Sunday, July 29, 2001

Indicted city manager still at job

2 push to place him on leave

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Early indications are that City Manager James Patrick will still have a job this week, in spite of being indicted on four felony charges Friday.

        Two longtime critics on City Council say they'll seek to put Mr. Patrick on administrative leave. None of the other five council members, however, has joined the call so far.

        “I don't cast any judgments until I know all the facts,” Councilman Ronald Pandorf said Saturday. “I think he's a very capable individual.”

        Mr. Patrick was indicted by a Warren County grand jury Friday, accused of complicity to theft in office and complicity to unlawful interest in a public contract. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.

        The charges stem from early-retirement buyouts taken by three former employees, who also were indicted Friday.

   Lebanon City Manager James Patrick's indictment while still in office is relatively rare in the Tristate.
   In the past five years, former Columbia Township Administrator James Harmon and former Harveysburg village administrator Kimble Grant each were indicted and convicted of theft after leaving their positions. Both received jail time.
   Three mayors and one councilman have been indicted while in office:
   • Joe Hochbein remained mayor of Norwood after being charged on 14 counts of theft in office and falsification in July 2000. A trial exonerated him of all but a misdemeanor charge of illegal use of a taxpayer identification number.
   • Fairfield Councilman Jon Saylor resigned after he was indicted on 58 counts of voter fraud in May 2000. He received a two-year prison sentence upon pleading guilty.
   • Williamsburg, Ky., Mayor Robert Jones was removed by City Council in 1997 after being indicted on several counts of theft and misconduct. He ultimately pleaded guilty.
   • Harrison Mayor Harry “Ham” Rolfes resigned in 1996 after pleading guilty to a felony hazardous waste violation in connection with his dry-cleaning business. He had held office for 25 years.
        In late 1999, Bill Duning and Debbie Biggs took advantage of an electric department program to retire early from their jobs as city attorney and city auditor, respectively. Council members said they did not know of the buyouts, which cost the city more than $300,000, and asked the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate.

        Mr. Duning and Mrs. Biggs are charged with one count each of theft in office, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, and conflict of interest.

        Former Deputy Electric Department Director Bob Newton, who also took an early retirement buyout, was indicted for complicity along with Mr. Patrick.

        Each of the four faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

        Mr. Patrick, 50, who had been on the job just six months when the buyout scandal broke, acknowledged several weeks into it that he had known about the buyouts. He assumed council members knew, too, he said, because Mr. Duning and Mrs. Biggs answered directly to them.

        “I probably should have mentioned it,” he told the Enquirer in February 2000. “We had a lot of things on our plate.”

        The acknowledgment prompted council members Amy Brewer and James Reinhard to call for Mr. Patrick's resignation, but resident Jane Davenport gathered 80 signatures in support of the city manager.

        Council voted 4-3 to keep Mr. Patrick, and Mrs. Davenport was later appointed to fill a council vacancy.

        The buyouts, however, were only the start of Mr. Patrick's political troubles.

        • In May 2000, he admitted changing the time card of his then-electric director to reflect more hours than were actually worked. City Attorney Mark Yurick wrote an opinion that Mr. Patrick's action could be a felony, but council voted 5-2 not to fire him.

        • Also in May, he said he knew nothing about $35,860 in engineering work that had been completed without council approval since September 1999. However, an official with GPD Associates of Akron, which did the work, said Mr. Patrick attended three meetings on the project's progress.

        • He failed to tell council in a December 2000 work session that he already had rented an electric generator that council members said they did not want rented. The next day he ordered electric department employees to hook it up.

        That same month, council gave Mr. Patrick a $10,000 raise, bringing his salary to $80,000.

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