Chuck Milliken's successful November campaign continues to be an issue for a divided Canal Winchester City Council, which spent most of a 90-minute teleconference meeting May 4 debating whether he should resign.

Milliken, who was one of three top vote-getters in a five-person nonpartisan race in November, said he will not resign and called efforts to convince him to do so "nothing more than a political ploy from a political minority of people who didn't benefit from the outcome of the last election."

"In the eyes of the state of Ohio and the city charter, I did absolutely nothing wrong," he said. "If I did, I would like to ask for formal charges to be brought against me."

Controversy background

Milliken's short tenure on council has been marked by accusations of impropriety.

The first revolved around his support of Mike Walker to be council president because Walker is his landlord. Milliken has said he felt comfortable voting for Walker after receiving guidance from the Ohio Ethics Commission that included information about precedents.

The second involved an endorsement by the Franklin County Republican Party. Milliken, Walker and council member Bob Clark – the candidates who garnered the most votes – sought the endorsement, and their images subsequently appeared on campaign materials distributed by the county party.

A losing candidate, Randy Stemen, alerted the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigated.

Federal investigators found that seeking the endorsement put Milliken, a U.S. Postal Service carrier, in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in certain partisan political activities.

Investigators also concluded that Milliken violated the Hatch Act when he solicited campaign funds in an election that became partisan when he sought the Republican Party endorsement.

However, they found "no evidence" that Milliken's actions were "willful," according to an April 1 letter to Steman from Erica S. Hamrick, deputy chief of the special counsel's Hatch Act unit.

During the May 4 meeting, Milliken again accepted responsibility for his actions, which he called "an honest mistake." He said he did not dispute the findings and accepted a warning letter "as a fair and significant outcome."

Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party Executive Committee, said in an April 30 email to Walker, Mayor Mike Ebert and Gene Hollins, the city law director, that he was responsible for the campaign literature in question.

"I had a conversation with Bob Clark, who specifically asked that they not be included in any of our materials," Preisse wrote. "Despite his request, their names were inadvertently placed on the party slate card in the flurry of campaign procedures, the responsibility for which I accept myself."

Elected officials' stance

Council member Jill Amos said Milliken's actions violated a section of the city charter, which says one reason for removing an elected official from office is for misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.

Amos said malfeasance is defined as "wrongdoing or an illegal act" and misfeasance is "committing a wrongful act by error or mistake."

"I hear what you're saying," she said to Milliken. "But how do I explain to a resident that you do this, and according to the city charter, you violated a couple of things in it? So how do I justify you staying on?"

Council member Patrick Lynch suggested that Milliken step down and run again.

"I don't question that you would make a great council member ... but you did violate a federal act, and if we continue to allow this to go unrecognized and just sweep it under the rug, what kind of precedent do we set as council?" Lynch said.

Ebert offered his view in a letter to council members and residents, saying council members should accept the special counsel's investigation and accept Milliken as a "distinguished member" of council.

"This whole incident is nothing more than an employee-employer issue and is in no way an incident of council concern or discussion," Ebert wrote.

Mike Coolman, council vice president agreed, saying the Hatch Act violation "did not make our local race a partisan race; it made it a partisan race for (Milliken) as an executive-branch employee, but not for the rest of us."

Clark used his time to address the "misinformation being spread on social media."

"Some have said endorsements have not been done before in nonpartisan races in Canal Winchester," he said. "This is false."

Residents react

Council members received letters and emails from more than a dozen residents who weighed in on Milliken's actions.

Some mentioned his support of Walker as council president earlier this year. Others focused on the Hatch Act investigation.

"If he has any integrity at all, and council has any backbone, I think it's time that he resign his seat, and council should unanimously accept his resignation," wrote William Ruth of Ashlar Court.

Patricia DeWitt of Old Coach Place called Stemen's complaint "an insult to the intelligence of the voters of Canal Winchester." She said she hoped Stemen "learns a lesson in this. Lose gracefully and do not try to drum up reasons why you lost."

City-charter guidelines

The city charter outlines three reasons for removing elected officials and members of boards and commission from office: multiple consecutive unexcused absences, "failure to possess or maintain qualifications of the office" or "a determination that the accused person is guilty of misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office."

The mayor, unless he or she is the accused, is responsible for determining if there is "probable cause" to remove an elected official or board member, according to the charter.

Removal requires a two-thirds vote of council, with the accused council member being prohibited from voting.