Summit County hired a new head of consumer affairs amid court records showing outstanding debt from his business ventures.
Chris Verich, who worked as an outreach and education specialist for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, took the position of deputy director of consumer affairs Tuesday. He will be paid $72,737.
Verich is sole owner of Chris Akron Brewing Co., LLC, the legal name for Ohio Brewing Co.
The new deputy director is responsible for educating and protecting citizens from unfair consumer sale practices and predatory mortgage lending practices.
“This is a position that requires pretty heavy consumer experience, and you just don’t have a whole lot of people in that field to begin with. It made the field real narrow,” Jason Dodson, chief of staff for Summit County Executive Russ Pry, said recently about the hire. “Fifty people applied for the job, but the search was narrowed down to two people. The job Chris does now is similar to what the job is. The other candidate was focused on just housing.”
Dodson said that after learning of Verich’s debt issues, the county delayed his hiring to conduct its own investigation.
The consumer affairs position had been vacant since May, when Cynthia Sich resigned to take a similar job in Cuyahoga County.
“We researched through the court records and met with Chris and researched it further, and found that anything that he had is from when he was trying to get his brewery business started. In our opinion, he went through what a lot of Americans go through when they try to get a business started up and moving,” Dodson said. “As we looked at things, we didn’t find any outstanding issues that we are concerned about and certainly nothing that threw out any red flags.
“Everything is with his business and business-type things, so there’s nothing that would be contrary to what he would be doing in his job.”
Dodson said most of Verich’s debts have been cleared, so the county felt comfortable moving forward on his appointment.
Verich’s business, the Ohio Brewing Co., originally opened in Niles in 1997. It ran into financial problems and closed in 1999. Ohio Brewing later opened a brew pub in downtown Akron, in 2008, but that also ran into financial problems and closed. It later reopened as a production brewery at 451 S. High St., then shut down Oct. 4, 2013 to expand and at least partly because of not paying rent.
“Everything has pretty much been satisfied or paid off with one exception,” Dodson said. “Out of the operation that they had in the O’Neil’s building, there are a couple of debts that still have to be satisfied, but those are being held up because one of the partners of the business has a pending bankruptcy that puts a hold on any settlement.”
Verich acknowledged some financial problems but said he has never went into personal bankruptcy.
“I had a former partner of a former business who filed bankruptcy, but I was never named in that bankruptcy,” he said.
Summit officials say there is no conflict with Verich owning a company and working for the county. He said he can only receive profits from any shares he has in the company.
“Chris cannot receive a salary from his company,” Dodson said. “There is no allowance for handling business matters during the workday at the county. It’s a rule for all the county’s directors and deputies.”
Experience in field
Verich began working for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, which advocates for residential utility customers, in 2002. His responsibilities included speaking to community and professional organizations on a wide range of utility-related topics, including electric, natural gas, telephone and water. He also attended shows and fairs to increase awareness of OCC’s services and coordinated the agency’s outreach and education efforts in northern Ohio. He represented 36 Ohio counties.
Verich earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Kent State University. Before his job with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, he was appointed to serve the 66th House District, serving out his brother’s term representing parts of Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Michael Verich, who had just been re-elected, left the legislature to take a job on the State Employment Relations Board.
Chris Verich, who lost in the 2000 primary to retain the seat, also worked as a regional representative with the state Treasury from Dec. 1991 to Dec. 1998.
“I’m very happy Summit County has given me this job to represent the citizenry in this position to be responsive for consumers,” Verich said. “I’ve had a deep abiding love of helping consumers for many years with my time with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, where I spent 12 years as a consumer outreach specialist covering 36 counties in eastern Ohio. It will give me a chance to do a similar job closer to home.”
Verich, who lives in Akron, said he will use his expertise to focus on more than utilities.
“We will do everything we can to help people as much as possible to educate people to save money on their bills and to be alerted about different scams and fraud issues,” he said.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.