Mar. 19—Ohio Supreme Court records appear to contradict the state's claim that Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds tried to solicit a $200,000 consulting fee to facilitate development that would benefit his family, or maybe not.
Now that a special commission convened by the Ohio Supreme Court chief justice has determined Reynolds will keep his job while fighting criminal charges against him, the high court released records filed in the suspension proceeding.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor to suspend Reynolds on Feb. 14 because he was indicted on three felony and two misdemeanor counts of bribery and using his public office for personal gain. If he is found guilty he faces up to 7 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
Part of the charges involve a $200,000 consulting fee Reynolds allegedly solicited from developers Brian Jimenez and Tim Haid to use his political influence to "guide the development proposal through the approval process."
The Butler County Sheriff's Office reported it has handwritten notes from two phone calls with Reynolds and a recording of a third call.
"I spoke with Mr. Jimenez and Mr. Haid after receiving the notes and recording and they explained the consulting fee and how it was discussed in all three conversations," the report by a sheriff's investigator reads.
Reynolds' attorney Chad Ziepfel filed a supplement to his opposition to the suspension that included the recorded call between the auditor and Jimenez who were discussing property owned by Gerald Parks who has sued Reynolds in civil court.
"Having now reviewed the recording, it is clear that the State's evidence is incorrect. There was absolutely no discussion of a bribe payment, or any $200,000 'consulting fee,' during the recorded phone call," Ziepfel wrote. "It was a perfectly professional call, with much discussion about the fact that the sewer access in the area was controlled by Mr. Reynolds and his father."
The Journal-News listened to the 15-minute recorded call and there is no mention of the $200,000 consulting fee. The two talked about getting sewer in the area and Reynolds — who grew up there — helping to the get the neighbors on board with a new development.
They discussed working together to get the entire area redeveloped, there was a reference to a previous conversation between the two.
"Yeah, figure out somehow, something to work together. You know, I put something, I've thrown something out to you, I don't know, it's been two or three months ago working with you and trying to help you get everything you need down there as far as support," Reynolds said on the call.
At the end of the conversation Reynolds said "if you want to work together on it, let's do it. If not, then that's okay too."
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones' office began investigating Reynolds last summer after receiving some complaints about his development dealings. The state Bureau of Criminal Investigations also joined the probe. The sheriff's Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said he couldn't comment on the matter. Yost wouldn't comment either.
O'Connor was required to appoint what is called a 3.16 Special Commission, comprised of three retired judges, which she did on March 1. They were charged with making a preliminary determination on temporary suspension within 14 days and they issued their finding Tuesday.
"The Special Commission finds that Mr. Reynolds' actions, as set forth in the charges, are not sufficiently related to the performance and duties of his office so as to warrant suspension," the decision reads. "There is an insufficient nexus between the alleged acts in the Attorney General's request for suspension and the functionality of the Butler County Auditor's office."
Reynolds pleaded not guilty and has been free on his own recognizance. His trial is scheduled for Aug. 15.
Reynolds has maintained he is the victim of a political witch hunt by the state to punish him for challenging a state mandated property value hike. He has said he did nothing wrong by asking officials in the county, Liberty and West Chester townships to use $1.1 million in TIF funds for roadwork that would be required for his dad's property to be sold for a senior living development in West Chester. He also denies wrongdoing in his development dealings with Parks, who sued him in a separate court action that is intertwined with the criminal case.
Reynolds is running for re-election this year and several local leaders including the sheriff, two county commissioners, and Yost have said he should step down. Butler County Republican Party Chairman Todd Hall said regardless of the panel's decision he believes Reynolds should leave office.
"Obviously they're judges and what they decide matters," Hall said. "I just have an opinion as Party chairman that the image of the county needs to be protected."