Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Trustee checked for conflict

Youth baseball group got contract

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD TWP. — An investigator from the Ohio Ethics Commission is reviewing township records to determine whether a trustee had a conflict of interest involving his former employer.

        A commission investigator paid Township Administrator Ron Randolph a visit last week to obtain copies of the township's agreement with a youth baseball association to maintain ball fields at Millikin Road Park and the 2001 resolution that trustees passed approving the contract.

        The investigator told Mr. Randolph he was gathering facts after recent Cincinnati Enquirer articles about Trustee Joe McAbee's employment with the youth sports group, according to Mr. Randolph.

        “He didn't stay and ask any questions. He was in and out in about three minutes,” Mr. Randolph said.

        Citing confidentiality laws, Paul Nick, the commission's chief investigative attorney, said he could not confirm or deny an investigation had been launched.

        “It is not necessarily unusual for us to observe what is in the public record,” Mr. Nick said.

        In June, Mr. McAbee abstained from a township vote to solicit construction bids for a new restroom/concession/maintenance building at the park, after a reporter asked about a possible conflict of interest.

        The concession stands at the building would serve as chief fundraiser for the Fairfield Youth Baseball Association, for whom Mr. McAbee has worked as a paid groundskeeper since 2001.

        That is the same year the township entered into an agreement with the FYBA to maintain the ball fields at the park.

        Mr. McAbee has said the FYBA paid him $10 an hour — $6,000 to $8,000 each year — to maintain the fields. He has been an FYBA volunteer for 12 years and said he only took the job because no one else stepped forward.

        Though Mr. McAbee abstained from voting on the building in June, he voted May 28 for the township to pay architects $3,500 for detailed drawings, services and specifications for the building, township records show.

        Jennifer Hardin, the chief advisory attorney with the Ohio Ethics Commission, has said state law prohibits public officials with outside employment from taking any official action, including voting and deliberating, on matters that have “definite” and “direct” impact on his or her employer.

        Mr. McAbee declined to comment this week on the Ohio Ethics Commission review, other than to say he was unaware of it.

        He did note, however, that he quit working for the FYBA July 15, when the season ended for the year and said he believes volunteers now are maintaining the fields.

        The new building for the park has been in the works for a long time and is even shown on the township's 1998 park master plan.

        But it has not come up for vote again before the trustees; Mr. McAbee is the deciding vote on the building. The other two trustees are split.

        “I think it is a dead issue,” Mr. Randolph said Tuesday of the building.

        The township already built restrooms in 1998 for $65,000 and a concession stand was built and paid for in 2001 by the sports association.

        But Mr. McAbee and the FYBA president have said a permanent, larger concession stand and bathrooms closer to playing fields are needed.


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