WILMINGTON — A Washington Township trustee was found guilty Thursday of having voted to approve his son’s excavation company doing paid work for the township.
Randy Hibbs, 60, of Cuba in Clinton County, pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge that he performed an action that is prohibited for public officials in their official capacity.
Special Prosecutor Jess C. Weade told sitting Judge William B. McCracken he thinks the situation is probably a matter of the township trustee not necessarily knowing what he can and cannot do.
“You can’t enter into contracts with your children,” added Weade.
The sentencing hearing was conducted immediately after the plea hearing in which McCracken found Hibbs guilty of the first-degree misdemeanor offense.
Hibbs’ sentence is to be monitored on non-reporting community control for one year during which he is required to stay of good behavior and have no violations of law. He also received a suspended 180-day jail term.
The prohibited activity occurred between March 7, 2011 and July 7, 2014.
After the hearings on Thursday, Weade said in each instance that Travis Hibbs Excavating was hired to perform work for the township, all three township trustees voted in favor.
The two other trustees never expressed reservations about the matter directly to Randy Hibbs, though they had inner reservations or may have expressed reservations between themselves, according to Weade.
Though Randy Hibbs was not the sole voter or sole decider, “what he should have done was abstain from those votes,” Weade said.
Randy Hibbs also signed the checks paying for the work performed by his son’s company, something he also should have abstained from, added the prosecutor.
Those checks always had three trustees’ signatures on them, Weade said.
A state audit of Washington Township found the violations, said an Ohio Ethics Commission representative who was in the Clinton County Common Pleas Courtroom for the Thursday hearings.
Weade, who is the prosecuting attorney for Fayette County, said public officials definitely need to recognize when there is a potential conflict of interest involving a member of their immediate family, and to withdraw or abstain from that voting.
“Clinton County is a small community. Fayette County is a small community. You’re going to run into potential conflicts like that,” he said.
All instances of Washington Township work being awarded to Travis Hibbs Excavating were below the competitive bidding threshold price that requires the job be made part of an advertised bidding process open to any contractor, said Weade.
In court before the judge Weade said, “Upon review of the evidence, the work was always performed, and the amounts paid appeared to be appropriate for the work that was completed, so there’s no money owed anyone, no restitution associated with this case. The company performed the work and by most accounts that I found did a fine job.”
Defense attorney Scott Evans said in court there had been “no ill intention here.”
When asked by the judge if he wished to make a comment, Hibbs declined.
Neither the conviction nor the sentence disqualifies Hibbs from continuing to serve as a township trustee.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.