Huber Heights mayor says councilman violated ethics laws

Baker Tilly representative reports concerns over potential charter violation

Huber Heights Mayor Jeff Gore said he believes Councilman Ed Lyons violated Ohio Ethics Law by breeching executive session privilege.

According to Gore, information from a discussion regarding the city manager search process between council members in an executive session on May 3 was subsequently shared with candidate Gerald Smith.

In a set of emails, obtained by Dayton Daily News through a public records request, Smith emailed Patty Heminover of Baker Tilly, who serves as the liaison between the city and city manager candidates, stating he had been informed some members of council had concerns regarding his employment history, specifically his brief stints in some of his previous positions.

“Councilmember Ed Lyons reached out to me last night regarding concerns by the council members regarding some of my tenures in several past communities,” Smith said in the May 6 email to Heminover. “He requested that I send you an email outlining my rationale.”

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Gore said these concerns were discussed confidentially on May 3 and that he was surprised to receive the email from Smith three days later, in which he provided specific reasons for these short-term employments.

“It was kind of odd to me that we expressed these concerns in executive session on Tuesday and then on Friday, we all get an email from (Smith) responding to all the concerns we had,” Gore said.

Gore said sharing any information discussed during executive session undermines the significance of discretion within these meetings.

“We all have a belief that what we’re saying is confidential,” he said, adding that the disclosure could be considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act. “I’m very disappointed that Mr. Lyons violated executive session and went behind the backs of council to speak to a candidate, which in turn may have tainted the entire process of hiring a city manager.”

Lyons denied the accusations of breeching executive session privilege and said discussions of these concerns occurred outside of a private session.

“It’s not covered by executive session privilege unless it happens in executive session,” Lyons said Wednesday.

Gore said he has not reported the incident to the Ohio Ethics Commission at this time.

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In an email regarding a separate issue, Heminover said council member contact with a candidate without the knowledge of Baker Tilly representatives could be considered “unethical.”

Heminover was specifically referring to additional information she received from Smith last month in which he claimed Lyons had contacted him to offer a “deal to get him hired,” according to an email addressed to Clerk of Council Tony Rodgers.

“Councilmember Lyons said (to Smith), ‘I think I have the votes to get you hired as the city manager if you hire John Russell (as assistant city manager),’” Heminover said in the email examined by the Dayton Daily News.

President of the Dayton NAACP Derrick Foward had previously suggested this hiring move as a “compromise” to end the pained, ongoing search process during informal discussions with some council members. John Russell was also a top finalist candidate for the city manager position. A resolution related to his appointment as city manager failed to pass in May by a vote of 4-3.

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Gore, during a July meeting, stated hiring a city manager with the stipulation that they then hire a specific assistant would violate the city’s charter, which states city managers have full discretion over the filling of these roles. The city’s charter allows for the hiring of two assistant city managers.

“For a council member to contact a candidate and make a deal without (Baker Tilly’s) knowledge is an unethical move and may be in violation of (the city’s) charter,” Heminover said in the email. “We at Baker Tilly do not endorse council members privately negotiating deals with a candidate.”

Lyons said while he did speak with Smith about this “compromise” as something to consider, he did not guarantee Smith would be hired nor that he would be forced to employ Russell as an assistant manager if he were.

“I was running a potential scenario by him to see what he thought,” Lyons said. “I was very careful with Mr. Smith and I said according to our charter, council can only hire the city manager and it’s up to the city manager to hire everybody under him. I made it clear to Mr. Smith that we would have no say in that and it would be his sole discretion.”

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Council voted late last month to temporarily pause its search for a new city manager for a period of up to six months. The pause came after a July 12 meeting, during which council voted on separate resolutions to appoint Smith, Richard Dzik and Russell to the position, all of which failed 4-3.

The recommendation to halt the process was suggested by Councilman Mark Campbell during a July 19 work session. Campbell cited several reasons, including a need for “stability,” and for council to prove it can conduct itself appropriately. This comes after a months-long search process, which has included accusations of obstruction, bias, and political ploys amongst members of council.

According to Rodgers, the search process could be restarted at any time prior to the six month deadline with a majority vote to do so. Additionally, Rodgers confirmed that the city’s contract with Baker Tilly would allow for a pause of up to 12 months before restarting the search.

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