XENIA — Residents packed city hall Thursday night to show support for a pair of city councilmen who are facing an ethics probe.
The council chamber inside the building was nearly full 30 minutes before the meeting began and the overflow crowd lined the hallway and spilled into the municipal courtroom to watch via TV. One-by-one, more than a dozen citizens gave council their thoughts about the inquiry, scheduled for Aug. 19-20.
The inquiry will look into the alleged actions of councilmen John Caupp and Dale Louderback, who announced earlier this year their intention to invest in a $7 million entertainment center in Xenia Towne Square. The pair also announced they would work for the developer in management positions. Neither the investment nor employment are taking place anymore, Louderback said Thursday.
City council also turned the case over to the Ohio Ethics Commission, which has yet to make any public statement.
Many public comments Thursday were followed by applause from the audience and emotions began to run high when some comments turned into personal attacks. Tensions reached a zenith when Council President Mike Engle twice asked City Manager Brent Merriman to have two men removed, the second time asking for police intervention.
“This is not a circus,” Engle said.
The first to speak was Mike Louderback, brother of Dale Louderback. He emphatically defended his sibling.
“My brother’s not a crook,” he said. “You’d think it was John Dillinger and Al Capone sitting in those two seats. I don’t know what you’re trying to do. The problem with you guys is you just don’t like each other.”
Dianne Presock questioned if there would have been an inquiry had other council members taken the same actions as Caupp and Louderback.
“They were told such a move would not be against the city charter,” she said. “It will be difficult for them to ever regain their good name.”
William Hall said that “20,000 people” put Caupp and Louderback on council and that the same people need to kick them off, not other council members.
Caupp and Louderback also addressed the audience and both said the inquiry would be unfair because council has already made up its mind. They vowed, however, not to give up and to continue serving the citizens.
“My father told me never start a fight but never run from one,” Louderback said. “I’m not about to run from the council. At the end of the day, this is not going to fly.”
Caupp suggested that a special prosecutor or retired judge hear the inquiry for fact-finding.
“A judge, someone with knowledge of the law should be presiding over this inquiry,” Caupp said. “Not President Engle. President Engle, Vice President Long and the remaining members of council cannot be unbiased.”
They also criticized council for an action taken Thursday to appropriate $30,000 to cover legal costs related to the inquiry when the ethics commission does its investigations free of charge.
“This is your taxpayer dollars,” Louderback said. “Councilman Caupp and I have had to hire our own personal attorney. That’s not fun. They’re not cheap.”
The pair also thanked their supporters.
“I’m very honored, very flattered,” Louderback said after the meeting.
Added Caupp: “I appreciate all the citizens, all the emails, all the phone calls.”
Per policy, council did not address any of the comments directly.
Engle did say council did not give Caupp and Louderback the green light to move forward in their relationship with the developer. Engle added that council was unaware of the situation until Caupp and Louderback informed council of their intentions during an executive session.
Engle also addressed the feelings of some that the inquiry is dividing the city and that the city is regressing.
“We really are moving in the right direction,” he said.