Professional group declines review of ethics complaint against Hudson city manager

Residents requested investigation after reviewing public records

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson City Manager Jane Howington delivered her annual State of the City address in January. A group of residents filed a complaint with the International City/County Management Association in which they alleged Howington had violated some tenets of the ICMA's Code of Ethics. The ICMA has reviewed the complaint and decided against pursuing an investigation.

HUDSON — A professional organization for city and county managers has decided it will not pursue a formal review of an ethics complaint filed by a group of residents against Hudson's city manager.

A Sept. 21 letter signed by 20 residents was sent to Marc Ott, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA), requesting that ICMA's executive board assess whether Hudson City Manager Jane Howington violated ICMA's Code of Ethics.

Jessica Cowles, ethics adviser for ICMA, told Howington in a Nov. 6 email that ICMA's Committee on Professional Conduct "decided not to open a formal ethics review of the complaint ICMA received. This means there will be no further consideration given to the complaint at this time."

A news release issued by the city Nov. 18 said the ICMA's Committee on Professional Conduct "determined that there was no evidence of any violations and voted not to open a formal ethics review of the matter."

Cowles told the Hub-Times on Nov. 19 that, under ICMA’s Rules of Procedure for Enforcement of the Code of Ethics, the review process "is confidential, unless and until it results in the ICMA Executive Board's finding [that] a member's conduct has violated the Code of Ethics and the appropriate sanction is a public one. Absent that, ICMA does not offer any comments about any pending or completed ethics reviews."

Howington said she was happy that ICMA was not going to review the complaint any further.

“I am pleased that ICMA found no basis for these allegations,” said Howington. “I have worked diligently with Hudson City Council over the years to accomplish the goals they have established for me, and I will continue to work toward helping council achieve its vision for the city of Hudson."

Ed Stein, one of the residents who signed the complaint, said the contingent of citizens filed the complaint after city leaders did not respond to concerns that citizens raised about Howington's conduct a year ago.

In their complaint, the residents said they reviewed emails among government officials after the advisory vote on Downtown Phase II failed in May 2019. After reviewing these communications, the residents wrote they believed Howington was allowing city staff to campaign for the Phase II ballot issue using taxpayer-funded resources, backing candidates for city council, limiting public input and "actively finding ways to circumvent the state’s open meeting requirements for public bodies."

The residents argued Howington had violated four Tenets of the ICMA Code of Ethics.

According to a city news release, ICMA stated: “The CPC specifically noted while the Phase II project seems to be a point of community division, it has apparently been a priority for the governing body as indicated by its approved expenditure of over $8 million in funds towards the project’s success as of October 2020.”

Stein said his group was told by ICMA that their complaint was investigated and the matter was closed, but he added ICMA did not provide his group with a report or any further information on their review.

Stein noted he felt one outcome of the process was "to empower citizens to speak up and say something, without fear of retaliation, if there is indication government is not working in a manner that is expected, lawful or permissible by city charter."

He suggested the city "develop a more formal, competent and independent process to evaluate questions of elected and management officials' behavior before they escalate beyond the city's borders."

Stein said he also felt city council and citizens should look into having more people elected — rather than appointed — to city staff, board and committee positions. Doing so, Stein said, would give residents a "reoccurring opportunity to evaluate and affirm performance and behavior in critical areas of [the] city beyond city council and the mayor."

Howington said she was ready to move forward.

"I love this city, and I hope that we can move past the current divisiveness and work as a community toward ensuring Hudson’s place as a premier location in Northeast Ohio," she said.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.