Two Ohio Councilmen Sued For Giving Themselves Jobs with Fire Department

Today’s burning question: Can an elected village councilman vote to give himself a paid position with the village fire department? Is it any better if two councilmen do it? What if they vote to give a councilman’s wife a job? What if they do all three?

Answer: Unless they are serving in some sort of an ethical “neutral zone” – an elected official who participates in deliberations or a vote on a matter that may bring a direct financial benefit to themselves or an immediate family member – is acting unethically. In fact in many states it is a criminal offense. Most states require that an elected official declare a conflict of interest in such a case and abstain from any deliberations or votes.

This is not going to turn out well…

Several Bridgeport Village, Ohio residents have filed suit against Council President Dave Smith and Councilman Ben Lenz, who (according to the complaint) voted to hire themselves as EMTs for the fire department.

According to attorney Michael Shaheen, who represents the plaintiffs: "What's ironic is they moved to pass legislation to basically hire themselves and didn't abstain from the vote … they certainly knew what they were doing.” According to Shaheen, Smith and Lenz also voted to give Smith’s wife, Misty, a job as well.

A court ruled today that the two must temporarily refrain from participating in council meetings and activities pending further action.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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