NEWTON FALLS- A possible conflict of interest involving police Chief John Kuivila and an auto dealership that was to lease cruisers to the Newton Falls department has sparked council to pass a motion to bring the issue to the attention of the Ohio Ethics Committee.
After entering executive session twice on Monday, the council passed the motion for an investigation in hopes of calming the flood of hearsay that has been a topic of discussion at the last three council meetings.
Prior to adjustments eliminating the cruisers from the council's 2013 budget, the police department requested to lease two (reduced from an original request of five) cruisers from Kepich Ford dealership in Garrettsville to which Kuivila has ties. According to Pete Kepich, owner of Kepich Ford in Garrettsville, Kuivila does not work at the dealership and is not on the payroll.
"He has been assisting me to develop a police car business," Kepich said, "he is doing it more as a favor for me."
Kepich said since Kuivila is a police chief, he has been able to assist him with information about what goes into a police car as opposed to a personal vehicle.
Councilman Richard Monteville made the motion to have the Bureau of Criminal Investigations to look into the matter at the recommendation of the mayor during their last meeting. Monteville said he has received more phone calls on the issue from his constituents than any other matter in his time on the council.
The council entered into executive session to discuss personnel and pending litigation. When they reconvened the council members discussed their opinions on the matter.
"I am against this investigation," Councilman Phillip Beers said, "It's nothing more than a witch hunt."
City Manager Jack Haney said he has not received phone calls on the chief and said "I would hate to prejudge anything."
"If you haven't done anything wrong," Monteville said, "you shouldn't be afraid of an investigation."
Councilwoman Nancy Hoffman suggested the investigation be referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission rather that the BCI.
After the second executive session, the council voted to amended the original motion to bring the chief's actions to the Ohio Ethics Commission instead of to the BCI which deals with criminal charges.
"I will vote for it," Councilwoman Nancy Hoffman said, "because I want to get it settled."
"I'm saying that there are a lot of questions that should be answered," Councilwoman Mary Ann Johnson said.
The amended motion passed by a vote of four to one and law director Joseph Fritz said he will write a letter to the Ohio Ethics Commission by the first of the year.
Councilman Richard Zamecnik said, "I have every confidence our chief will come out of this smelling like a rose."
Kuivila was unavailable for comment be after the meeting but previously has called the accusations frivolous. He also said his relationship to the dealership is part of his personal life and that he has not violated his contract with the police department or Ohio's ethics law.