A complaint lodged against Delaware City Councilman Cory Hoffman is being sent to the Ohio Ethics Commission for further review and investigation following a vote by City Council during Monday’s meeting to proceed as such.
During the meeting, council listened as Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski presented the details of a complaint filed with the police department by development firm D.R. Horton on March 16.
Exhibits presented by Pijanowski included an initial email sent by Hoffman to D.R. Horton accusing the company of partaking in “unscrupulous” employment practices, particularly against residents of Delaware and, as Hoffman described in the email, “the termination of the top salesperson” at the company.
Pijanowski later revealed the salesperson referenced in the email to be Hoffman’s ex-wife, Megan, and Hoffman confirmed he was speaking about his ex-wife later in the discussion.
In the email, Hoffman appeared to leverage his position as a council member by stating it is a “privilege to build in the city of Delaware” and assuring D.R. Horton “there is no shortage of builders desiring to invest in Delaware.” Later in the email, Hoffman questioned why “we” should allow such a company to build in Delaware.
Currently, D.R. Horton is working with the city to construct the Park View subdivision located just west of Troy Road and north of the Buehler Drive terminus.
Follow-up voicemails Hoffman left for representatives at D.R. Horton the day following the email were also played during the meeting. In the first voicemail, Hoffman can be heard again questioning “why should we, as the city, continue to allow this development to go on” given his personal concerns with the company’s treatment of its employees.
Hoffman proceeded to leave two more voicemails raising similar questions and requesting a response before a final voicemail featured him apologizing for his actions and “any consternation I may have caused.”
Following the presentation, Pijanowski said no criminal investigation of the complaint has been conducted by the Delaware Police Department at this time due to the question of whether or not it would be more appropriate for an outside agency to conduct the investigation. He did, however, later state that there is “a good reason to conduct an investigation.”
Echoing Pijanowski’s concern, City Attorney Natalia Harris recommended that any criminal investigation be done separately from the Delaware Police Department.
Ultimately, council voted 6-0 to refer the complaint to the Ohio Ethics Commission for investigation before deciding how to proceed with disciplinary action, if any. Hoffman stated during the meeting that he had already been in contact with the commission to make them aware of what was to come.
Speaking with The Gazette on Tuesday, Hoffman suggested that the act of reaching out to D.R. Horton with his concerns isn’t unlike what might take place in other dealings with those coming before council.
“This is something that sometimes you talk to people who come to do business, maybe you talk about it one-on-one with these people and say, ‘Hey, I have a problem with this,’” he said.
However, Hoffman expressed remorse for the tone with which he approached the D.R. Horton representatives.
“The reality is that the correspondence that I introduced myself to them with was unnecessarily and wrongfully combative, and it just got things off to a bad start. It poisoned the well,” Hoffman said.
Asked what his intentions were when he made the decision to confront D.R. Horton, Hoffman said only, “Honestly, it was just an expression of being upset in a time of extreme emotional distress that I probably wasn’t thinking anything rationally beyond that day.”
Prior to the public discussion of the complaint, council first entered into an executive session meant to discuss the details of the complaint privately. Councilwoman Lisa Keller refused to partake in the executive session, however, claiming the private forum was not appropriate for a matter such as a complaint against an elected official.
“I feel that whatever the details are, we should have learned about them here in the open session and not in the executive session,” Keller said during the public discussion. “And I feel like the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) is pretty clear on what topics can and cannot be discussed in executive session.”
Specifically, Keller pointed to the change of wording in Section 121.22 of the ORC that differentiates between public and elected officials, stating her belief that all of the discussion regarding the complaint should take place in public rather than just the portion regarding the council’s actions on the matter.
Addressing Keller’s comments, Harris said the chapter does not define what constitutes an elected official, but other provisions in the ORC contain definitions of a public official that include elected officials within the definition. With the understanding of that definition, Harris said the ORC states that only the discussion of the discipline itself is prohibited from being held privately.
Harris noted there was no communication among any of the present council members during the executive session, and that requesting the details to be presented publicly was within council’s rights. Keller said she wasn’t in a position to discuss “what happens next” without any details or supporting information regarding the complaint.
Because she was not present during the executive session to hear the details of the complaint, and in order to bring her up to speed on the situation, Keller requested that the details of the complaint be presented during the public discussion.
Keller went on to say, “My primary reason for believing (the discussion) belongs here and not in executive session is there are very narrow reasons why council members are the bosses of each other in terms of the charter … It’s a huge bar for us to take action against a council member. But each council member is answerable to the public.
“And so, if the public doesn’t have the option of being able to weigh in here, I feel like having half the conversation in public and half of it in private feels like the public won’t know the first half of the conversation, and I’m not sure how we justify as council members any decision that we make without having it all out in the open.”
Before council voted to refer the complaint to the commission, Harris was asked how long an investigation by the commission might take to reach a decision. Harris said that several factors can influence the time frame for a response, including what else the commission has going on at the moment and whether or not they have to request additional information for the investigation, and no estimate was provided to her.
A city spokesperson confirmed with The Gazette that the investigation request was to be submitted to the commission by the end of the workday on Tuesday.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.