Updated Fri, Oct 18, 2013 11:15 am
A candidate for Benton Township Trustees is accusing the three current trustees of nepotism and misuse of funds.
Candidate Bruce Johnson claims that trustees Clyde Garrett, Robbie Davis and Gerald “Dean” Stevens are employing family members and misusing township insurance provided to the trustees. Garrett and Davis are up for re-election in November. Former trustee David Seymour also is running for a seat.
Hocking County Prosecutor Laina Fetherolf said she is aware of the allegations and the claims are being investigated.
“The hard part is the sheriff’s office can’t investigate because they are ethical violations more than criminal,” Fetherolf said.
She said once the investigation is complete, it will be sent on to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Johnson said the other two trustees voted for Garrett to be the person who provides permits to install driveways along township roads. After that, a contractor is needed to install the driveway. Johnson is claiming it is nepotism because his son, Tony Garrett, has a construction company.
Fetherolf said she has received complaints, but anonymously and not from anyone who was involved.
Clyde Garrett said he has heard Johnson’s claims before.
“He has been giving out all that information and there is no truth to it. He has been proven wrong before,” Garrett said.
Dean Stevens declined to comment because he was unaware of the allegations.
Johnson’s concerns arose when the trustees accepted a bid from Tony Garrett to build a handicap ramp in 2010. Of the three bids, Tony Garrett had the lowest and his father, Clyde, did not vote.
Garrett admits that the township has hired members of his family, but he did not hire them — the other trustees did.
Trustees’ family members also offered bids for buying equipment from the township in 2012. Tony Garrett and Dean Stevens’ father, Gerald Stevens, placed bids. Of the four pieces of equipment, Tony Garrett received one and Gerald Stevens received another. The highest bidder won each time, but all three trustees voted on the equipment sales.
“Nobody is standing up to them, the people need somebody to,” Johnson said.
Johnson also has concerns about misuse of funds because he found the township’s audit to be suspicious. Many of the financial amounts ended in exact numbers.
“When you see numbers like that, it means they aren’t taxing their workers,” Johnson said.
Benton Township Fiscal Officer Cindy Huffman said on Wednesday that the township has passed it audits for the last two years.
“There are no misuse of funds, no violations. (Johnson) has a vendetta against one of the trustees and it is all he does,” Huffman said.
Johnson also claims that one of the trustees receives insurance through his workplace's union, but is taking the insurance to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses for a family member.
Huffman said trustees are reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses and the two who take it use the single-person coverage plan.
Fetherolf said the township has consistently passed its audits, with only a few findings of possible misuse that were not major enough to warrant an investigation.
She added that the auditor, more than she, is the one who investigates misuse of funds.
“We are looking into it, the problem is finding evidence,” Fetherolf said.
Huffman and Garrett said there is no proof to Johnson's claims and he is only voicing his allegations because of the upcoming election.
“He is trying to ruin my credibility. He is after me and I don’t know why,” Garrett said.
Johnson said he is looking out for the good of Benton Township, but denied his claims have anything to do with next month's election.
“My concern is only that the trustees abide by the laws and that our tax dollars are being spent for what they were intended for,” Johnson said.