethical considerations, R.C. 3313.33 prevents board members from having a pecuniary interest –directly or indirectly – in any contract entered into by the Board.

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you need anything additional.
-Dane

Informed

I don't think Caporini wanted Fox investigated at all. In his and Asher's eyes, Fox did no wrong.

Darwin's choice

You are an incredible pest. Did one of them run into your car, or give you a bad haircut?

I will not vote for you!

Informed

What the heck are you talking about? How am I a pest? You don't even know who I am, and I can assure you, I am not running for school board! I wouldn't deal with people like you for the piddly amount school board members make!

whazup

I'd vote for you if you were running! BTW, which board member gives bad haircuts?

Wa Tu Lo

Some people will try and justify the moon is made of cheese. Caporini did this to himself. There are laws, as a public servant, you have to abide by. You have to meet all four (4) ethics rules. You can not break the ethic laws and expect just to get a slap on the hand. You will pay for your ethic violations. I have no idea what your motive is, other than you are trying to justify criminal activity by an elected official and a superintendent. Caporini is in trouble. He let the Huron taxpayer see what kind of person he really is and why he supported Fox. Asher was part of the "good ole boy' system, along with others, and people are starting to realize what their agenda is.

bnjjad

I don't think anybos here has even brought the fox saga up as being wrong other than mentioning a witch hunt.

As for criminal activity this is relatively minor. $30k out of $180+ million dollar budget is nothing. And I highly doubt that the board members told them to buy the stuff from them or else. This seems to be a paperwork error and being lazy at the same time. Yes it needs to be remedied but a multi month investigation going back 18 years is beyond ridicolus.

I don't condone criminal activity. I have to comply with SOX and internal audit committees so I know what's it like if I miss a piece of paper.

Either way I'm done trying to explain my opinion on the situation.

Edit: it seems the only way for people to get their way and circumvent the elections is to get a criminal investigation blasted in the paper. 18 years on the board, he must be doing something right.

whazup

You can keep saying it's just a paperwork error but the OEC doesn't waste its time on "just a paperwork" error. Did you bother to read the email from the attorney? Mr. Gashen is clear on how the ethics laws apply to the cement company and why Caporini couldn't sell to the district at any price. I'm sure that is the basis of the investigation, not "missing paperwork". Just like Cap, you blame everyone but him. Maybe he should have kept his hot headed comments to himself instead of opening his mouth in front of the OEC woman back in March. This isn't about circumventing the election. In the first article, Alissa said she tried to get the information in July but was told the OEC hadn't requested anything (which turned out to be a lie). Go back and read it. This could have been covered back in the summer.

bnjjad

I really tried to stay away from this article. I do blame him. I have said repeatedly it is a paperwork error and being lazy.

Nobody has once said to me why they are going back 18 years. 30K out of 180+ million of expenditures is nothing and it has already been spent. Correct the mistakes and move on. What are they going to do for that? Fine him? Fire Him for it?

Its just funny how all of this comes up during election times or when things get out of hand and people are already pissed off with elected officials. When you get someone new in that seat that has done something bad or is not liked i would bet there will be another investigation or "gate" scandal that will rock this SD. You cannot honestly tell me that this is not a convenient time for this stuff to come up. satisfaction with elected officials is at a all time low and everybody has pitchforks in their hands. Doesn't matter if there was 18 years of good service or not, 1 mistake and you should be jailed, fined, put out of business and then run out of town after.

As for not selling to the district at any price, that is beyond stupid. As long as the elected official has no input on the quote/procurement on both sides then it should be legal. If a elected official happens to own the only gas stations in the area what is the school going to do for buses? go 25 miles out of the way to fill up?

It is clear that the people in this comment system are only out to land-blast everybody no matter what. It doesn't matter if they were doing good deeds that are illegal or if they killed someone on accident. Every time a article comes up its gang this, gang that, illegal here, too bad there (look at the bullying article posted earlier, blaming the victim is comment 1 and 2). 0 compassion out of anybody here and as such they must be miserable in their own lives and nobody wants to be around them. Mountains out of mole hills. This should have been handled and maybe 1 article on it, now I can guarantee that there will be 3 or more articles before its over.

And I am sure that my opinion is wrong. its MY opinion. MY thoughts.

