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

Justme...

I too am voting a big YES for the levy.

betweenlines

In case you haven't noticed, those with Slocum, Green and Catri signs in their yard also have Yes on the Levy signs. Those with ABM signs usually don't. So, what does that tell you??

Darwin's choice

They weren't asked.....!

Informed

You don't have to wait to be asked. Make a phone call. Geesh!

Tsu Dho Nimh

Yards with AMB signs have the same opportunity to join the levy Facebook page, to attend levy meetings, and to sign the sheet at the football games for a sign in there yard as the Green, Slocum, and Catri supporters.

Nemesis

What I see missing here is any substantive allegation that the district's money was wasted or poorly spent. To hell with bureaucratic regulations and paperwork, THAT is the only requirement an intelligent taxpayer should care about.

In a small town with only one vendor in most business categories, and a limited number of people with the skills and will to be on the school board, the district is bound to end up buying something from a board member's business. If there's any malfeasance or undue influence involved, then, with all the loudmouth busybodies, we'd surely hear about it.

I've done concrete work recently, which involved spending a fair amount of time in Huron Cement's retail showroom. Most of the stuff there is not available at the three big boxes in Sandusky, and what is, is priced comparably, especially if you factor in time and fuel to get there. I also find it hard to believe, as Informed claims, that the majority of the business with a Cement company wasn't for things only a cement company offers, given the amount of pavement and other concrete infrastructure the school district owns.

There are also times that the convenience of Ace outweighs the lower prices at Menard's.

Bureaucratic checklists and paperwork are necessary for documenting a process in a more urban area with multiple vendors, etc - not so in this situation. The district has county-leading performance on 33 mills, despite myriad social changes that make educating kids more difficult. That's a solid indicator that these two board members are being responsible with our tax dollars, which is all that matters.

But hey, if you have a problem with the transactions, there's a simpler, cheaper solution than the OEC - it's called the ballot box. Don't re-elect them. Along those lines, I have a much bigger problem with the fact that Caporini was out campaigning for the library levy without being able to answer questions about the millage or term of the levy than I do with the district patronizing the only cement company in town.

UgtaBkdnMe

I agree that the ballot box is where the real change will happen. I posted last night and will say it again. Why are so many people aggravated that the OEC is involved? The investigator was in town and heard Caporini spouting off instead of keeping his cool. He brought this on but yet people are getting angry at each other on this blog. The OEC has its rules and guidelines and there's just not anything any of us can do about it. Unless the state changes its ethics laws, it is what it. It appears that they think he may be guilty of wrong doing. The board's legal council also is of the opinion that Caporini (or Sowecke) wasn't allowed to do business while serving as a board member. If you don't like the law, complain to the State of Ohio.

Informed

The problem with the ballot-box theory is there are enough "good old boys" around to keep some people, like Caporini, in office. They think he's a good guy because they've known him for over 50 years. I did not vote for him last time (mainly because of the rude and disrespectful manner that he addresses parents and community members when questioned) and will not vote for him if he runs again when his current term is up.
I hope and pray that none of the ABM trio get in.

Nemesis

I am so tired of every time someone doesn't like the way things go around here, it's the work of some mysterious "good ole boys" conspiracy. "Good ole boys" must be some local dialect translation of "illuminati." Do these "good ole boys" fly around in black helicopters?

Retiree

Having read the blogs the last few day, it is obvious that you will never convince some people the difference between right and wrong. I would guess that it is either "tunnel vision" or they are part of the "good old boys" group.

Wa Tu Lo: You are right on. It was a corrupt system that miss used taxpayers money. Now some of the people that feel they are "model citizens" are wanting to continue the corruption. I will not vote for A.B.M. because like you said, "they have an agenda". I do not want that "sly fox" stealing anymore of the Huron taxpayers money. Vote "yes" for the renewal levy. Some two-faced people in Huron want it to fail.

Nemesis

It's not a question of right or wrong. It's a question of the difference between failure to rigidly observe formalities, the purpose of which is to help prevent wrongdoing, and the actual wrongdoing they are designed to prevent. No one has presented any evidence of malfeasance with district funds, and it's doubtful anyone will. The total the district spent with each business over a decade probably amounts to a few days' revenue for each of them - that's real criminal mastermind stuff there, eh?

Years ago, when I lived in another county, it was time to renew my dog's license, I lost the renewal form, so I went to Pet Supplies Plus and simply purchased a dog license. A few months later I received a nastygram from the county dog warden about failure to renew the license, and how, I would be charged with a crime if I didn't respond immediately. I was in full compliance with the law but they were too stupid or lazy to cross check their own records, preferring to treat people as guilty and prove their innocence. This is pretty much the same thing - someone failed to fill out a form that supposedly proves they are not a thief.

There are good reasons not to vote for Caporini, but this is not one of them. It's up to you as his accuser to prove he's a thief, not up to him to prove he's not.

Informed

No one is saying he's a thief. We are saying he violated the ethics of a public servant.

Retiree

Informed: Thank you.

A dog renewal form compared to ethics violation. You lost me. Caporini had stated that the Fox ordeal "needed to be swept under the rug". You should go back and read what "Wa Tu Lo" said in his/her earlier blogs. There was an investigation into the thief of tools from the school's bus garage. Three of each tools were purchased but only one set stayed at the bus garage. Those tools were paid for by Huron taxpayers money. Some, not all of the tools were returned. Is this criminal? Thank the three board members for bringing the corruption to a head.

Julie R.

If that's all true about the tools, I guess they figured if the tools were put back after they got caught, then it wouldn't be considered theft. So who was the police chief in charge during this alleged 'theft of tools' time period, not to mention the school bus that was sold for a measly $1? (Never mind, I already know. Didn't his last name end in a vowel?)

