The findings of an inquiry by Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office and a criminal investigation by the Hilliard Division of Police will determine whether any charges will be filed in connection with the alleged theft of money from Hilliard’s pool facilities, according to city officials.
Law director Tracy Bradford said she does not know precisely when it will be resolved but she hopes the criminal aspect of the investigation will conclude by the end of January.
If the investigation reveals sufficient evidence to support criminal charges, the case would be presented to a Franklin County grand jury for indictment, she said.
Meanwhile, more “holistic” dissection of the city’s financial controls and personnel policies will take longer, Bradford said.
The auditor's investigation will delve into the financial controls but the city is exploring the hire of a third party early next year to look at “best practices” concerning personnel policies, she said.
The more immediate criminal investigation included the hiring of special legal counsel to represent Hilliard City Council.
City Council members met for 90 minutes Dec. 11 in a closed executive session with Columbus attorney Rita McNeil Danish, who will represent them during the investigation.
“We have been informed by (Bradford) that she is conflicted from representing council in this matter,” council President Nathan Painter said.
Painter said Danish will “guide our work (and) advise us as the investigation proceeds.”
Danish will be paid $350 per hour, per a contract signed Dec. 12, Bradford said.
If the total amount for her services exceeds $50,000, legislation then would be required, Bradford said.
City Council has no scheduled meetings remaining in 2017 but council Vice President Kelly McGivern said she did not expect any meetings to be necessary for Danish to communicate with council members.
Any discussion likely would be protected under attorney-client privilege, Bradford said, but Painter pledged to communicate with residents.
“We will keep the community informed as details are available and as we are permitted to share them,” Painter said.
On Nov. 1, Doug Francis, the city’s director of communications and information technology, informed City Council members a criminal investigation was underway for a yet-to-be-quantified amount of money missing from the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department's deposits of proceeds from the city’s pool facilities; he told them the missing money might date back multiple years. He also informed them Heather Ernst, the city’s deputy director of recreation and parks, had resigned.
The origins of the criminal investigation – including when the auditor’s office became involved – are not yet clear and City Council members have criticized the administration for not making council members aware of the incident sooner. Top city officials were notified of the investigation the third week of October, Francis said.