The Butler County commissioners have appointed Joseph Statzer to be the acting auditor until a permanent replacement can be appointed by the GOP.
Statzer was sworn in by Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge John Holcomb on Thursday.
This appointment comes eight days after former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds was found guilty on the felony count of unlawful interest in a public contract, a fourth-degree felony that carries a potential 18-month jail term and up to a $5,000 fine.
The commissioners Thursday morning said that Reynolds, who provided a verbal and written resignation to the county prosecutor’s office, was determined to be “statutorily incompetent” to hold office due to the Dec. 21 verdict.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to appoint Statzer, who had worked in a number of county offices over the years, including six years in the auditor’s office. He’s currently employed by the county’s clerk of courts office.
Statzer said he is “honored” to be named the interim county auditor and told the Journal-News that “it is time to move forward.”
“The office has a very good staff and I can assure county residents that the auditor’s office will continue to provide strong customer service to the taxpayers of Butler County,” he said.
Statzer’s experience within county government has been lengthy and extensive. From January 2001 to June 2005, he was the chief of staff at the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office. He then moved in June 2005 to the county auditor’s office, where he left in April 2012 as the deputy auditor and special projects manager. In March 2013, he started with the Butler County Clerk of Courts and is currently the chief deputy and human resources director.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers voted against the appointment, saying he believed it should have been someone from the auditor’s office to be in that interim role.
“I have no problem with Joe Statzer,” he said. “I hold him in the highest regard. It’s just my position for the continuity of the office, and the responsibility of us getting the complicated tax bills out within the next month that I thought it should have been someone within the office.”
Dixon said he believed someone from the outside of the office is what is needed at this time, and Carpenter said it’s just temporary until the Butler County GOP can meet and name a successor. The GOP will name the successor as Reynolds is a Republican.
Butler County Republican Party Executive Chairman Todd Hall said it’s “more than likely” the party will meet on Feb. 2 for that decision. Statzer offered no comment at this time if he would seek the GOP appointment.
The appointment, however, will be until a new county auditor can be elected in 2024. By statute, the unexpired auditor’s term must be up for a vote in November 2024. Reynolds had held the office for 14 years and was re-elected last month, ahead of the trial, to a fourth term, which wouldn’t commence until the start of the new year.
A county auditor is the chief fiscal officer of the county. It is the auditor’s responsibility to account for the millions of dollars received each year by the county and to issue checks in payment of all county obligations. Some of the primary responsibilities for the office include appraising and assessing all properties within the county, sealing gas pumps, scales, and other measuring devices, issuing licenses for vendors, dogs and cigarettes, and junk yards, and administering tax exemptions for senior citizens, the disabled, charities, and churches.
The commissioners deliberated on the decision for nearly an hour Thursday morning.
Reynolds was charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor and, on Dec. 21, was found guilty on the one count. He was acquitted of the remaining charges. The conviction capped seven days’ worth of testimony and carries a potential 18-month jail term and up to a $5,000 fine. The jury deliberated eight hours before returning the verdict.
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
On Tuesday, the first day of business for county offices after the Christmas holiday, Reynolds’ name had been scraped off the front door of the auditor’s office in the county administration building on High Street. And though his name and contact information has been removed from the administration section of the auditor’s website, as of Thursday, his name and likeness are still on the banner of the site.
A sentencing date for Reynolds has not been set but will likely happen in January after a pre-sentence investigation is conducted, according to visiting Judge Daniel Hogan. Hogan presided over the trial and the case was prosecuted by Special Prosecutor Brad Tammaro with the Ohio attorney general’s office.
His felony conviction was related to a suggestion he initially made in 2016 to the then-Lakota Local Schools treasurer Jenni Logan, who testified Reynolds proposed that more than half of the tax money his office returned to the school district could be used to build a year-round golf academy at Four Bridges for use by the Lakota golf teams.
Reynolds lives in Four Bridges in West Chester Twp. After that initial suggestion was basically rejected, he amended the suggestion to Logan, saying $250,000 could be used instead as a yearly access fee for the golf team. Neither suggestion was presented to the school board.
Logan also testified that the district’s lawyers said the idea shouldn’t be pursued for various reasons, including using public money to build on private property.
TIMELINE OF CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST REYNOLDS
August 2021: Butler County Sheriff’s Office begins investigating Roger Reynolds after a civil lawsuit is filed against Reynolds, claiming interference in connection with a West Chester Twp. man’s land and business relations. Attorney General Dave Yost assigns investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to assist.
September 2021: A special prosecutor from the attorney general’s office is assigned to the case.
Feb. 9, 2022: Reynolds is indicted by a Butler County grand jury on three felony charges, including bribery and two misdemeanors.
Feb. 24: Reynolds pleads not guilty at arraignment in Butler County Common Pleas Court. Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan releases Reynolds on his own recognizance. Trial date set for Aug. 15.
March: Chad Ziepfel, Reynolds’ attorney, files a motion to have all charges dismissed based on a flawed bill of particulars. The motion is denied and the case moves forward.
July 13: A superseding indictment is handed down by a grand jury, charging Reynolds with a fourth felony.
Aug. 3: Arraignment for Reynolds on the new indictment. His attorney enters a not guilty plea on his behalf. The trial continued until Dec. 12 at the request of the prosecution.
Nov. 8: Reynolds is re-elected to his fourth full term as Butler County auditor.
Dec. 12: Reynolds’ criminal trial set to begin in common pleas court.
Dec. 21: Jury begins deliberations and returns verdicts after eight hours.
Dec. 21: Reynolds was found guilty of one felony. Sentencing is set for about 30 days.