Butler County auditor suspension proceedings begin

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has empaneled the special commission that will decide whether Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds should be suspended pending the outcome of his criminal case.

O’Connor was required to appoint what is called a 3.16 Special Commission, comprised of three retired judges, but couldn’t do so until two weeks after she received the request from the attorney general to suspend Reynolds.

The court announced Tuesday the retired judges on the special panel are: David E. Cain, L. Alan Goldsberry and James L. Kimbler. The law states that at least one member of the panel must be a member of the same political party as the public official, which in this case is Republican. The judges will be compensated and reimbursed for expenses.

O’Connor received the suspension request from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Feb. 14, because he has been indicted on three felony and two misdemeanor charges. If he is found guilty he faces up to 7 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Reynolds had the opportunity to file a statement with the AG arguing why he shouldn’t be suspended, but it is unclear whether he did so.

Attached to the suspension request was an investigation overview from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

It says developers Brian Jimenez and Tim Haid have written notes and a recording of a phone call where Reynolds allegedly asked for a $200,000 “cash payment” to serve as a “consultant and use his political influence to get a TIF, tax increment financing, assigned to an area of Hamilton Mason Road in Butler County to assist in the development of properties along the road.”

Jimenez and Haid were trying to develop a property on Hamilton Mason Road owned by 88-year-old Gerald Parks — who filed a civil lawsuit against Reynolds in September — for a senior living community that would rival a development on Reynolds’ dad’s land across the street. He also allegedly offered to sell the developers 2 to 3 acres of property his office values at $21,000 for $500,000.

During a recent event at the University of Dayton Law School, Yost said Reynolds should resign.

“Here’s Dave’s rule for politicians: You don’t get anything out of your official job other than your paycheck and sense of a job well done serving the public, that’s it,” Yost told the Journal-News.

“You get something else, you’re skating right up on the line and probably over it. I’m afraid that the auditor has compromised the public trust to the point he can no longer serve as the watchdog of that county.”

Reynolds pleaded not guilty last Thursday and visiting Judge Daniel T. Hogan released him on his own recognizance after a brief arraignment hearing.

ExploreRoad to Butler County auditor’s legal troubles complex

The three-judge panel must decide “whether the public official’s administration of, or conduct in the performance of the duties of, the official’s office, as covered by the charges, adversely affects the functioning of that office or adversely affects the rights and interests of the public and, as a result, whether the public official should be suspended from office.”

Now that the commission has been empaneled, it has two weeks to make a preliminary decision. If they decide he should be, Reynolds has an opportunity to contest decision and he must do it within two weeks.

Supreme Court documents indicate the entire suspension process takes one to two months. Reynolds will continue to receive his annual $108,662 salary throughout the legal process. If he is found guilty he must repay it.

Reynolds’ attorney Chad Ziepfel — who also represented former Ohio Rep. Pete Beck in his securities fraud case — told the Journal-News they will fight this all the way.

“We will be contesting the suspension,” Ziepfel said. “Not only are the allegations false, but they do not involve the Auditor’s Office or Mr. Reynolds’ work as the auditor. We hope that the community will not rush to judgment in this matter, and will wait for the full story to come out at trial.”

If he is suspended the Republican Party Central Committee will select an interim auditor. Reynolds is on the May primary ballot for re-election and West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones is challenging him.

Todd Hall, chairman of the county Republican Party, told the Journal-News Reynolds should quit “to ensure public trust in the office of Auditor and allow the county to avoid months of investigations and legal maneuvering.”

When asked about appointing an interim auditor he said, “a suspension is a speculative question, and we prefer to let this process play out between the County Auditor and the Attorney General. If something does change, it will become a legal question and we will prepare an answer at that point.”

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