XENIA — Attorneys for a pair of councilmen facing an ethics inquiry and the Xenia City Council ping-ponged arguments, questions and answers for more than an hour as the proceedings began Wednesday night.
The inquiry centers around councilmen John Caupp and Dale Louderback, who council alleges violated the city charter when they announced intentions to invest in a $7 million entertainment center to be constructed in Xenia Towne Square. The pair also announced they would work for the developer in management positions. The case was also turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Council members could vote as early as tonight as to whether or not the pair did violate the charter. They could be removed from office.
Before any opening statements, attorney Donald Brey asked Council President Mike Engle and Vice-President Josh Long to recuse themselves because they are and/or could be candidates against his clients, Caupp and Louderback, in the November election and that Engle, as council president, can’t be impartial.
“You can’t be a witness and a judge,” Brey said.
Brey also asked for dismissal of the inquiry as a whole for the aforementioned reasons. Neither of Brey’s requests were acted on by council. Brey also argued to council that the pair can not receive due process, that the Ohio Ethics Commission is concerned it will interfere with its own investigation and that it’s costing the city money it doesn’t need to spend.
Counsel for the city, Jonathan Downes, argued that the city charter spells out the due process and that supreme court rulings have stated that due process includes the right to he heard and respond, which is being offered during the inquiry. He also said the other reasons for moving for dismissal are opinion and not a matter of law.
During his opening statement, Brey said the charter was not violated because no money changed hands between the city and the developer, Creative Entertainment Concepts, after Caupp and Louderback announced their relationship. Brey also said no contracts were entered into between the city and the developer for which the pair intended to work.
The applicable section of the city charter states:
” … Nor shall any member of council have an interest in any contract, job, work or service with or for the city, nor in the profits or emoluments thereof, nor in the expenditure of any money on the part of the city other than the member’s fixed compensation, and any contract with the city in which such council member is, or becomes, interested may be declared void by the council.”
He also said the pair didn’t use their influence as city councilmen to gain anything of value.
Engle was the first to testify. Drew Piersall, another attorney representing city council, had called David Beauregard from Creative Entertainment Concepts — the developer of the entertainment center — but he was not in attendance. Piersall also called Louderback and Caupp, both of whom declined to testify on the advice of Brey.
Engle answered some basic questions about key players in the proposed development such as Creative Entertainment Concepts and their relationships to each other.
His testimony also revolved around a series of council actions regarding the entertainment center and conflict of interest statements filled out by council members. Engle also confirmed that Caupp and Louderback announced their potential conflict of interest at the end of a Feb. 12 executive session where the project was discussed.
“This was news to me,” Engle said. “I was quite concerned.”
He said that council discussed to the extent the city would offer incentives for the project and then heard the pair disclose their potential conflict at the end.
“It just struck me, as I couldn’t imagine it not being a conflict of interest,” Engle said.
Also discussed was an audio recording by Long of a meeting between himself, Engle, Louderback and City Manager Brent Merriman. Long put a portion on Facebook.
Piersall called for the playing of the audio. Brey objected, calling the recording of the meeting a “sleazeball” move.
As of press time the inquiry had not yet recessed for the night.