Madison Twp audit uncovers multiple issues, auditor refers trustees’ votes to Ohio Ethics Commission

The latest audit of Madison Township in Butler County uncovered a myriad of issues.
The latest audit of Madison Township in Butler County uncovered a myriad of issues.(Provided)
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 10:26 PM EDT

MADISON TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WXIX) - The latest state audit of a township in Butler County uncovered a myriad of issues with bill-paying, records-keeping and overall compliance with Ohio laws and regulations.

A finding for recovery of $25,144 was issued against the elected official who serves as Madison Township’s fiscal clerk to recoup fees charged for late tax filings and bill payments, according to State Auditor Keith Faber.

What’s more, dozens of votes cast in 2018 and 2019 by two trustees who are related to township employees prompted Faber to turn the matter over to the Ohio Ethics Commission for review.

Trustees Alan Daniel and Thomas Hall voted on matters directly impacting family members, according to a management letter Farber sent to the township.

Hall’s father is the township fire chief.

Daniel’s son is the township’s road supervisor.

According to his letter:

  • In 2018: “Trustee Alan Daniel voted on 20 road department ordinances from which he should have abstained because he is the father of Road Supervisor Todd Daniel. Trustee Thomas Hall voted on 16 fire department ordinances from which he should have abstained because he is the son of Fire Chief Kent Hall.”
  • In 2019: “Trustee Alan Daniel voted on 15 road department ordinances from which he should have abstained because he is the father of Road Supervisor Todd Daniel; Trustee Thomas Hall voted on 10 fire department ordinances from which he should have abstained because he is the son of Fire Chief Kent Hall.”

“Trustee Alan Daniel should abstain from voting on any matter affecting the road department,” Faber wrote, “and Trustee Thomas Hall should abstain from voting on any matter affecting the fire department.”

“Abstaining on matters related to departments supervised by family members would ensure that the transactions were not in violation of Ohio Revised Code Section 102.03(D) and (E).”

That relates to Ohio ethics laws that state:

  • “No public official or employee shall use or authorize the use of the authority or influence of office or employment to secure anything of value or the promise or offer of anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.”
  • “No public official or employee shall solicit or accept anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.”

The full report is available on the auditor’s website.

We reached out for comment to the trustees and Hall, who is now a state representative.

“The audit and findings have brought to light actions that have damaged the community’s faith in the Township Government. We have to take action on corrective measures and policy updates to keep similar events from reoccurring,” Trustee Jeff Willoughby said in a statement to FOX19 NOW.

Daniel declined to comment on this story.

The township’s former administrator, Todd Farler, tells FOX19 NOW that Daniel repeatedly ignored his advice, based on the township’s legal counsel, to abstain from voting on matters related to his son.

“I can’t stop him from doing it. He chose to do what he wanted to do. He would do whatever he wanted to do,” Farler said of Daniel.

The Ohio Ethics Commission provided Daniel with an opinion in September 2006 addressing just this issue at Daniel’s request.

FOX19 NOW obtained a copy of it through a public records request.

“You stated that your son is the road superintendent for the township and has been employed by the township for fourteen years. You indicated that there are four employees on the road crew, including your son. You further stated that you have been under the impression that you could not vote on any pay raise if your son’s pay would be affected,” reads the commission’s letter to him on Sept. 27, 2006.

“You explained that you recently abstained from voting on a motion for a three-percent pay raise for all road workers, including your son. The motion did not pass. You further explained that your son was then excluded from the motion for the pay raise and you voted on the motion and the motion passed. You asked if the Ethics Law and related statutes prohibit you, in the future, from voting on an across-the-board wage increase for all road workers in the township because your son is the road superintendent.”

The commission provided Daniel with the following brief answer:

“.....the Ethics Law and related statutes do not prohibit you from voting on another trustee’s motion for an across-the-board salary increase for the road crew, as long as the increase is not established on a basis other than membership in the class of employees, will not affect your son’s employment in a differential manner than other members of the class, and does not secure, renew, modify, or renegotiate the terms of your son’s individual employment relationship with the township.”

Daniel was elected trustee in 1995 and won his seat every four years since, according to the Butler County Board of Elections.

He has been under criminal investigation by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and an investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission for more than a year related to an action he made on a county board in early 2021.

In addition to serving as a township trustee, Daniel was until recently a longtime appointed member of the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals.

He served in both roles for several years.

In February 2021, Daniel voted to approve zoning variances for land that his son, Todd Daniel, owned at the time to be developed into a Dollar General store, according to county records and meeting minutes.

At the time of the vote, Alan Daniel held the mortgage to his son’s property, which he used to co-own with his son, according to records at the Butler County’s recorder and auditor offices.

That makes his vote an apparent clear violation of state law, according to the current statutes, court records show.

