The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is reviewing potential criminal charges against an Akron councilman stemming from an ethics complaint filed more than a year ago.
“This is an ongoing case our prosecutors are involved with,” attorney general spokeswoman Jill Del Grecco said Friday morning.
Councilman Bob Hoch has been accused of voting on legislation and being outspoken on issues that benefit his two sons, who are city firefighters.
The former city administration, which had been feuding with Hoch at the time, filed the complaint.
The Ohio Ethics Commission has concluded its investigation and referred the case to state authorities for potential prosecution, Del Grecco said Friday.
The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday, citing a potential conflict, asked for and received permission from Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones to have the attorney general handle any prosecution in the case.
Hoch, a Democrat who has been on the council since 2012, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. He represents Ward 6, which includes the Ellet neighborhood. He had been outspoken about a long-pending fire promotions lawsuit against the city.
Hoch denied last year that there was a conflict of interest.
The city felt otherwise.
“He has been told over and over again that he has a conflict of interest, but he continues to interject himself inappropriately — and possibly illegally,” former city spokeswoman Stephanie York said at the time.
The Ohio Ethics Commission provided the Beacon Journal with an information sheet on nepotism (the hiring of family members) that says Ohio law prohibits “public officials and public employees from misusing their official positions for their own personal benefit or the benefit of their family members or business associates.”
The sheet also says a public official may approve a union contract when his or her relative is a union member, unless the relative is “a union officer, board member or on the negotiating team or the official is covered by health insurance under the contract.”
At the time the complaint was filed, Hoch and the former city administration were at odds. He was uninvited from former Mayor Don Plusquellic’s state of the city speech, with the administration claiming that he made threatening statements about the mayor. Hoch has called those claims ludicrous.
Susan Willeke, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Ethics Commission, said Friday that she could not discuss the Hoch investigation. She said the agency has the authority to conduct investigations and then can close the case for a lack of evidence, enter into a settlement agreement with the accused or share its findings with the local prosecutor.
Willeke said most ethics violations are misdemeanors, though a few are fourth-degree felonies. The felonies involve investment and public-contract offenses. She said most of the public-contract offenses involve nepotism.
Under Ohio law, felons may not hold an office of “honor trust or profit,” which includes any state or local elected office, according to the Ohio State Bar Association’s website.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ .?Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @swarsmithABJ .