BAZETTA - State ethics law could halt trustees from making certain decisions if a candidate with ties to a township police officer and a seated trustee is elected.
But candidate Stephanie Hovis insists she will be an effective trustee while working within the bounds of Ohio ethics law and says a letter circulating the township by those opposing her election contains incorrect information.
''We don't want to hurt the township at all,'' Hovis said this week.
Hovis' husband, Mike Hovis, is a Bazetta police sergeant.
Another seated trustee whose term has not expired, Paul Hovis, is the police sergeant's brother. The combination could present a unique situation should an issue arise involving Mike Hovis' township position that might require a trustee vote, and a possible abstention from two of the three board members.
Stephanie Hovis said before running for office, she asked the Ohio Ethics Commission what limitations the relationship might present. Trustee Paul Hovis requested a similar opinion in March.
Now the question is being raised by a committee of concerned citizens.
The committee circulated a letter stating that ''neither Hovis is permitted to vote on any issues that concern the police department,'' an assertion Stephanie Hovis claims is not true.
Former township clerk Cheryl Tennant, who is a member of the opposition, said the committee wanted to bring out the potential conflict that could prevent some public decisions from being made.
Those decisions would be limited to those directly affecting her husband, according to statements and an unofficial opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Ethics law could prevent trustees from making any decisions regarding disciplinary or other actions directly involving the police sergeant since two trustees would need to abstain from the vote.
If two of the three trustees cannot vote on an issue, there is no other avenue to seek passage.
''One trustee does not a board make,'' said Ethics Commission advisory attorney Jennifer Hardin.
The trustees could decide collective bargaining issues, as long as the contract affects all police officers equally, according to Hardin.
Contract talks are ongoing and may not be done until after the election, Paul Hovis said, adding he believes bargaining agreements would not affect Sgt. Mike Hovis any more than his fellow officers.
The commission also told Paul Hovis he could negotiate and vote on police contracts provided Mike Hovis is not a member of the negotiating team. The commission opinion added that Stephanie Hovis cannot be on her husband's health insurance and still vote on police contracts.
Stephanie Hovis said her husband served as a negotiator in the past and that she is on his insurance. However, she expects he will step down as negotiator if she is elected. He also would drop his insurance through the township and get on a new policy through his wife if she is elected, Stephanie Hovis said.
Also, neither Stephanie nor Paul Hovis could vote on disciplinary action involving Mike Hovis, according to the opinions. Stephanie Hovis said that discipline should not be a problem because the acting chief of police would take action on it first. She also said that her husband did not mind the commission's opinion that he would be barred from advancement if she were on the trustee board.
Neither Stephanie nor Paul Hovis believe the trustees would have problems voting on police matters if Stephanie Hovis is elected.
Sgt. Mike Hovis is one of two ranking members in the police department, according to Paul Hovis. The other is Tom Miller, the township's acting police chief. The ranking members negotiate separately from the nonranking officers, though they are covered in the same contract.
''If we're talking about a major police force with thousands of sergeants, then there's not a difference. If it's a very small police force with one sergeant treated differently then yeah that would affect the application of the law,'' Hardin said.
Township attorney Mark Finamore did not believe there would be a conflict if all officers are under the same contract.