Genoa Township Trustee Frank Dantonio faced questions and comments about his recent investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission during the Genoa Township Board of Trustees meeting May 2.
The commission received an allegation in May 2017 “that Dantonio solicited Township personnel for donations to and purchases from his son’s Kickstarter campaign. It was alleged that Dantonio sent an email to Township personnel using their Township email addresses.”
In a settlement agreement signed March 19, “Dantonio acknowledges that he violated the conflict of interest provisions … (and) is willing to accept a written reprimand from the Commission.”
During the May 2 trustees meeting, Genoa Police Chief Stephen Gammill said he reported the allegation to the Ethics Commission.
“I reported this because it is my job as police chief to take action when I am aware a crime is being committed,” Gammill said. “I would do exactly the same if anyone else was involved.”
Gammill said of Dantonio’s settlement, “This means that he essentially (pleaded) guilty to a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to six months in jail. It is one step below a felony, and is a serious violation of the law and a breach of public trust.”
Gammill added he was bringing the matter to the trustees’ attention because he felt that Dantonio had retaliated against him and the force by voting against pay raises and increased benefits. He wanted Dantonio to recuse himself in certain personnel decisions due to possible retribution.
“I respectfully request you consider appropriate action against Trustee Dantonio for the township personnel policy he has violated,” Gammill said. “Trustee Dantonio has always preached about transparency, but I doubt he has told anybody he has been under an ethics investigation for two years, and of the finding that he broke the law, although he signed a settlement acknowledging guilt over a month ago. I know if I or any employee had done what he did, we would definitely face serious discipline and most likely be fired, and I am sure Trustee Dantonio would be leading that effort.”
Dantonio called Gammill’s statement “rambling,” “false,” and he “failed to say certain facts.”
“A formal written complaint was filed against me,” Dantonio said. “I believe that was politically motivated and intentionally timed.” Dantonio was elected for a term that started Jan. 1, 2016 and ends Dec. 31, 2019.
Dantonio said his solicitation was done “as a proud father, and using my own personal computer I sent more than 450 emails,” including to four Genoa employees, which was “unintentional and accidental.” In addition, Dantonio said neither he or his son received any money from those employees.
In response to Gammill, Dantonio said, “I voted against the pay raises because I didn’t think they were warranted. I believed they were excessive.”
Dantonio added, “To avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigation, I voluntarily signed a settlement agreement.”
Trustee Chair Karl Gebhardt wondered if anybody who was sent emails did business with the township, and Dantonio said not to his knowledge.
Gebhardt asked what the employee policy would be for what Dantonio did, but was told by staff that the policies were written for nonelected personnel.
“Obviously, we can’t fire Frank, he’s an elected trustee,” Gebhardt said. “I think that we not overreact at this point, but we do take it as a serious issue. Obviously, if it was an employee, we would be taking serious action. I think we are best to talk to legal counsel and get advice from them and go forward.”
Trustee Connie Goodman said, “My concern is even if this is an honest error, which is what Trustee Dantonio has said it is, I’m surprised that the other trustees weren’t apprised of this, so we would be aware of what was going on and be prepared if there was any concerns or questions. This is honestly the first I’ve heard.”
Gebhardt said, “Frank, I have to ask the question based on some of the fun things I’ve been through recently, and over the past several years, why didn’t you come forward and say this was going on?”
“I elected not to,” Dantonio said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jim Carter, a frequent critic of Gebhardt and Goodman, defended Dantonio.
“We’re going after this like it’s a horrible ethics violation,” Carter said. “Oh my God, Mr. Dantonio sent four people an email asking them to buy something. It sounds inadvertent. This is a witch hunt, ridiculous.”
In response to a question from Gebhardt, Carter said he has never had a business relationship with Dantonio.
The final public comment went to Belinda Reed, a 20-year resident of the township, who said she liked Genoa’s slogan, “A nice place to live.”
“It is a nice place to live, except in this room, which increasingly is breaking my heart,” Reed said. “The vitriol, this is awful. Shame on a lot of us in this room. You guys are going to have to answer some hard questions about where we go from here.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.