Pickaway News Journal

Tue, Jul 25, 2017

Prosecutor to file motion to dismiss in complaint against Veterans Service Commission

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Judge John P. Bessey (right) addresses the audience in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court following a status conference on Wednesday. (Photo by Trish Bennett)

CIRCLEVILLE - The Pickaway County Prosecutor will file a motion to dismiss a complaint against the local Veterans Service Commission and a request to remove three members from its board after a status conference held Wednesday in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court.

The process to file, respond, consider and rule on that motion should take about six weeks, according to Judge John P. Bessey, who has been assigned to hear the case.

The status conference Wednesday was held in chambers with the judge and attorneys from both sides of the issue while about 20 onlookers waited inside the courtroom. Following the conference, Bessey emerged to address those gathered in the court and promised to expedite the decision as much as possible.

"All of us are interested in moving this to a conclusion and doing that as soon as possible," Bessey said.

Bessey said he knows some people will be happy with the outcome and some will not, but those involved will do what they can to resolve the matter quickly one way or the other.

Judy Wolford, county prosecutor, represents the three board members and William Archer, local attorney, represents the complainants in the case.

Wolford will now file the motion to dismiss in Common Pleas Court, and Archer will have a set period of time to file an answer. Wolford will then have the opportunity to file a response before Bessey receives the complete file for review and a decision.

Bessey said all documents will become public record and will be available for review as they are filed throughout the process.

Bessey, a retired judge from Columbus, was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the case after Judge P. Randall Knece recused himself from the proceedings. Knece, judge of the Pickaway County Court of Common Pleas, is responsible for appointing members to the VSC board.

The complaint, filed Feb. 26 and signed by ranking officers of veteran organizations in Pickaway County, alleges a "pattern of misconduct" by board members Tom Tootle, Leroy Fout and Ronald Clifton and requests their removal from the board.

Signers of the complaint are Terry Brown, commander of VFW Post #3331; Patrick Cherry, commander of AMVETS Post #2256; Michael Struckman, first vice commander of AMVETS Post #2256; Roger Ward, commander of the American Legion Post #134; Ron Brungs, executive chairman of American Legion Post #134; Rebecca Lee, commandant of the Marine Corps League Detachment #830; Robert Meenach, paymaster/prior commandant of the Marine Corps League Detachment #830; Ray Horch, commander of American Legion Post #618; and Joseph Carle, treasurer, American Legion Post #618.

Ward and Brungs later requested in writing to have their names and the American Legion Post #134 removed from the complaint.

The complaint alleges Tootle and Clifton willfully violated Ohio's Sunshine Law on Nov. 18, 2014, by participating in a meeting of the VSC board where members of the public were not allowed to be in attendance.

That date was two days prior to a public meeting held Nov. 20, 2014, in which Rebecca Lee, then executive director of the Pickaway County Veterans Service Office, was placed on paid administrative leave by the board pending an investigation into charges of misconduct in office. She was terminated from that position a month later at a meeting held Dec. 18, 2014.

Tootle and Clifton also are accused in the complaint of willfully misleading the VSC board about relevant facts pertaining to a memo between the governor and assistant governor of Veterans Affairs.

The complaint also alleges Clifton violated the Ohio Revised Code regarding the purchase of replacement grave markers for veterans in his township, and that Tootle is being paid under an incorrect line item in the budget, which the signers believe demonstrates a willfully false representation of his duties.

The complaints against Fout all stem from his previous service to the board from October 1989 to October 1994 prior to his resignation and subsequent ban from the Veterans Service Office property. Fout was just appointed back to the board this year.

In addition to these members' removal, the complaint requests that all future board members be replaced or appointed with the first choice of the nominating executive boards of the veteran organizations they represent.

Each member of the local Veterans Service Commission is also a member of a local service organization. Clifton, president of the board, represents Disabled American Veterans; Bennie Branham represents the VFW; Leroy Fout represents the American Legion; Tom Tootle represents AMVETS; and Dennis Warner represents the Marine Corps League.

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