Investigation: 5 local leaders violated ethics laws

A Dayton Daily News investigation uncovered five local government officials from the Miami Valley who violated ethics laws last year.

They were among 26 public officials across Ohio reprimanded for violating state ethics law last year. The Dayton Daily News obtained the settlements from the Ohio Ethics Commission using public records laws, revealing several local cases for the first time.

RELATED: From 2018 - More public officials dinged for ethics violations

RELATED: From 2017 - 14 public officials reprimanded by the Ohio Ethics Commission

The settlement agreements are public records but there’s often no public announcement of them. For example New Paris Mayor Rick Van Winkle was forced to step down from his position at the Preble County village last year and agreed to never seek public office again after an ethics investigation found he abused his position to benefit his private business for a third time.

But not even Van Winkle’s replacement, current Mayor Kathy Smallwood, knew why he left office in March 2018.

“He never gave any reason,” she said.

Other area public officials found last year to have violated Ohio ethics law were a Springboro school board member, a Greater Dayton RTA executive, a Dayton charter school superintendent and a township trustee in Darke County.

Van Winkle was the only one forced out of office. He and one of the other officials had to repay money.

The others received reprimands from the ethics commission.

New Paris mayor removed

Van Winkle has been sanctioned three times for ethics violations — once by the ethics commission in 2014, later by a special prosecutor for a different issue in 2014, and most recently by the prosecutor’s office again last year. The first two times he received a public reprimand and ethics training.

The most recent settlement says: “It was alleged, and confirmed by the investigation, that Van Winkle had village employees order two ‘No Commercial Parking’ signs at a cost of $50. Van Winkle directed a village employee to erect the signs in front of his business, without village council approval, to stop a neighboring business owner from parking its vans in front of Van Winkle’s business.”

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Van Winkle agreed to resign, never again hold “any public office, employment or position of trust in this state,” and pay back $50 “in lieu of prosecution,” according to the settlement with the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office signed February 2018.

Ethics commission officials said the penalty was in response to his repeated violations of ethics laws.

Neither Van Winkle nor his attorney returned calls for comment from the Dayton Daily News.

Van Winkle’s first ethics violation occurred when he was a village planning commission member, prior to becoming mayor in 2013. A settlement agreement says he voted against a zoning change that would have allowed a competitor to build storage units similar to those owned by Van Winkle.

The ethics commission in March 2014 settled the issue with a “public reprimand” and an agreement from Van Winkle to abstain from matters involving his business.

A month later in April 2014, Van Winkle — then mayor — directed a village employee to deliver several hundred pounds of village-owned asphalt mix to his business, according to the findings of a special prosecutor.

Van Winkle entered into another settlement agreement in September 2014, accepting another public reprimand and agreeing to 4.5 hours of ethics training.

Charter school leader hired daughter

The other area official who paid money to settle an ethics violation was Crystal Gilbert-Mosley, superintendent of City Day Community School.

In an October settlement agreement, Gilbert-Mosley admitted that she violated ethics laws by authorizing employment contracts with her daughter and mother. She accepted a public reprimand, agreed to pay back the $713 her daughter earned as a substitute teacher, and will take part in ethics training.

In an interview this week, Gilbert-Mosley said her mother was never actually hired by the school. The charter school’s board approved everything she did, Gilbert-Mosley said, until she started having disagreements with the former board chairman.

“When I was hired, the board approved my request,” she said. “I didn’t intentionally do anything wrong.”

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The ethics settlement says Gilbert-Mosley was hired as superintendent of City Day in July 2017. It says the board asked her “what she brings to the table” when she was being interviewed, and she responded she wanted to bring on staff her mother and daughter, who were teachers.

When she was hired, Gilbert-Mosley approved employing both of them as subs, although her mother never worked there, the settlement agreement says. Gilbert-Mosley in October 2017 then recommended hiring her daughter as a fourth grade teacher for $39,000 a year, which was $5,000 more than the previous teacher.

