WSU trustee chair voted to hire his son

University calls it ‘an oversight.’

7 Ohio public officials who recently were in trouble for hiring family members:

Catawba Village Council Member Matthew Warner was publicly reprimanded and agreed to pay $1,200 in October after an ethics commission investigation found he improperly voted for his wife to be hired as village tax administrator in 2013.

Putnam County Engineer Terrence Recker in April agreed to resign from office and was publicly reprimanded after an investigation found he hired and gave promotions and pay raises to his sons.

Madison Twp. Fire Chief John Kent Hall was publicly reprimanded last year and suspended for two days after an investigation found he participated in promoting his wife, an EMS technician with the department.

Trumbull County Sheriff's Office chief deputy Donald Guarino was forced to retire last year after an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation found he "participated extensively in numerous employment matters involving his son."

Williams County Prosecutor Kirk Yosick in August 2014 was publicly reprimanded and agreed to pay back the $2,805 he paid his son from the office Furtherance of Justice Fund to set up a computer system and design a web page for the office.

Butler County Commissioner Greg Jolivette in 2011 accepted a public reprimand and agreed to repay the county $6,629 in pay he voted on when his son and daughter were hired as seasonal employees in 2004 and 2005.

Clermont County Commissioner Mary Walker in 2008 resigned from the county commission after an investigation found she steered work to a company owned by her son.

Wright State University Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Bridges says he didn’t realize his son was among the employees he voted to authorize hiring at the May 1 meeting where he was elected to lead the board.

“If there was an oversight in the fact that was buried in the minutes and I missed it, then we will look at that,” he said when a reporter from this newspaper asked him about it last week. “I would never misuse any authority I had to have any impact on that whatsoever.”

Bridges said Tuesday that he self-reported the issue to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

State law prohibits public officials from hiring family members. Ethics officials say it's a felony crime if it's a "knowing violation."

“It was an oversight,” said WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess.

David Bridges was hired as an engineer at the Wright State Research Institute in March. His hiring was approved by the board on May 1 along with more than six pages of administrative appointments, changes, retirements and terminations.

The vote to approve the hirings was 9-0.

“It should have been 8-0 with me abstaining,” Bridges said Tuesday. “It was an oversight on my part.”

David Bridges' bio on the WSRI website says he is an Air Force veteran who worked for the National Security Agency before coming to Wright State. Before that he worked for his father's Fairborn-based defense company, Peerless Technologies.

He holds a master’s degree in information systems from Wright State.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed Michael Bridges to a nine-year term on Wright State board in 2012. He was elected chairman by his fellow board members in May.

Violating state nepotism laws is a fourth-degree felony, according to Ohio Ethics Commission Director Paul Nick.

“The law prohibits public officials from authorizing or using their authority for approving a contract in which a family member has an interest, including an employment contract,” Nick said. “In order to be a violation of law … you would have to prove it was a knowing violation.”

Numerous public officials across Ohio have run afoul of these rules in recent years. Some have lost their jobs or paid fines. Most recently, a council member from the village of Catawba, in Clark County, was publicly reprimanded and agreed to pay a fine in October for voting for his wife to be hired as a village administrator in 2013.

Putnam County’s engineer resigned from office in April after the ethics commission found he gave promotions and pay raises to his son.

Wright State trustees receive ethics training every year. This includes a session last month that touched on nepotism and unlawful interest in public contracts. Trainers suggested that board members not only recuse themselves from voting on such matters, but physically leave the room if the hint of a conflict exists.

“The goal here for me is to stay absolutely in the right with the ethics,” Michael Bridges said at that meeting.

Bridges said last week that his son is qualified for the job and he played no role in his son being hired, other than accidentally voting to approve the hire after it happened.

“I had nothing to do with his hiring situation,” he said.

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