By Ed Runyan
A. Joseph Fritz, the Newton Falls law director, will be preparing a letter in the coming weeks to ask the Ohio Ethics Commission to conduct an investigation into whether the village police chief, John Kuivila, has violated ethics laws.
Village Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to refer the question as a result of “a lot of people in town” talking about Kuivila’s relationship with Kepich Ford in Garrettsville, said Councilman Richard Monteville.
The only councilman voting against the measure was Phillip Beer.
Monteville said he’s been inundated with calls and questions from people wanting to know whether Kuivila would be doing something improper if he were working at the dealership and steering Newton Falls Police Department business to the dealership.
People have told Monteville they believe Kuivila is an “unpaid consultant” at the dealership, but others have suggested he has also worked as a part-time salesman there.
That coupled with the belief that Kuivila would buy new cruisers for his department from the dealership if council allowed it suggests a conflict of interest to some people, Monteville said.
“If he’s clear, it will only make him stronger,” Monteville said of Kuivila.
Pete Kepich, owner of the dealership, says Kuivila has done nothing wrong. What he has done is help Kepich understand the options that police departments typically want on their police vehicles.
The dealership does repairs on police cars for various departments and sells cars to police departments through the state purchasing program, Kepich said.
People have suggested that there are gray areas in the ethics laws and that Kuivila’s actions should be examined, but “there is no gray area,” Kepich said. “He’s not done anything wrong here. They didn’t even buy anything.”
As for Kuivila, he says the Kepich dealership “has gone above and beyond for the village in terms of repairing police vehicles.
“To even have any thought of impropriety on anyone’s part is ludicrous,” the chief said.
“I look forward to being vindicated in the outcome,” he said.
“Anyone who wants to question my integrity or ethics, go ahead because I’ve always been completely above-board.”
Councilwoman Mary Ann Johnson says the question she wants answered is whether there could be a “kickback” involved in Kuivila’s assistance to the dealership.
“He’s been seen at the dealership. He’s not doing that for nothing,” she said.
Mayor Lyle Waddell said he believes the matter stems from a couple members of council with a “personal agenda” conducting a “witch hunt,” adding, “This has to stop.”