Licking County News

Compton tries to cancel Fox's Jan. 14 hearing

City attorney says new mayor cannot withdraw charges of malfeasance

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One of Mike Compton's first actions as Pataskala mayor was an unsuccessful attempt to cancel the Jan. 14 hearing on malfeasance charges levied against City Councilman Mike Fox by former mayor Steve Butcher.

The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14 in council chambers.

On Jan. 6, Compton handed a letter to City Council members that said: "After due deliberation in considering these probable cause findings brought against Councilman Mike Fox by former Mayor Butcher, I have concluded that the same are insufficient to support the determination that the accused is guilty of malfeasance in office. After having made such conclusion, I hereby withdraw such charges made by former Mayor Butcher against Councilman Fox and cancel the special meeting scheduled by (Butcher) for Jan. 14."

Compton said he wants to move the city forward and put the incident behind City Council.

Councilman Bryan Lenzo said the letter came as a total surprise and asked the law director, Rufus Hurst, for the correct procedure in addressing the letter and the hearing.

Hurst said once charges were brought against Fox, the mayor is taken out of the process and cannot cancel the hearing. The mayor is listed in the charter as the "charging official" who reviews complaints against council members and can bring forth charges against a council member.

Once charges have been made, Hurst said, the case moves into the hands of a prosecutor. Hurst served as prosecutor until special prosecutor Gene L. Hollins was appointed to the case this month.

"There is no authority in chapter 11 of the (city) charter for a subsequent mayor to undo the findings of probable cause by a previous mayor," Hurst said.

"It is Council who will determine the quality of its members and it is Council who will determine whether or not probable cause is established and what action, if any, will be taken."

Councilman Todd Barstow, in his first meeting as a council member since being elected in November, asked if the charging official can withdraw charges.

Hurst said the charging official cannot withdraw charges. He said it is similar to law-enforcement officers who cannot withdraw charges once they have been made.

Hurst said Compton could contact the special prosecutor to talk about his concerns.

Barstow asked if the special prosecutor could cancel the hearing. Hurst said theoretically, the special prosecutor has the right to tell City Council on Jan. 14 if there is insufficient evidence to present the charges.

The charges allege that Fox committed malfeasance by participating in disciplinary proceedings for former West Licking Fire Chief David Fulmer after City Council directed him not to do so.

Fox also is being charged with malfeasance that occurred July 22, 2013, when heavy rainfall caused a section of foundation to collapse at a building at the northeast corner of Front and Main streets.

Fox, whose businesses were based in the building, attempted "to obstruct official business by interfering with the fire department trying to secure the area for the purpose of protecting the public," according to the letter Butcher sent to Fox outlining the charges.

Fox will be unable to vote in the proceedings, and a vote of two-thirds of City Council would be required to remove him from office, according to the city charter.

A third charge of an ethical violation was added by Butcher before the end of 2013. Butcher alleged that Fox voted Dec. 16 on a budget amendment that would have taken $25,000 for a special prosecutor out of the city's budget.

The amendment was proposed by former Councilman Bernard Brush, who lost his re-election bid last November. It was given a second by Compton and was voted down 4-3 with Lenzo, Dan Hayes, Pat Sagar and former council member Merissa McKinstry voting against and Brush, Compton and Fox voting in favor.

Fox apologized Jan. 6 for voting on the issue and said he did not intend to vote on anything related to the Jan. 14 hearing. He said he was not advised by Hurst against voting on the amendment and tried to get City Council to agree to amend the Dec. 16 meeting minutes to reflect his apology.

Hurst said the Dec. 16 minutes must reflect what happened at that meeting and can't include comments from Jan. 6. He said Fox's comments should be included in the Jan. 6 meeting minutes.

Hurst also defended his position at the Dec. 16 meeting, saying he could not advise Fox on matters related to the Jan. 14 hearing, as he explained at the Dec. 2 meeting.

He told Fox Dec. 2 he was considered the prosecutor of charges against Fox until a special prosecutor could be hired and could not advise both City Council and Fox in the case.

Fox said Jan. 6 he believes the charges were brought against him as a personal vendetta by Butcher and said it will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute the case.

"Mike Fox's name is being maimed in this and I will not stand by and lightly take it," Fox said.

Five residents said they supported Fox during the public comments section of the Jan. 6 meeting.

Judy Cafmeyer of Roma Court said she likes the questions Fox poses during meetings.

Eileen DeRolph of Refugee Road said no one prepares better for council meetings or has better meeting attendance than Fox.

Daniel Conrad of Pine Hill Drive called Fox a "good idea man" and Margaret How of Hazelton-Etna Road said the time spent on complaints against Fox is unfair.

Milton Carney of Richmond Drive said Fox has the right to his opinions and the rest of City Council should not be allowed to tell Fox how to vote on an issue.

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