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YOUNGSTOWN Panel charges Fla. official with selling public document



Published: Mon, February 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The ethics panel contends the Youngstown manual was virtually a copy of Florida's.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Florida official faces ethics charges in that state, in part, on allegations that he improperly sold a public document to the city of Youngstown for $7,500.

City contracts and invoices show the official also sold Youngstown a draft of the document -- a private prison monitoring manual -- for another $7,500.

That puts the questionable total at $15,000 paid to consultant C. Mark Hodges. He also is executive director of Florida's Correctional Privatization Commission.

Hodges and city Law Director Robert Bush Jr., however, disagree with Florida ethics investigators. Hodges did more work for the money spent than just provide the documents, he and Bush said.

"We did a lot more work than was ever in the contract," Hodges said of himself and those who worked with him in consulting. "We did a ton of other work."

Bush agrees.

Reimbursed: Ultimately, the money paid out wasn't the city's anyway, Bush said. Corrections Corporation of America, owner of the now empty East Side private prison that the city monitors, eventually reimbursed the city for expenses. That included the manual, he said.

Nonetheless, a contract and invoices show the city released $15,000 for a draft and a final copy of the 68-page document. The document, unedited, would have cost $10.20 -- 15 cents a page in copying fees.

Hodges rejects the notion that he did anything improper.

First, the city had access to the Florida manual from the start, he said. Revisions made for Youngstown may not have been lengthy, but were necessary, Hodges said. Second, Hodges said he did nothing illegal under Florida law.

"It's not illegal to sell a public document," he said. "It's just not illegal."

Other panel findings: Besides the manual, the Florida Commission on Ethics recently found probable cause that Hodges violated other laws the past six years.

He used his state job, which pays more than $90,000, to benefit his private consulting business, the commission said. Hodges is accused of hiring several of his employees to do consulting work; illegally using state phones and fax machines; and having a conflict of interest. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which opposes private prisons and filed the complaint against Hodges, has asked the state attorney to file criminal charges.

A few of the ethics charges stem from Hodges' work in Youngstown in 1998.

Hodges improperly hired one of his workers to do onsite monitoring of the private prison in Youngstown, the commission said. Also, Florida paid for 697 minutes of calls to the Youngstown area. Hodges contends only 14 minutes were for personal business.

Then, there is the manual.

The city hired Hodges in summer 1998 based on his experience with CCA and good reputation in the private prison monitoring field, Bush said. The suggestion came from others in the industry, he said.

The city was negotiating a mandated operations contract with CCA concerning its prison.

His duties: Hodges' contract spelled out his duties in three phases:

UPhase I work included providing advice during negotiations and inspecting the private prison as needed.

UPhase II work was designing a monitoring manual.

UPhase III work was an onsite audit based on the manual.

The contract said Hodges was to be paid:

U$5,000 after the CCA agreement was signed for his negotiating help.

U$7,500 after submitting a draft of the monitoring manual.

U$7,500 after submitting the final monitoring manual.

U$7,500 after completing the onsite audit.

U$7,500 after delivering the monitoring report.

The invoices are specific.

"Phase II" is written on an invoice dated Aug. 31, 1998. Underneath, the words "draft manual" are written and next to them the number $7,500.

"Phase III" is written on an invoice dated Sept. 25, 1998. Underneath, the words "final manual" are written and next to them the number $7,500.

Despite the language, Bush and Hodges insist the consultant did more work for the two $7,500 payments than just delivering the documents.

Hodges provided other services, such as offering advice, while fulfilling the work outlined in phases II and III, Bush said.

The city would need to show that it paid only for the document to get any money back, Bush said. Payment for the work done in phases, however, makes that hard to prove, he argues.

Bush called the $7,500 benchmarks outlined in the contract merely "trigger events in the billing."

Hodges and Bush differ in their accounts of how the manual was developed.

The ethics report says the manual was virtually a copy of the Florida document. Hodges paid another worker $5,000 to remove Florida references and charged Youngstown $7,500, the report says.

Bush said the city expected a unique manual for Youngstown. He didn't know the manual mostly was copied from Florida's document, he said. Hodges never indicated that the manual was based on a public record, Bush said.

Hodges, however, said the Florida document was offered up for free. That manual references only Florida laws, however. That wouldn't do the city as much good, he said.

After pointing that out, city officials asked that Florida references be replaced with references on standards set by the American Correctional Association, Hodges said.

"So that's what we did," he said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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