A state agency is being asked to determine whether the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools superintendent and the political action committee formed to campaign for the district’s spring levy violated Ohio elections laws.
The Ohio Elections Commission recently conducted a preliminary hearing with the complainant, John Stafford, Citizens for Bellbrook Schools, and attorneys representing Doug Cozad in his capacity as the school district’s superintendent.
The complaint alleges Cozad acted as the “de facto campaign manager” for Citizens for Bellbrook Schools, and the PAC benefited from public resources provided by the school district but failed to disclose that as in-kind contributions in their campaign finances on file with the local elections board.
The commission decided a full evidentiary hearing was necessary before deciding whether a violation occurred, according to Phillip Richter, OEC executive director.
Richter said “it’s a little out of the ordinary” for the commission to hold a full hearing on complaints such as these.
“The commission felt it was impossible to decide quickly as the issues are sufficiently complicated and hard to address with all the facts in the case,” Richter said.
Multiple complaints were filed against Stafford with the OEC earlier this year and one against Facebook relevant to the page Stafford administers.
Stafford was found in violation of Ohio law by not filing the proper paperwork declaring finances for his political campaign, according to OEC’s records. Despite the violation, the commission decided not to fine Stafford and dismissed the other complaints against him. Records show the commission also dismissed the case involving Facebook.
Tabitha Justice, the attorney representing Cozad as the school district’s superintendent, deferred to Cozad for a comment on this story.
In a statement issued to the Dayton Daily News, Cozad said they are looking forward to refuting the allegations and “we anticipate that the evidence will clearly demonstrate that the allegations are completely without merit.”
“Every decision we make we do so with the well-being, education and future of our community’s children in mind,” Cozad’s statement reads. “We completely understand the decision of the commission, given that the members stated that they had never received a complaint such as this before and felt that they wanted to hear all of the evidence before making a decision.”
Stafford’s attorney Derek Clinger also issued a statement, saying, “The complaint is about transparency in local elections.”
Clinger said his client can now issue subpoenas and request discovery in a search for potential evidence the district’s resources were used for the PAC’s benefit.
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