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Herron to name special counsel



Published: Tue, October 17, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



A special audit also examined spending in years before 2003.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- The state auditor has cleared the way for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the investigation of spending at the Columbiana County Board of Health.

Courtney Whetstone, a spokesperson for Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery, said Monday that Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron had been advised to appoint a special prosecutor.

Authorities have been investigating spending at the health board after a series of Vindicator stories in 2004 about county travel expenses and other costs.

Herron's office by law represents most county agencies, including the health department. There would be a conflict of interest if the prosecutor's office represented a board and prosecuted it.

Whetstone said the state auditor's office has a staff attorney, James Menken, who could serve as a special prosecutor, but Montgomery told her staff to tell Herron to proceed because of the upcoming election.

Montgomery is running for Ohio attorney general, a post she previously held. Whether she wins or loses in November, she will leave the auditor's office in about two months. Whetstone said that the next auditor may not have the same special prosecutor -- which could disrupt the case -- or any special prosecutor to handle the case.

What audit showed

A state audit of health board records for 2003 found thousands of dollars in questionable spending by Health Commissioner Robert Morehead on books, meals and travel expenses.

The state auditor's office issued findings for recovery for a total of 6,313. The majority of the findings, or 5,834, were against Morehead. The state auditor's Web site indicates that some of the funds are still unpaid although health board officials contend the amounts have been paid in full.

When the findings were announced in 2004, the state auditor's office said it would conduct a special audit into health department spending in previous years. Montgomery's office later said that Herron would get a packet of information about the board's spending.

Neither the state auditor's office nor Herron have identified the years that were examined. The results were turned over to Herron in April. The state auditor's office has said the material would eventually become a public record if no action is taken.

Herron did not return calls seeking comment.

wilkinson@vindy.com




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