Canal Winchester City Council has conducted business without a president for more than a month while the Ohio Ethics Commission investigates a possible conflict of interest.

The commission's review is focused on the relationship between council members Mike Walker and Chuck Milliken, according to Gene Hollins, city law director.

Both were elected to four-year terms in November, and the issue is that Walker is Milliken's landlord.

Hollins said rulings generally are made within 30 days, and he expects a decision by the end of the month.

During the Jan. 6 organizational meeting, when council elects its president and vice president and makes committee assignments for the year, two votes failed to secure a president. They included a motion to elect Will Bennett and another to elect Walker.

Bennett did not receive enough votes, and the vote to elect Walker ended in a tie, with Patrick Lynch, Jill Amos and Bennett voting no and Mike Coolman, Bob Clark and Walker voting yes.

Milliken, who rents a residence from Walker, abstained after executive-session discussions leading up to the votes.

Lynch told the ThisWeek Canal Winchester Times that he and other council members have concerns about Milliken voting for Walker as council president after a resident approached him about the tenant-landlord relationship.

"I seem to think it's prudent that we look at it internally as opposed to outside people filing complaints," Lynch said. "The ethics commission is looking into it at council's request."

Both Walker and Milliken said they would not comment until after the investigation is completed.

An advisory opinion from the commission notes that Ohio Ethics Law "generally prohibits a City Council member from acting on matters that affect the interests of his landlord."

However, the opinion states a council member is not prohibited from acting on matters affecting the interests of his or her landlord if the council member can "objectively demonstrate" four factors are present. They are:

* The property that is being leased is not the subject of the land-use matter.

* The rent, terms or duration of the lease are not changed in consideration for, or recognition of, the actions of the council member.

* No disputes exist between the council member and the lessor regarding the lease or the leased property.

* The rent and other terms and duration of the lease between the council member and his landlord are fixed by contract.

"I'm concerned," Lynch said. "You can always have contracts in place for any kind of business deal, but what if something goes wrong? What if the roof blows off and someone didn't vote a person's way, and the roof doesn't get replaced or repairs get delayed? Anything can happen, and that's the main concern. It's a financial conflict."

Coolman, who unanimously was elected vice president during the Jan. 6 meeting, has been acting as president, according to the rules of council.

The council president's powers include presiding at all regular council meetings and serving as mayor on a permanent or temporary basis should the office become vacant.

In addition, the president makes $7,251 for the year, the vice president $6,921 and the members of council $6,592.

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