Princess87

When will this all end?

Retiree

When justice is served.

Julie R.

Or karma. Sometimes that's the sweetest justice of all.

whocares

If ABM gets in their real agenda is going to cost the community even more money. Their mailers have been full of lies and have had misleading information. I would also like to know what business have refused to locate to Huron due to the school situation. Our Chamber of Commerce is being used for someones personal gain.

Informed

They keep trying to use money as a reason to ignore or defend unethical behavior. I am sick of it!

Princess87

Sick of what?? Keep focus. It is about the students of Huron..education! The voice has been heard

Informed

Sick of hearing about what it costs to investigate unethical behavior or to terminate the perpetrator. Doing the right thing often has a price, be it financial or otherwise.
It is about the students...and about the leadership of our schools. And the investigation is about that leadership.

whazup

I believe the right people will be voted in. As a sign on Cleveland Rd reads, Principles matter. ABM is using negativity to sway people where the other four candidates are focused on the positive. I have to believe the voters will see through the mud.

Princess87

I hope you are right.. What is the climate in Huron..Is it split?..I know how I am voting.. I tend to say clear of all the gossip and make an determination on the reputation and the stance the board members take. It is very true people that run for the school board usually have their own agenda.. Everyone who is running does..except for Catri.. I truly think she cares about the education of the students

TaxRaider

I am voting for Mrs. Catri based on her educational and business experience. Most people know she is a teacher in Sandusky, an intervention specialist with a Master's degree in Literacy, but are not aware that prior to teaching she was a licensed insurance agent with many years of business experience. Mrs. Catri has the ability to make decisions based on data not emotions. She understands what our students need to be career and college ready.

Retiree

I have heard many positive things about Ms. Catri. She would be a good fit with Ms.Green and Mr. Slocum. I support Green and Slocum for having the courage to go after Fox and all the corruption. They took a lot of abuse and heat but stood firm. The students, school system and taxpayers was their best interest and they made that perfectly clear at the debates.

Julie R.

I took a lot of heat and abuse, too, from the jokes at the Erie County courthouse when I filed complaints against the attorneys and other dirt-bags that criminally defrauded my mother at the end of her life, but I still stood firm. Remember how the unethical clowns tried to intimidate me? I'm still laughing over that one!

Truth and Justice

A special thanks goes out to Brick Hamland, Clark W. Griswald, 2 Sense, bnjjad, Darwin's Choice, Aeversole, Common_Cents, Sandusky Register and Nemesis. I apologize if I missed any of you rational people. You people are a voice of reason on this blog. It is appalling the garbage, trash and lies these Green, Slocum and Catri supporters put out.

Truth and Justice

Whazup - don't make me laugh about Green, Slocum and Catri running a positive campaign. You know as well as I do that their supporters are stealing signs, threatening businesses, intimidating residents to take down signs, lying in their literature and dropping confidential information in Bank night depository boxes. You can cover up their low-life activities only so long.

I don't ageee with Catri when she said that everybody lies under oath. I do know that Slocum, Green and Sowecke did admit under oath, numerous times, that they violated Board Policy and in some instances the ORC. Erie County Common Pleas Court will determine if the Sunshine Laws were violated as they will conduct a hearing on that matter before making any decision on the appeal. If Sunshine Laws were violated - the Court could toss out everything.

UgtaBkdnMe

Catri never said everyone lies under oath. I think your good friends Caporini, Asher, Wechter and the Buleas told you about the board meeting Tuesday. She answered Asher's stupid response by saying "people say lots of things under oath." They just jumped to their own conclusion. She was referring to the fact that Lally, MrCarthy, Ruf, and Von Thron testified under oath but Asher doesn't give their statements credibility. Did they tell you what her question was? She wanted to know when did Todd Nelson or any rep from Kalahari approach the board about this generous donation that we have lost according to Wechter and the PAC. Did they tell you that the answer was "NO", there was NEVER an offer made to the board? Mr. Bulea sitting in the audience butts into the discussion (like an idiot) and says that Nelson testified under oath that he was planning on making the donation. Again, NO ONE including your wonderful Casherini Twins could say that Nelson ever approached the board about making a donation. Read the testimony Bulea was referencing (starting with line 1925) and you will see how stupid the Buleas and the Casherini Twins response was. The district needed $600,000 - $700,000 for the auditorium. Nelson offered to help with fundraisers. Ends up the tax abatement over 15 years will pay for it.

These three candidates aren't running a campaign together so don't compare them to ABM. The only literature I have seen is the garbage that comes through the mail and if it weren't for lies, the paper would be blank. Also, you can't hold the candidate responsible for stolen signs. According to the Huron PD, it's just a bunch of kids. All of the candidates having missing signs! Check with the PD before spouting off nonsense.

UgtaBkdnMe

Correction, Mr. Nelson's testimony starts at 2225 (Vol. VIII).

2249
I A Well,I believe Fred was estimating between 6 and
2 $700,000 it was going to cost to replace to do that
3 project, and we were trying and figure out what
4 would be the best way to put that project together,
5 you know, so as little outlay of cash as we can out
6 of anyone, but, you know, as we did expansions, I
7 was planning on getting some of our subcontractors
8 to participate again. We would have put cash in.
9 We would have probably put some water park passes
10 in again. We would have gotten very creative as to
II how we did it.

How does "so as little outlay of cash as we can out of anyone" and "have gotten very creative as to how we did it" become Mr. Nelson was going to give the district over $600,000? Looks like Asher, Caporini, and Bulea are called out yet again on their lies. What part of the announcement that board meetings are being recorded do they not understand?

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