By Scott Halasz
XENIA — The fate of two council men will not be known until next week.
John Caupp and Dale Louderback have been accused by council of violating the city charter when they announced they planned to invest in an estimated $7 million family entertainment center. They also announced they had accepted employment opportunities with the developer.
A two-day inquiry, which was approved by council in July, began in a special council session Wednesday and was scheduled to end Thursday. It did not finish by the agreed-upon 10 p.m. cutoff time Thursday and because the published agenda only had two days set aside for the inquiry, the city must schedule a third and possibly fourth day. It must give 24 hours notice of those future meetings to comply with Ohio Sunshine Laws.
Once the proceedings finish, council could vote to determine if the city charter was violated. The pair could be removed from council. The Ohio Ethics Commission is also investigating according comments made by legal counsel for both sides during the proceedings.
Day two of testimony featured cross-examination of Xenia Council President Mike Engle by Donald Brey, legal counsel for Caupp and Louderback.
Brey questioned Engle about discussions he may have had with other council members and if he had already determined Caupp and Louderback were guilty.
“I’ve determined that I had concerns,” Engle said.
Brey also questioned that if something happens to a candidate’s reputation could that hurt them in the polls. Caupp and Louderback are up for re-election in November, as is Engle, who did not want to speculate on what a voter may think.
“I’m not a sociologist,” Engle said, adding he was not inclined to make such an assumption.
Brey also asked Engle if he consulted with any members of council prior to spending money on outside legal counsel. Engle said he felt he acted within his authority as council president.
The bulk of Engle’s remaining testimony had to do with the charter and Ohio Revised Code violations alleged to have been committed by Caupp and Louderback.
Brey tried to establish a timeline for events and that after a pair of feasibility studies were approved 7-0 by council that no other contracts were signed and/or executed by the city after Caupp and Louderback made their potential conflict known.
“If there isn’t any contract … you can’t have an interest,” Brey said.
Engle replied that “interest” spans more than just a contract.
“Are you seriously telling me that you can have an interest in a contract … when there isn’t any contract?” Brey asked.
When asked, Engle did confirm that he knew of no profit Caupp and Louderback made from the feasibility study contracts.
Brey referenced a letter from Engle which asked Caupp and Louderback not to attend any executive sessions regarding the family entertainment center. Brey asked if there was anywhere in the city charter or the ORC that precludes councilmembers from attending such sessions.
Engle said that the Ohio Ethics Commission has ruled that complete recusal is necessary.
Brey questioned if Caupp and Louderback had a right to rely on the opinion of Law Director Ron Lewis, who allegedly gave the pair the green light to invest. Engle said that legal opinions should be taken into consideration but its ultimately up to the individual to judge for his or herself.
Brey also asked if it was fair to vote the pair off council just for showing to an executive session and disclosing a conflict. Engle said whether its fair or not, it’s what the charter says.
Council Vice-President Josh Long began his testimony, answering many of same questions Engle did on Wednesday. Long said he was “upset”when the pair disclosed their potential conflict because he feared it would put the project in jeopardy.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.