Thursday, September 14, 2000

Prosecutors's balloons, discs raise questions

Butler auditor asked to learn who's paying

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County auditor, responding to a citizen's complaint, is asking Prosecutor Dan Gattermeyer to justify a $1,800 bill for balloons and Frisbee-type discs “apparently being distributed from an alleged political campaign booth.”

        Auditor Kay Rogers on Wednesday said she took that action after a citizen called, wanting to know whether taxpayers' dollars paid for items that Mr. Gattermeyer's supporters handed out at last weekend's West Chester Family Fun Fest.

        The balloons and discs bear Mr. Gattermeyer's name, office titles and phone numbers — and no political statements. But, Ms. Rogers, who participated in the Fun Fest, said: “The people handing those things out had "Keep Gattermeyer' T-shirts on. I figured he was handing them out as campaign materials.”

        Mr. Gattermeyer hopes voters will allow him to retain his post, which he assumed after the death of Prosecutor John F. Holcomb in late July.

        Ms. Rogers said she learned that the balloons and discs lacked a disclaimer telling which political organization paid for them — and that Mr. Gattermeyer's office had submitted bills, asking the county to pay for 2,500 “9-inch flyers” (the discs) and 1,000 balloons.

        In a letter to Mr. Gattermeyer on Wednesday, Ms. Rogers said, “Because of the nature of the questions received by this office, I am returning these vouchers to you for further review.”

        Mr. Gattermeyer, who was in the midst of a trial Wednesday, said he was unaware of the situation and couldn't comment. Ms. Rogers said she intended to withhold payment of the bills until Mr. Gattermeyer replies to her letter.

        “I don't want to look like the bad guy,” she said. “But I can't stick my head in the sand. I've got a job to do: to be the watchdog of the county's money. And if a citizen has a question about that, I need to answer it.”

        Ms. Rogers also said the situation points to a need for legislation that would give auditors power to more thoroughly question county officeholders' expenditures.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Gattermeyer's political opponent in the November general election, Robin Piper, said: “If anybody should be adhering to strict standards of appropriateness, it's should be the county prosecutor. I'm surprised that he would have his political people passing out his trinkets, then sub mit a bill to Kay Rogers. I would not do that.”

        Rachel Belz, southwest Ohio director for Ohio Citizen Action, said, “people who are working for or volunteering for a campaign should be very separate from the office this person would be seeking.”

        She said the decision to seek county payment seemed like a bad judgment call.

        “If I had that choice to make, and if I was that candidate, I would have it paid for from my campaign fund,” Ms. Belz said. “I have to wonder: Would that person do that same exact thing if it were a nonelection year?”

       Reporter Steve Kemme contributed to this story.


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