LISBON Ethics panel examines officials' travel records

Cogentrix Energy provided officials with airfare so they could view a power plant.
LISBON -- Columbiana County commissioners say their intentions were innocent in accepting airfare from a North Carolina company seeking to put a $600 million power plant in Center Township.
Commissioners Dave Cranmer and Jim Hoppel said Friday they are awaiting word from the Ohio Ethics Commission as to whether commissioners should have listed the airfare on an annual disclosure form they are required to fill out and submit to the ethics commission.
Cranmer and Hoppel asked county Prosecutor Robert Herron recently to look into the matter, which stems from a December trip to Wisconsin paid for by Cogentrix Energy Inc. of Charlotte, N.C.
Cogentrix paid the $139 round-trip airfare for each of the officials to allow them to view firsthand a power-generation plant the company built in Whitewater, Wis.
Decision: Commissioners wanted to see the plant to help them determine whether to support Cogentrix's proposal to put a natural gas-fired plant along St. Jacob-Logtown Road in Center Township.
Commissioners have since supported the plant's coming here. The matter is currently before the Ohio Power Siting Board, which certifies power plants.
The ethics commission disclosure form asks whether a public official's travel expenses were paid for by any one else.
Cranmer and Hoppel said they didn't note the trip on their forms because they didn't think the question applied to the trip.
"If I made a mistake, I'll admit I made a mistake" regarding the disclosure form, Hoppel said. "There was no illegal or unethical intent," he added.
"Anybody who looks at the facts sees there was no intention of wrong-doing," said Rachel Bagley, Cogentrix spokeswoman.
Dinner questioned: The disclosure form issue is coming up in the wake of questions raised recently about Cogentrix's sponsorship of a Columbiana County Township Association dinner that was to be held earlier this month.
Cogentrix accepted the association's invitation to have a speaker at the dinner and to sponsor it, a cost of several hundred dollars.
But Cogentrix's sponsorship was scrapped after assistant county Prosecutor John Gamble questioned the propriety of Cogentrix's sponsorship of an affair that would be attended by many local officials who might be making decisions regarding the plant. Bagley questioned the propriety of Gamble's becoming involved in the matter.
Gamble was unavailable for comment. But his boss, Herron, acknowledged that Gamble is opposed to the facility, which would be located near Gamble's home.
Herron defended Gamble's questioning the dinner sponsorship.
Gamble has a right as a private citizen to become involved in matters that concern him, Herron said.