BUTLER TOWNSHIP — Members of the Butler Township Trustees have used personal email accounts to transact Township business. That conclusion comes after an analysis of emails received as part of a public records request by the Vandalia Drummer News.
The analysis was conducted on several hundred emails beginning in 2014.
Trustee Nick Brusky and former Trustee Doug Orange both sent and/or received email to their personal accounts but there is no evidence that Trustee Mike Lang used a personal email account.
Mr. Orange used his personal account, firstname.lastname@example.org, at least 27 times during that time period while Mr. Brusky used his account, email@example.com, at least 25 times. The most recent of the emails was December 15, less than two weeks before the public records request.
The use of personal email for government business has been the topic of much debate ever since it was revealed that former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton exclusively used a private email account and server during her tenure.
While the use of private email for public business is not illegal in Ohio, the Ohio Sunshine Laws manual, published by the Ohio Attorney General’s office as a resource manual, makes clear that those emails are public records as well.
Brusky says that the reason he sends email to his private account is for convenience.
“If I have a large file I want to read later I send it there so I can open it without using my cell phone data,” said Brusky.
Lang said that he did not use his personal email account for township business and expressed concern that other trustees were.
“That makes (email) a more difficult public record, which it is, to obtain,” said Lang. “When you use your personal account you are beholden to no one to release records because no one would know otherwise absent a criminal inquiry.”
Emails show close relationship with Alex Kolodesh
Further analysis of the emails show that Brusky has often sent emails from township staff and fellow trustees to Alex Kolodesh of Singer Properties.
Kolodesh has been at odds with township officials over payment for the electricity for proposed street lights along Miller Lane. He has also taken issue with what he perceived as negative publicity for the business district by the police department.
In at least 17 emails, Brusky forwarded information to Kolodesh in which Kolodesh was not originally a party to the email. Four of those occasions were blind copied, which means that none of the other recipients knew that Brusky had sent the response, along with the body of the email, to Kolodesh.
Subjects ranged from the proposed lighting district, projects in the Miller Lane area, and media coverage of major crimes in the business district among other topics.
Lang took serious issue with the blind copying and said it creates trust issues.
“It makes you question everything,” said Lang. “I’m a pretty right and wrong kind of guy. If you are doing something like that behind everyone’s back then it raises the question of what else are you doing. Where there is smoke, there’s fire.”
Brusky said that he was not trying to be deceptive or secretive.
“I’m not trying to be secretive, I guess I could have carbon copied,” said Brusky. “There’s no being secretive because I know they are still subject to public records requests.”
Brusky contends that his efforts were to repair what he and Kolodesh believe is a damaged relationship between Kolodesh and the township.
“Alex feels like he was left out in much of the decision making in the township and he’s one of the largest business owners in the township,” Brusky said. “I think the attitude we have had toward him is poor.”
Lang dismissed Brusky’s explanation.
“There is another email function called carbon copy, and you can do the professional thing and include that individual’s name so all the recipients are aware of it,” he said. “If you aren’t going to do that, then certainly your motives can be called into question. There is an unbalanced relationship between Nick Brusky and Alex Kolodesh.”
When Brusky was asked why Kolodesh would often come to him with concerns, he said he wasn’t certain.
“You have to ask Kolodesh’s that reason,” he said. “There’s been a communication breakdown between him and some of the other township officials and he felt more comfortable coming to me with things.”
Brusky said that many townships have working relationships with their developers but that the relationship between the township and Singer Properties and the Kolodesh family are strained. He also said that he wanted to treat all businesses fairly.
“I know that other officials, trustees, and administration have had conversations with other people in the township without my knowledge. For them to say I left them out of the loop I think is the pot calling the kettle black.