Resident alleges ethics violations by council

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 28, 2000

Ironton City Council enforced the City Charter when chairman Jim Tordiff refused to allow an inquiry to take place on the council floor during Thursday’s regular meeting.

Friday, April 28, 2000

Ironton City Council enforced the City Charter when chairman Jim Tordiff refused to allow an inquiry to take place on the council floor during Thursday’s regular meeting.

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Ironton resident James Ridgeway, a frequent participant in the audience participation segment of council meetings, was asked repeatedly to either bring other business to the floor or to return to his seat after questions concerning the job and residence of council member Joe Black were answered.

Ridgeway alleged ethics and charter violations by Black, who is employed in the special projects department of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization. The CAO is contracted by the city for administering grant monies, which, according to Ridgeway, is reportable to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Black, Tordiff and other council members explained that Black’s salary comes directly through the county - not from operating funds of the CAO - and that his legal residence is in Susan Court in Ironton.

When these explanations were given and Ridgeway continued to interrupt Tordiff and other council members in an attempt to repeat the allegations, Tordiff quoted the City Charter, saying that the issue had shifted to one of personalities and that an inquiry would not be allowed.

"I feel very strongly about this. These questions have been answered," Tordiff said. "If a resident thinks something illegal is going on then he or she has every right to bring those concerns before council. But I would think the proper channels should be followed."

Those channels, according to Tordiff, would be approaching the person in question first to ask for a reasonable explanation prior to bringing it up in a public forum.

Ridgeway already had approached Black’s landlord and brought voting records with him to the meeting, saying Black illegally voted on Community Development Block Grant issues – grants administered by the CAO.

But, a legal opinion previously was sought by Black on both the matters of voting and of his residence.

"I applaud Joe (Black) for bringing these issues to me and to the city solicitors so that they could be checked into," Tordiff said. "The legal opinion returned is that there is nothing illegal or against charter going on. If (Ridgeway) believes otherwise, (he) is welcome to take it to the Ethics Commission."

Ridgeway said he received a packet from the Ethics Commission prior to bringing his concerns to council.

Black, who married a South Point resident this winter, said he does divide his time between the two residences but that his legal residence is in Ironton. Both he and his wife are renting under leases, with Black in the fifth month of his one-year lease in Ironton.

For voting purposes, Black said the city attorneys investigated the issues at his own request and returned an opinion that, because his salary is not paid by the CAO – the funding for his salary and benefits come from the county – he does not stand to gain personally or professionally from the results of any CAO grant issues he votes upon. Therefore, his voting is allowed, according to the City Charter.

"In relation to allegations that I violated ethics laws when I voted on an ordinance involving the CDBG that the City of Ironton received from the state, there was one paragraph in that ordinance that said that these funds would be administered by the CAO," Black said. "Among the qualifications for being a council member, the charter says the member cannot be employed by a company that has a contract which would benefit the councilman financially."

But, the administrative funds that the CAO receives for administering the grants pay the organization’s overhead and the salaries and benefits of most of the staff, he added, explaining that his own position as building code coordinator for the Lawrence County Flood Plain Management Program is funded exclusively by the county under a contractual arrangement with the Lawrence County Commissioners – not through the CAO as Ridgeway alleged.

"None of the administrative fees that the CAO received for the administration of the CBDG for the city went toward my salary or benefits," he said. "Therefore, I did not benefit as an employee from that vote because none of that money goes toward my salary or benefits. I looked closely at that before I voted, as did the city solicitors, and it was determined that since my salary and benefits are paid for by the county that this was not a conflict or violation of ethics laws."

All council members submit reports to the Ethics Commission yearly. No negative responses have been sent to Black concerning his reports, which contain his residence as well as his employer and a summary of the incident in question.