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Published: Tuesday, 11/18/2003

Commissioners ask for review of vehicle usage

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County commissioners have asked Prosecutor Julia Bates to review whether elected officials have been following a state law that prohibits personal use of county vehicles.

County administrator Edward Ciecka forwarded affidavits filed by all county elected officials that list personal usage from Nov. 1, 2001, to Oct. 31, 2002. The affidavits are filed with the county auditor in order to calculate federal taxes.

The forms have a designation listing “personal miles driven,” but state law forbids personal use of county vehicles. Mr. Cicka said “personal miles driven” could include commuter use, which is allowed under the county s policy.

“I think it s important to have [the issue] legally interpreted,” he said.

Mrs. Bates was in the Mansfield area on business and could not be reached for comment. John Weglian, head of the special units division for the prosecutor s office, said he had not seen the letter.

The issue of personal use of county vehicles came to light after Treasurer Ray Kest was arrested in August on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol in a county car on I-475 in Springfield Township. He has pleaded not guilty and is to stand trial in January in Sylvania Municipal Court.

Mr. Kest also was using the car to drive to Cleveland State University, where he was pursuing a PhD in economic development at county expense. The commissioners sent those issues to Mrs. Bates, who referred them to Special Prosecutor Mark Mulligan of Ottawa County. Mr. Mulligan is investigating to see if any laws were broken.

Mr. Ciecka didn t single out any official in his letter to Mrs. Bates even though Commissioner Harry Barlos and Recorder Sue Rioux both admitted to using their cars for personal business.

Mr. Ciecka said the referral of Mr. Kest s vehicle usage was sparked by his arrest.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said Mr. Kest was set apart because he was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and because he was driving to Cleveland State.

“I think it s important that the public knows that any issues dealing with cars are open to review,” she said. “We need to make sure we re following the Ohio Revised Code.”

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she doesn t know why it s taken so long to send the affidavits to Mrs. Bates. She said she thinks it looks like Mr. Kest was treated differently because he is out of favor with the Democratic Party leadership.

“It s about time that we sent [the affidavits],” said Ms. Thurber, the board s lone Republican. “There was no reason to delay it. The prosecutor s office should be able to look at it and make any appropriate requests for a special prosecutor, if necessary.”

Mr. Kest could not be reached for comment. In a previous interview, he said he the commissioners treated him unfairly.

“Harry Barlos talked about picking his kids up,” Mr. Kest said in that interview. “[The commissioners] have to include everyone. I haven t done anything different than other elected officials.”

Only Mr. Barlos and Ms. Rioux admitted to using their county cars for personal business. Other elected officials said they were using the cars to commute to and from work and for work-related business.

Ms. Rioux said she didn t know that she wasn t allowed to use the car for personal business. According to her affidavit, she drove her county car 6,133 miles from Nov. 1, 2001, to Oct. 31, 2002 - the last period for which records are available.

“I claimed more than commuting miles. I was candid in saying I used it for more than commuting miles,” said Ms. Rioux, who announced last week she won t seek re-election next year. “There was certainly no intent of dishonesty.”

According to Mr. Barlos affidavit, he drove 7,521 miles on work-related business. He drove 10,034 personal miles, which includes the commuting use to his Maumee home that is allowed by county policy. It also includes trips for personal business, he said.



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