Former Butler Co. politician, public figure Michael Fox dies at 73

Mike Fox poses for a photo under a sign marking the Michael A. Fox Highway, Wednesday, June 9, 2004, in Hamilton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Glenn Hartong)

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Mike Fox poses for a photo under a sign marking the Michael A. Fox Highway, Wednesday, June 9, 2004, in Hamilton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Glenn Hartong)

Michael A. Fox would be the first person to say he was far from perfect, but he would also say his heart was in the right place.

The former Butler County politician, and sometime controversial public figure, died Thursday afternoon after a lengthy illness. He was 73.

Fox, a Hamilton native, was many things in his seven-plus decades on Earth, and while many will remember his four-year prison sentence in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and filing a false tax return, most will recall his long-time service in the Ohio House of Representatives, his time as a Butler County commissioner, and the director of Butler County’s Children Services.

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Mike Fox, pictured here in April 2011 in a former Oxford home, has survived a surgical procedure that removed a cancerous kidney. FILE PHOTO

Mike Fox, pictured here in April 2011 in a former Oxford home, has survived a surgical procedure that removed a cancerous kidney. FILE PHOTO

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Mike Fox, pictured here in April 2011 in a former Oxford home, has survived a surgical procedure that removed a cancerous kidney. FILE PHOTO

His wife, Mary Ann Fox, said he had been in failing health for years. Nearly five years ago he had suffered a severe heart attack and a cancerous kidney was removed just months apart.

“He had a passion for helping people,” said Mary Ann. “He was Mr. Fix It to everybody.”

And it didn’t matter if those he helped were a fan of his or not. Mary Ann said her husband would always say, “‘It’s the right thing to do, to help them.’”

“He brought almost a billion dollars to the community,” she said of the Ohio 129 highway, formerly the Michael A. Fox Highway and now known as the Butler County Veterans Highway. “And he helped so many people. I’ve seen him help save people’s homes, (helped with) their medical issues. That was his passion, was helping people. It truly, truly was.”

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Greg Lynch/Journal-News Butler County Commisioner Mike Fox, Vice Chairman, Butler County TID Jim Blount, Fairfield delagate to the TID board, Wendell Judd, and Fairfield Mayor Robert Wolpert along with others, cuts the ribbon marking the opening of the new Union Centre Blvd. extention.

Greg Lynch/Journal-News
Butler County Commisioner Mike Fox, Vice Chairman, Butler County TID Jim Blount, Fairfield delagate to the TID board, Wendell Judd, and Fairfield Mayor Robert Wolpert along with others, cuts the ribbon marking the opening of the new Union Centre Blvd. extention.

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Greg Lynch/Journal-News Butler County Commisioner Mike Fox, Vice Chairman, Butler County TID Jim Blount, Fairfield delagate to the TID board, Wendell Judd, and Fairfield Mayor Robert Wolpert along with others, cuts the ribbon marking the opening of the new Union Centre Blvd. extention.

Fox told the Journal-News in December 2015, days before he was released from home incarceration, the work he dedicated his life to was “important work,” but was often at the expense of spending time with family and friends.

“I regret the time that I cheated my family out of,” Fox said in December 2015.

Long-time friend Joe Statzer said Fox “could be a genius, frustrating, comical, serious, irritating, and all in the same conversation ― heck the same sentence.”

“Mike did a lot for this community,” he said. “He certainly left a legacy of achievement.”

Fox’s political legacy is unmatched, filled with numerous projects he spearheaded at the state level and then within the county.

It was Fox who founded the county transportation improvement district, which led the construction of Ohio 129 (formerly known as the Michael A. Fox Highway) connecting Hamilton and Interstate 75. It opened in December 1999.

He was the driving force behind some of the area’s largest local transportation projects, like the once-named Michael A. Fox Highway and the Union Center Boulevard Interchange. He told the Journal-News in 2009 it was “a vision I had to claw my way and fight my way through.”

West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong said his community would not be what it is today without Fox pushing for the Union Center interchange.

“It was Mike Fox. He pushed it through within one year and got it done. No other politician could do that,” he said. “Mike Fox was a man of action.”

Fox, the youngest (at 24 years old) and longest-serving state lawmaker in Butler County history (serving 23 years), also directed more than $100 million to Miami University, allocated money to help build the Government Services Center in Hamilton, and secured $11 million for the Jack Kirsch underpass in Hamilton. As a county commissioner, he helped secure $3 million for the removal of the downtown Middletown mall.

