Officials revisit Hudson mayor's complaint to state auditor's office

ERIC MAROTTA Editor
Hudson City Hall

Members of city council weighed in again last week on Mayor Craig Shubert’s request that the Ohio Auditor’s office investigate emails concerning political matters Council President Bill Wooldredge sent using his official city email account.

After Councilors Hal DeSaussure (At Large) and Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) offered views critical of the mayor’s actions at a July 28 workshop, the topic again was discussed at Council’s Aug. 4 meeting.

Shubert offered a statement defending himself from allegations he is overstepping his authority as mayor.

“I am quite aware that the City of Hudson has had a ‘weak mayor’ form of government for 62 years. I have no interest in changing that. However, I raised my hand and swore an oath upon my Bible to uphold the laws of the City of Hudson, the State of Ohio, and the United States of America. Those laws include not using city resources for political campaigns,” he said.

He said he had tried to get the city administration to address the issue without success, and he was thus bound to take the matter to an outside authority. Shubert noted that City Manager Jane Howington offered to have City Solicitor Matt Vazzana write a legal opinion on the subject of council members using their email accounts for non-government purposes. He noted the administration then changed course and planned to put the issue on a council workshop agenda for discussion, a move that he disagreed with.

“The use of government computers and e-mails may seem like a trivial matter to most folks,” stated Shubert. “I understand that. But this is not about the emails, per se. It is about the content. Hudson residents deserve to know that if they disagree with city policies, that candidates for city office can run in a free and fair election to try to change those policies without taxpayer resources being spent to try to influence things behind the scenes, without City Hall trying to put their thumb on the scales. I hope that in the coming weeks, this body can agree on these basic principles, and begin to reassure city residents that their voices can still make a difference.”

Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) noted that council was originally scheduled to discuss the email issue in a work session on July 28, but said, “because the mayor sort of circumvented that conversation that we were to have, we scrapped it from the agenda. It didn’t fall on dead ears. We wanted to discuss it and the mayor overtook that.”

Councilor Beth Bigham (Ward 4) offered Shubert some support.

“It has been said that sunlight, when allowed to shine through previously darkened, secretive places, provides the best disinfectant,” she said. “It is one thing to campaign privately or publicly on behalf of a candidate — it is an altogether different thing to campaign for candidates and projects while utilizing city time and city taxpayer resources.

 “In a meeting several weeks ago, I called for a discussion about such things. I further called for an independent investigation to evaluate the discoveries. Those calls landed on deaf ears,” she added. “As it turns out, the matter was sent to the Auditor of State for review. We will let them do their work and I call on my fellow councilors to stop with the childish name-calling and return to civility for the common good of our residents and the city of Hudson.”

Councilor Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he does not agree with the mayor’s complaint.

“In my personal opinion, if a crime was committed the total value of computational time stolen would put the offense in the same bucket as taking your pen home at the end of the night,” he said.

But Sutton also said he is troubled by the content of some of the emails.

“There is evidence of staff assisting political action committees, engaging in campaign related activity using city resources / on city time, and seeking specific ballot outcomes. This crosses a line. The citizens are at the top of the organizational chart … it is the citizens that speak, and the city that listens … not the other way around,” he said.

“I’m tired of the political squabbling and one-ups-manship. I’m irritated that the mayor leap frogged over this council’s authority. I’m upset with the staff members who promoted an agenda. I’m angry with everyone who meddled with our last election. But most of all, I’m annoyed that we had to waste our time on this,” he said. “We’ve done some great things on this council so far, and we have the potential to do a lot more. Let’s quit the bickering, tell the agendas and activists to get lost, come together, and get back to work.”

Wooldredge said he felt council needed to focus on subjects such as roads, connectivity, stormwater and “all the other things that we have in our docket.”

“I think we need to focus on our business,” stated Wooldredge.

Councilor Chris Foster (Ward 2) noted he has felt compelled to hire outside legal counsel to obtain answers to legal questions posed by constituents after failing to get direct responses via the administration.

“It became clear to me at that point that if you asked a question and certain people within the city structure didn’t like it, you won’t get an answer,” he said. “So when you ask why the mayor would ask the state auditor to weigh in on an issue, you should also understand that not everyone will choose to spend thousands of dollars of personal income on lawyers when a resident asks an uncomfortable question.”

He also credited both Shubert and Wooldredge for their service to the community, but said he does not agree with Shubert’s complaint to the auditor’s office, and was also indirectly critical of Wooldredge.

“It seems to me that when someone has been in office too long, they start to believe the office is about them and their view and lose sight that it is about the voice of the people,” Foster said.

In closing, he referred to Rotary International’s Four-Way Test regarding ethical conduct in personal and professional relationships:

“Is it the TRUTH?

Is it FAIR to all concerned?

Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?

Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

“It’s something to think about. Maybe that is my call for civility,” he added.

Eric Marotta can be reached at emarotta@recordpub.com.