UgtaBkdnMe

Did it occur to you that if the treasurer had released ALL of the records the first time there would be no need for a second or third article? Amazing how the most damning records were not included in the original request from the SR. How convenient it would have been for the board member if we didn't see all of the receipts. Did you notice how the type of purchases morphed over the years? It went from simple, spur of the moment maintenance needs to cleaning supplies and over-priced vacuums. Oh yeah, don't forget the over-priced discharge hoses with a two week wait that could have been purchased off the shelve at a local chain store for half the price.

UgtaBkdnMe

In the Fox hearing transcripts, Asher testifies under oath that he brought up the ethical issue of doing business with Huron Cement with Mr. Fox on several occasions shortly after joining the board in 2010. Wonder why it took two years before the board attorney, Dane Gashen, was questioned? Notice that Gashen is clear in his response. With Asher's legal background, he should have questioned the relationship and according to his testimony, the practice continued for two more years. So I guess you have to ask yourself, is Caporini a victim or did Asher perjure himself?

Wa Tu Lo

"As a criminal activity this is relativity minor". You are missing the whole point. Look at the people that were board members the last eleven years. Fox even made the comment that "he doesn't have a problem getting what he wants". This criminal activity has been going for years. The Huron taxpayer will never know how much of their money was wasted. Everything has Fox's name on it. Remember tool gate, bus gate, trips out west, mileage to Fremont. Why would you buy three tools of each? Why would you sell a school bus for a dollar? Why would you rent a vehicle and put 400 miles on it when the convention you went to is in the same hotel where your staying? Why would you turn in mileage receipts for $800 plus for mileage to Fremont and back? This was all taxpayer money. I work hard for my money and this is clearly abuse of taxpayer dollars. Now your not going to tell me that Caporini, Asher, or Beula did not know this was going on. They had to agree to reimburse him.

All the people mentioned above had an agenda with Fox. They were all from the" good ole boys" system. Their agenda now is to miss lead the public and get the "good ole boys" back in office. Their main objective is to get Fox a seven figure settlement. Reward a person for corruption and what he did to the Huron taxpayers. Unbelievable

Julie R.

I would be curious to know how many of the hypocrites on here that are saying "the lack of ethics and morals is no big deal" sit in the Huron St. Peter Catholic church every Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Nemesis

No one is saying that. They're saying that ethics does not lie in a fetish for paperwork and bureaucracy.

whazup

But the ORC and OEC says ethics does lie in filing proper paperwork and bureaucracy. My question is why would Caporini not follow the laws? If he is a good businessman, then it would only make sense that he would follow the proper procedures. But he didn't. And he didn't follow board policy when he authorized some expenses for the superintendent. Then there's the EHOVE project. He voted as an EHOVE board member for the huge expansion project then resigned from the board so he could bid on the project. That is a big OEC no no. Ended up his bid was rejected due to a conflict in interest. EHOVE gets it so why didn't Cap? Me thinks I see a pattern. There is always more to the story than the Register reports.

sanduskyregiste...

some of you are getting your underwear wet in a peeing contest over ethics of buisness selling to school? Why is this such a big ordeal to you? I read the invoices, the guy cut the schools a major price reduction. So what does he gain? Actually he's saving your pee pants money by selling to the school at cost or near cost. And this is the thanks he gets?

worst part of this is i bet NONE of you are going to vote yes for the renewal or the new taxes in the near future.

Im all with everyone of letting Fox go. But this ethic's on the two buisness's is for the birds.

Informed

No, he did not give a price reduction some of the time. Example, a hose he sold to the district for $69.99 that you can get for $39.99 at Menard's. That is just one example.
The fact that people consider following ethics laws is for the birds is appalling. It explains a lot about our society.
And I will vote YES for the levy! I have always voted for both Huron schools and EHOVE.

sanduskyregiste...

This is where you are incorrect. Menards is a MAJOR buyer of this project. Huron Cement is not. Menards price they pay on this product is probably 60% less then what Huron Cement does. BECAUSE they purchase a ton more. Huron cement is small buisness. Menards is a national chain. Obviously you're not into buisness and cant figure that out.

if HC was to sell at that price, then they're taking money out of their pocket. They're not even breaking even.

Huron Cement donated boom trucks, wood to the homecoming . they didnt charge for it yet they had a person drive the boom truck . thats an expense to them for the courtesy of the school.

UgtaBkdnMe

I'm voting yes to the levy and not voting for A-B-M for school board.

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