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Mike Fox served nearly 23 years in the Ohio Statehouse, a decade as a Butler County commissioner and two years as Butler County Children Services’ executive director. GREG LYNCH/FILE

Mike Fox served nearly 23 years in the Ohio Statehouse, a decade as a Butler County commissioner and two years as Butler County Children Services’ executive director. GREG LYNCH/FILE

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Mike Fox served nearly 23 years in the Ohio Statehouse, a decade as a Butler County commissioner and two years as Butler County Children Services’ executive director. GREG LYNCH/FILE

Fox’s name was removed by the state from the Ohio 129 highway ― the reason given was a highway should not be named for a living politician ― an action that irritated him, he previously expressed to the Journal-News.

The 11.5-mile four-lane, limited-access, divided highway connects the city of Hamilton to Interstate 75 through Fairfield and Liberty townships, and opened scores of acres of land for development. The highway, which opened in December 1999, paved the way for the Bridgewater Falls Lifestyle Shopping Center in the mid-2000s, and the countless business developments surrounding it

Other things Fox did include: started a computer program where the $500 million annual program put computers and Internet in every Ohio elementary school until Gov. Bob Taft ended it; toughened laws on crimes committed with firearms; put a victim’s advocate on parole boards; created the Ohio School Facilities Commission; moved a developmental disabilities center to Fairfield; established a missing children’s registry; created the Butler County Juvenile Court; and enacted numerous bills dealing with children services.

Fox told the Journal-News in 2009 that “it’s very difficult to go through a day in Butler County, and not be touched directly or indirectly by something that I did as a legislator or commissioner in my career.”

In 2007, Fox stepped down from the Butler County Commission to take over the Butler County Children Services after the agency was spiraling downward following the death of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel by his foster parents. The board had been dispensed and the director fired.

The move, which was initially criticized by some, was praised by the commission and much of the public for the reforms he put in place at the agency, which included increased background checks for foster parents. He resigned in March 2009 months before the federal indictment.

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Michael A. Fox leaves the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati after a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. He and Robert C. Schuler have been charged with conspiracy "to improperly benefit from Butler County contracts involving a (fiber optics) company doing business with the county," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Michael A. Fox leaves the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati after a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. He and Robert C. Schuler have been charged with conspiracy "to improperly benefit from Butler County contracts involving a (fiber optics) company doing business with the county," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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Michael A. Fox leaves the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati after a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. He and Robert C. Schuler have been charged with conspiracy "to improperly benefit from Butler County contracts involving a (fiber optics) company doing business with the county," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

ExplorePHOTOS: Former Butler Co. Commissioner Michael Fox through the years

Fox’s legacy will also include time he spent in federal prison after pleading in 2011 and being sentenced in 2012 for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and filing a false tax return.

The Butler County Republican spent around 3-1/2 years of a four-year sentence behind bars after accepting a plea deal, bypassing the potential 20-year-sentence he faced. He served the last few months of his prison term wearing an ankle monitor in his Oxford home.

His indictment in 2009 was for improperly benefiting from a $2.75 million contract with the fiber optics firm NORMAP to build the county’s fiber optics network. Though NORMAP preceded the Dynus Corp. scandal, it was discovered as a result of that investigation.

After NORMAP failed, and attempts to reach out to more established telecommunications companies failed, Butler County turned to Dynus Corp. Investigations into that company led to convictions of former Dynus executives, former county Auditor Kay Rogers, and eventually Fox. Fox’s crimes were not directly related to the Dynus Corp. scandal.

Fox’s plea deal reduced his sentence to four years, instead of the 20 years he had faced, and none of the corruption charges alleged in the indictment, which includes bribes and kickbacks, were included in the agreement.

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Mike Fox, executive director of the Butler County Children Services Board, hugs Sherri Jackson after a press conference held in her support Tuesday at Butler County Children Services in Hamilton. Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Credit: Nick Daggy

Mike Fox, executive director of the Butler County Children Services Board, hugs Sherri Jackson after a press conference held in her support Tuesday at Butler County Children Services in Hamilton. Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Credit: Nick Daggy

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Mike Fox, executive director of the Butler County Children Services Board, hugs Sherri Jackson after a press conference held in her support Tuesday at Butler County Children Services in Hamilton. Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Credit: Nick Daggy

Credit: Nick Daggy

His family said his conviction didn’t define Fox. The decades of good defined him.

“The world lost a great man,” said Fox’s daughter Ashley King, “and is forever changed without him.”

A visitation will be from 10 a.m. until noon on Wednesday, June 29 at the Princeton Pike Church of God, 6101 Princeton-Glendale Road, Liberty Twp. Pastor Barry Clardy will officiate. A private burial service will be held at Rose Hill Burial Park at a later date. Online condolences are available at www.avancefuneralhome.com.