An investigation into alleged improprieties involving James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, began yesterday.
But exactly what law or contract might have been violated, even if the allegations of an extramarital relationship prove to be true, remained a gray area.
William Carroll, chairman of the port authority's board of directors, informed Mayor Carty Finkbeiner by letter yesterday that the investigation was under way, as promised.
A spokesman for Mr. Carroll said he wouldn't comment until the investigation is over.
"The investigation has begun and [Mr. Carroll] will comment when the investigation is complete," spokesman Carla Fire-
Mr. Finkbeiner asked for Mr. Hartung's suspension, saying in a letter to port board members Friday that Mr. Hartung had been trying to raise money to pay for the contract of a lobbyist for the port authority and other local agencies, Kathy Teigland, while he was having an extramarital relationship with her.
In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner claimed the allegations, if true, could hurt the reputation of the port authority and its staff's morale.
"Something's very wrong about the chief sponsor of a lobbyist having an alleged extramarital affair with that same person," Mr. Finkbeiner wrote.
Neither Mr. Hartung nor Ms. Teigland has returned The Blade's calls seeking comment since last week.
Ms. Teigland, a West Toledo resident, worked for the Northwest Ohio Legislative Consortium. Contributions to the Northwest Ohio Legislative Consortium came from the city, the port authority, Lucas County, the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Toledo, the Regional Growth Partnership, and Owens Community College.
Ms. Teigland was paid $480,000 by the consortium from 2001 to 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
Yesterday, Jennifer Hardin, chief advisory attorney for the Ohio Ethics Commission, said the extramarital relationship Mr. Finkbeiner complained of would not fall under Ohio's conflict of interest law.
The state prohibits a public official from using his or her position to benefit a family member.
But it does not include friends or romantic interests as part of that prohibition, according to the commission.
"The commission has never defined family member to include a significant other, or a boyfriend or girlfriend," Ms. Hardin said. "Extramarital affairs that don't relate directly to the public agency or its work are usually not within the ethics commission's purview."
However, Ms. Hardin acknowledged the relationship might raise ethical issues outside of Ohio law.
"There are a whole range of issues that are beyond our statutory authority regarding personal behavior," she said.
Ms. Firestone would not give any further details of the board's investigation or who is conducting the investigation.
Mr. Hartung's contract does not contain a plainly stated morals clause, although it does allow the board to fire him without cause.
If terminated without cause, he is entitled to a severance payment equal to three-quarters of the pay owed him for the remainder of his one-year term, or nine months, whichever is longer, as well as health insurance premiums and retirement contributions for the same period of time.
Reasons that he can be dismissed without a severance include if he is found guilty in any government proceeding of fraud, dishonesty, or other "gross misconduct in the performance of his duties and responsibilities under this agreement"; if he fails to perform his duties "in a manner that is consistent with the standards and policies established by the Port Authority;" is convicted of a felony, or intentionally discloses confidential information that could jeopardize the interests of the port authority.
Mr. Hartung received a 3.5 percent pay raise in January, to $178,165 a year.
Staff writer Alex M. Parker contributed to this report.
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