Hudson City Council president will not be prosecuted by county on email use

Matter sent back to city's legal department

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Bill Wooldredge

HUDSON — City Council's leader will not face felony prosecution from the county over an allegation of improper use of his government email account after the mayor requested authorities investigate the issue.

In a Dec. 15 letter to Mayor Craig Shubert, Brian V. LoPrinzi, chief of the criminal division for the Summit County Prosecutor's Office, wrote that Council President Bill Wooldredge's "limited use of city email does not warrant felony prosecution."

Wooldredge told the Hub-Times he had no comment about the prosecutor's decision.

LoPrinzi said his office is sending the issue back to the city of Hudson's legal department and to City Council "for them to consider any formal discipline necessary, or such resolution as would be reasonable for this type of situation."

Hudson City Solicitor Matt Vazzana confirmed his office received a copy of the county prosecutor's letter and forwarded it to council for their consideration.

Shubert, who asked the Auditor of State's Office in July 2020 to investigate whether Wooldredge's use of his council email violated state law, said he did not expect the issue to be pursued further.

"I have no doubt that this matter is effectively concluded, since there is zero appetite by the city legal staff, the city manager, or city council to actually render an answer as to whether Wooldredge’s behavior was actually appropriate and to what extent it may have occurred,” Shubert said.

LoPrinzi told Shubert in the Dec. 15 letter he felt the inquiry should have been handled at a local level.

"We regret that this level of political inquisition has caused our office and the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office to expend its time and energies on a matter that is better handled by the council in which Mr. Wooldredge serves," wrote LoPrinzi.

Shubert said that LoPrinzi did not specify the amount of time and resources the county prosecutor spent on the investigation, nor did he cite any state law or case law to arrive at his decision.

“There is a huge swathe of this city that believes that our city government is primarily dedicated to advancing the interests of government administrators and elected officials without looking out for the citizens," Shubert said. "No doubt this willingness to look the other way will only increase the cynicism with which our residents view our actions."

Background on the case

In July,  Shubert asked the state auditor to investigate whether Wooldredge had violated state law when using his council email account.

Shubert's complaint included documents that were first posted on The Hudson Files website, which was started by members of two grassroots groups, the Hudson Environmental Council LLC and Hudson’s Voice,LLC. The website shows public documents related to city issues.

Among those documents were an email from Wooldredge to then-council candidate (now at-large council member) Nicole Kowalski telling her he would sign her nomination petition and donate to her campaign; an email string among Wooldredge, Kowalski and Nicole Davis where they set up a meeting to discuss Davis’ plan to run for city council; and an email string between Wooldredge and Davis in which Wooldredge said he would help Davis with her campaign.

In August 2020, the state auditor sent a letter to Wooldredge saying if he was using his council email account to promote political campaigns, he should stop those activities immediately. 

The auditor also directed its regional staff to review the issue during the regular audit of city finances this year, according to Allison Dumski, press secretary for the Auditor of State. Results from the audit are expected to be released this fall.

The Summit County Prosecutor's Office then looked into the matter after it was referred to them by the Auditor of State's Office in September. .

Mayor believes county prosecutor had conflicts of interest

Shubert said the county prosecutor's office did not contact him after it began its investigation.

"It appears that the county prosecutor did nothing but bury this matter until after this past year's City Council at-large race," Shubert said. "Is this really the best answer Summit County residents can expect from their investment in her office?"

The mayor said he felt the county prosecutor had conflicts of interestand should have referred the matter to the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Shubert said Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh endorsed Nicole Davis in a City Council race in November 2019. In the cover letter of his complaint to the state auditor, Shubert noted that while Walsh endorsed Davis "in her personal capacity, and does not appear to have used any official resources [in the endorsement]," he felt the endorsement "does appear to conflict [Walsh's] ability to impartially investigate whether …Wooldredge’s use of his official resources to support Nicole Davis’ campaign was appropriate."

In addition, John Galonski, a chief assistant prosecuting attorney in the civil division in Walsh's office, donated to Kowalski's council campaign in July 2020, Shubert said. 

James Pollack, spokesperson for the county prosecutor, confirmed that Galonski donated $100 to Kowalski's campaign committee on July 16, which was before the prosecutor's office started its investigation. The donation is listed on Kowalski's pre-election campaign finance report filed with the Summit County Board of Elections.

Shubert said he found it "distressing" that the county prosecutor's office was aware of Galonski's donation at the time they were asked to investigate the case in September.

"Ethically, Sherri Bevan Walsh should have referred the matter to the Ohio Attorney General for an unbiased investigation and finding of fact," Shubert said.

Pollack said Galonski "was not involved in any review of the information [on the Wooldredge case] nor was he involved in the decision."

In a prepared statement, Walsh said she believed neither she nor her office had a conflict of interest.

"My office does not make decisions based on politics," Walsh said. "We make decisions based on facts. The facts in this case show it did not rise to the level of something the Summit County Prosecutor's Office will prosecute."

Walsh said both the auditor's office and her office spent time and resources on the matter, and determined felony prosecution was not warranted.

"Elected officials need to get back to doing their job rather than trying to make every little issue a political attack," Walsh said.

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