MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher said Monday that he was concerned some things may be unclear regarding the affidavit filed Friday by local attorney Scott Pullins.
The affidavit called for a special prosecutor to be assigned to investigate allegations against Knox County Commissioner Robert Wise. Wise refuted the allegations Friday, saying that an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation had cleared him and that Pullins was merely trying to support a pending civil lawsuit against Wise by a business competitor.
Thatcher said he was legally prohibited from disclosing the ethics investigation until Wise himself brought it into the public arena on Friday. Now that it is public, Thatcher said he wanted to point out a few things which he feels are being distorted in local forums.
First was the idea that the OEC had somehow mishandled the investigation into a claim that Wise, as proprietor of Wise Choice Propane LLC, had an unlawful interest in a public contract when his company allegedly removed a propane tank owned by Mount Vernon Bottled Gas that was leased to the Knox County Airport Authority, and replaced it with a tank that was owned by Wise Choice Propane LLC.
“That was handled the way it should be,” Thatcher said.
The commission said Wise had indeed violated Ohio Revised Code Section 2921.42(A) in replacing the tank, but that prosecution was not warranted because of mitigating circumstances.
In a post to his Internet blog Friday, Pullins said the OEC has no discretion to recommend against prosecution when a violation is found. Thatcher said that is not true.
“This factor is specifically addressed in [Revised Code] 2921.42(C)(2), which states this section does not apply to a public contract in which all of the following apply: The supplies or services are unobtainable elsewhere for the same or lower cost,” said Thatcher.
The regulation in question deals specifically with contracts for necessary services such as utilities.
Second was the issue of Wise Choice Propane’s contract with the Knox County Fair Board, which Pullins alleged was an unlawful interest in a public contract. Thatcher said that although many people don’t know it, the fair board is not a public entity. It is, in fact, a private agricultural society, privately incorporated in 1975 as The Knox County Agricultural Society. It is not a political subdivision of the state, even though it is empowered to perform certain public functions. It is therefore not subject to the “public contract” restriction cited by Pullins.
As for the allegation that Wise threatened a bank employee with bodily harm, something which Pullins said should be investigated as a felony, Thatcher said the police report was never forwarded to him to review for charges.
“It is my understanding the alleged conduct involved misdemeanor violations,” Thatcher said.
Therefore, he said, the police report went to Mount Vernon City Law Director William Smith, as the county prosecutor would only handle the case if felony violations were cited. Smith declined to prosecute any misdemeanor charges.
Thatcher had little to say about Pullins’ other allegation, that Wise Choice Propane had tampered in other situations with competitors’ tanks.
“A police report on this allegation has never been submitted to the county prosecutor to review for charges,” Thatcher said, “although it is my understanding the alleged conduct might involve a misdemeanor fire code violation.”
He said he has never received a police report of the alleged theft of a propane tank, either.