Mayoral race hinges on probe

On the side

Political forums: It’s candidates forum season. Here are some:

The Optimist Club of Springfield Township is having one from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Springfield Local Intermediate School auditorium for candidates running for Springfield school board, township trustees and New Middletown Village Council.

The Union Baptist Church’s Core Team is sponsoring a forum for candidates running for Youngstown mayor, council president, municipal court judge, board of education, and those in favor and in opposition to the “Community Bill of Rights” anti-fracking charter amendment at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at the church, 528 Lincoln Ave., in Youngstown.

The Poland Presbyterian Church Breakfast Club is sponsoring a forum at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 27 in the church’s Fellowship Hall for those running for township trustee and board of education.

R&R time: I will be on vacation next week so there won’t be a column next Friday.

All indications are the investigation into sexual harassment claims made by Lyndsey Hughes, a city council employee, against DeMaine Kitchen, a mayoral candidate, will be concluded before the Nov. 5 general election.

The results of that investigation will certainly have a significant impact on the mayoral race.

The city hired Steve Sample, a retired Summit County sheriff’s detective who operates a security and investigation firm, last week.

Sample, whose company specializes in employee- misconduct investigations, started this investigation Monday.

In a Sept. 13 letter to city Law Director Anthony Farris, two of Hughes’ three attorneys wrote: “Kitchen sent a series of text messages attempting to explain himself and promote (legitimize) his attraction to Ms. Hughes. She ignored him.”

While the letter doesn’t mention whether Hughes kept those supposed text messages from Kitchen, it’s reasonable to assume she did if her attorneys included a mention of them in the letter.

Media outlets, including The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, have made public-records requests to the city law department for the text messages of Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, and of Kitchen.

The response is the city doesn’t have them and can’t get them.

AT&T, the city’s cellphone company, doesn’t keep text messages unless customers specifically request that service, which comes with a fee, according to the law department.

The city doesn’t have that service.

So if Hughes produces those text messages, and it can be proven they came from Kitchen, it’s game over.

Also of interest is Kitchen’s work cellphone hasn’t been produced; he says it’s lost or stolen.

When asked at a candidates’ forum on Monday if he was willing to provide copies of text messages and emails between him and Hughes, Kitchen said, “It’s all public record,” and “it’s already in the city’s possession.”

Obviously, the text messages aren’t in the city’s possession, and there is no way the city can obtain them.

Hughes’ attorneys have contended in the letter to Farris that the sexual harassment of their client by Kitchen has been off and on since January 2011.

Kitchen has strongly denied the allegations.

Kitchen also questions the timing of the allegations, which were reported by The Vindicator five weeks before Election Day, because Hughes supports Democrat John A. McNally IV for mayor.

Hughes’ attorney claims her five-day suspension in July was “retaliation” for her complaints about Kitchen.

The suspension, according to the letter, came a month before Kitchen began “another torrent of harassment toward Ms. Hughes. And this time it was most egregious.”

But Kitchen has said he had nothing to do with her suspension. That’s been supported by members of city council, who gave her the five days off without pay.

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