The school board raised nepotism issues, the agreement says, but approved the hiring at the same rate as the former teacher and with the understanding that the principal would supervise her daughter. The offer was rescinded in November 2017 based on advice from the board’s attorney.

“At their December 16, 2017, meeting, the board noted that they failed to see the ethics violation and agreed to participate in ethics training with their attorney,” the settlement says.

Gilbert-Mosley said she is not related to anyone currently working at the school and continues to serve as superintendent.

RTA executive rented house to employee

The chief operations officer at the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority accepted a reprimand from the Ohio Ethics Commission in January 2018 for renting a home to a subordinate at the RTA.

According to the settlement agreement, James Napier in 2014 began renting out a home that he owns in Moraine to Barbara Brookshire, RTA’s transportation manager of revenue service operations. While Brookshire was Napier’s tenant, he approved her annual raise and restructured leadership roles at the agency to put her in her current position, according to the agreement. The position change didn’t come with a raise.

The settlement agreement says RTA CEO Mark Donaghy knew about the rental relationship. He declined to answer any questions about the ethics case submitted from the Dayton Daily News.

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Donaghy told the ethics commission “that Brookshire was an excellent employee and there is no evidence that Napier gave her preferential treatment,” according to the settlement agreement.

Napier also didn’t list the rental relationship on conflict of interest forms he had to fill out annually since 2013, which required him to disclose his business interests, according to copies of those forms obtained by the Dayton Daily News. Donaghy wouldn’t say why he didn’t require the rental agreement to be disclosed.

Napier retired in 2017, and was paid $117,744 that year, according to the Dayton Daily News’ searchable database of public employee pay. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Twp. trustee had conflict 

A Butler Twp. trustee accepted a reprimand from the ethics commission for having an interest in the township’s zoning inspection contract.

Curtis Yount has been township trustee since 2016 and had employed as the Darke County zoning inspector since 2005, according to the settlement agreement Yount signed in January 2018. He is currently Darke County’s planning and zoning director.

The township had a contract since 2005 with the county that paid $300 a quarter for the county to conduct zoning inspections for the township, work that fell to Yount. The investigation found that Yount, as a township trustee, signed at least one check to the county for zoning inspections.

A mandamus action was filed in the Ohio Supreme Court against the township trustees about the deal in April 2017. The township then terminated the contract in June 2017 on the advice of the Darke County Prosecutor’s Office. The Supreme Court dismissed the case three months later.

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Township Fiscal Officer Melissa Sullenbarger said the township hasn’t paid anyone for zoning inspections since the contract was cancelled.

“If we need advice, we seek it. But we don’t have a zoning inspector at this point,” she said, explaining that the advice commonly comes from Yount. “Nobody gets paid for it out of any type of zoning fund.”

Yount stopped charging for the work after the ethics settlement because he handles most of the zoning in the county anyway, he told the Dayton Daily News, and Butler Twp. only has a couple zoning permits a year.

“Just to keep everything easy for everybody to get along with, and ease of access, I volunteered my services,” he said.

Springboro schools leader reprimanded

Springboro School Board Member David Stuckey was reprimanded by the Ohio Ethics Commission in August 2018 for voting on matters affecting the district’s athletic department while serving as a volunteer football coach.

Stuckey was a teacher and coach in the district before he retired in 2013. He then joined the school board in 2014. In 2016, he agreed to become head coach of the freshman football team, an unpaid position. Stuckey spoke to district administration, who got the go-ahead from the district’s attorneys for him to serve in both roles, the settlement agreement says.

But the ethics commission found the relationship violated ethics laws. The commission noted, however, that Stuckey stopped voting on athletic department matters in March 2017 and all sports-related matters he voted on prior to that passed 5-0, so none hinged on his vote. He also received no compensation as coach.

Stuckey didn’t return messages from the Dayton Daily News seeking comment.

District spokesman Scott Marshall said the district self-reported the issue to the ethics commission and Stuckey remains the school board president with support from his fellow board members.

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