A group of Madison Township residents filed a federal lawsuit over the illegal vote, alleging county officials failed to take action when they were informed about the “corrupt” land deal.

Those residents insisted county commissioners hold a hearing to consider asking Daniel to resign from the board as a result.

“Mr. Daniel exploited his position and intentionally chose to participate in the zoning variance process with obvious knowledge of this conflict. His actions damaged the integrity of the process and the work content of the BZA,” one of the residents who sued, Bret Frank, said when he appeared in person before Butler County Commissioners on Sept. 13, 2021.

County leaders scheduled the meeting but Daniel resigned from the BZA before it was held.

He remains a township trustee.

The residents lost their federal lawsuit and an appeal.

Their objections to the new Dollar General store can’t stop the project despite Daniel’s “corrupt” behavior, the courts determined.

The neighbors were not at the meeting when the “apparent illegal” vote was taken to object to it, although they were notified, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott wrote in her decision. They also did not timely file an appeal to Butler County Common Pleas Court.

“The actions of Alan Daniel and the Zoning Board to have allowed Daniel to vote in favor of the variances despite his conflict of interest are offensive. The citizens of Butler County, including plaintiffs, deserve better from their governmental representatives,” Dlott’s decision states.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, writing that “the corrupt manner in which the decision was made does not change this analysis.”

Hall recently told FOX19 NOW he was frustrated by the way his votes were described in the audit.

None, he said, directly relates to his father and his financial gain.

Hall said he was diligent to check with Farler to make sure what he could and couldn’t vote on since his father is the fire chief.

He said he followed guidance Farler passed onto him from the township’s legal counsel.

Farler backed up Hall’s statements.

“The township administrator worked with our attorneys to ensure that I would never vote on anything to cause an issue,” Hall told us.

Hall gave us the list of his 26 votes the Auditor’s Office turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission for review.

He said when he contacted them after seeing the audit they told him these were just recommendations that he abstain from voting on matters related to the fire department since his father is the chief.

In other matters related to Madison Township’s audit, Fiscal Officer Amy Schenck, who has served in that role for more than 20 years, recently repaid $24,395 in fees and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service for late filings and $749 in late fees and interest charges for credit card and utility payments, according to the state auditor’s office.

“The payment of late fees and penalties due to the inability of the Fiscal Officer to make timely payment is not a proper public purpose,” the audit states.

Schenck recently told FOX19 NOW in a prepared statement she is proud of her work overall during the more than two decades she has served the public. She pointed out it was on a part-time basis with no support staff.

“If I had known that so many difficulties were coming my way and that I was going to fall so far behind, I would have stepped down,” her statement reads, “but I didn’t know and I did my best to complete my work despite my personal hardships.

“Over the summer of 2017, I became very ill, routine tests did not reveal anything. In August 2017, I discovered a large, nerf football-sized mass, in my chest. The size and location (Brachial Plexus) of the mass caused debilitating numbness and pain in my left arm. My symptoms worsened and I became partially disabled. After surgery in February 2018 to remove the tumor, it was determined that it was cancer (liposarcoma.)

“As a result of the surgery, I lost all feeling and ability to move my left arm and hand due to the nerve damage the tumor had caused. (This was not expected- the surgery was supposed to improve the function.) I struggled to complete my work during this time. After several months of physical and occupational therapy, I was able to regain the use of my arm and returned to work. I was still in treatment for cancer, I was behind, and I was struggling to get the daily tasks done.”

“In July 2018, I was at my follow-up appointment at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Zion, Illinois, when 20-year-old son, Sam, called saying that he couldn’t walk. He was stricken with Gillian-Barre Syndrome. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. He became completely paralyzed and was in UC Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit on life support and then in the hospital for several weeks. He had to be admitted into a rehabilitation center after he was discharged from the hospital to be able to relearn how to walk, talk, and function. It was several months before he was able to stay alone. I was trying to work from the hospital and the rehab center but was struggling to keep the bills and the employees paid. This was the worst pain of all, to see my child suffering and in pain and struggling to return to his former life.

“The normal procedure is to process payroll, call in the withholdings and file the paperwork. During this difficult period, I mistakenly filed the paperwork without calling it in. By the time I realized the error, the penalties and fees were piling up. I made the withholding payments and contacted the IRS and begged them to consider my circumstances and waive the fees (which they did not.) In November 2019, I made a public statement during a township meeting about my illness and my mistake and pledged to pay all of the fines and penalties.

“I am a hard-working elected public servant that became very ill and fell behind. I made mistakes and I take responsibility for them. I did what I could to correct them and I paid the money back that my mistakes cost the township. I love my community and deeply regret the negative impact this has had on Madison Township. I plan to finish my term.”