December 18, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Outgoing Grafton councilman faces misdemeanor charges

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

ELYRIA — Longtime Grafton Village Councilman Tom Smith has been charged with two misdemeanor ethics violations.

Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said the allegations against Smith center on tickets to a sporting event he received from a village contractor in November 2009.

Public officials have a responsibility to turn down things of value that could have an improper influence on them, Will said.

Smith, who in November lost his re-election bid to remain the village’s at-large councilman, said Tuesday that he doesn’t know much about the allegations against him.

“I have to see it first before I can give you a comment,” Smith said.

Although his time as a village official is ending, Smith remains a corrections officer at the Lorain County Jail, a post he’s held for a little under two years.

Lorain County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said Smith will stay on the job while the criminal case against him is pending. An administrative review will take place once the criminal case is completed, he said.

Grafton Mayor Megan Flanigan said she was aware of the investigation and was among those interviewed. She said the contractor that allegedly provided the tickets to Smith is Poggemeyer Design Group, a Bowling Green-based firm that handles numerous engineering projects for the village.

She said she’s long questioned why the village used Poggemeyer and noted that Smith has been a supporter of the company.

“My question is, why are we using a firm out of Bowling Green when there are several local firms that are capable of doing the job?” said Flanigan, who took office in 2012.

Grafton Clerk-Treasurer Linda Bales said Poggemeyer has done engineering work, mostly on utility and street projects, for the village for years.

In 2009, the year Smith is accused of taking the tickets, Poggemeyer was paid $165,439 by Grafton, Bales said.

The village paid Poggemeyer $147,062 in 2010, $71,670 in 2011 and $91,940 in 2012, Bales said.

So far this year, Bales said, the company has been paid $186,611, much of it for work on the village’s wastewater treatment facilities. That project is still ongoing.

“Poggemeyer is still our engineer, and they are still tied to numerous projects in our village,” Flanigan said.

But the mayor also said she wants to learn more about the allegations against Smith and possibly review the village’s relationship with Poggemeyer.

A county grand jury indicted Smith late last month. Will said that because the charges against Smith are misdemeanors the case was sent to Elyria Municipal Court, where Smith is due to be arraigned today.

Grafton Village Prosecutor Matt Mishak said he is in the process of bringing in a special prosecutor to handle the case because Smith is still a village official.

Will said the investigation into Smith was handled by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which picked up the case at the request of former Grafton Police Chief Lonnie Carroll. Will said Carroll contacted him about how he should proceed last year, and it was recommended he seek an outside agency to handle the matter.

Carroll was fired in August 2012 by Flanigan, who said Tuesday that the investigation and Carroll’s termination aren’t connected. Flanigan has long refused to explain why Carroll was fired, other than to say it was done in “the best interest of the village.”

Jason Strah will replace Smith on Village Council in January.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.