PORTAGE — Mayor John Cannon is calling for the resignation of Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham after the clerk failed to cooperate in an internal investigation into possible wrongdoing in that office.
In April, Cannon appointed a bipartisan executive investigative committee to look into potential malfeasance in Stidham's office. Cannon said he would not name the committee members out of respect for their privacy, but said it consisted of two Democrats and a Republican representing a city council member, a board of works member and a department head.
Cannon said the information was brought to his attention in March and he immediately wanted to investigate. The committee gave him a preliminary report in May and asked for more time to finish a final report.
Cannon said he could not get into specifics.
“I'm not allowed to talk about intertwinings of the report at this point,” he said. “It's confidential at this point.”
Stidham said it stemmed from his wife working for the clerk's office prior to her marriage to Stidham.
“It's an issue regarding work done for my office four years ago,” he said. “He's trying to make it something salacious because the individual doing the work, well, we had a relationship.”
According to Stidham, she quit working for his office shortly before they were married in 2016 so they wouldn't violate a law forbidding relatives from working for elected officials.
The situation was brought up during the trial of former Mayor James Snyder, who was convicted on bribery and tax evasion earlier this year. Stidham testified during the trial and his wife's former employment was brought up during cross-examination.
"It was slander when it was in court and it is slander now," he said.
In the course of Cannon's investigation, the committee sent the Portage Clerk-Treasurer's office a request for public documents.
The committee said Stidham did not respond to the request.
“At the end of the day, I am an independently elected official. I manage my office independent of the mayor,” Stidham said. “He has no oversight. He doesn't get to decide the people I hire or the work that I get done. That's left to my good judgment.”
Because it did not have the authority to issue subpoenas compelling a response, the committee told Cannon it could not affirmatively conclude violations of law. However, the committee said it predicted a "sufficient likelihood" of unlawful conduct, warranting further investigation by law enforcement and other officials.
Cannon received the confidential final report on Tuesday. He asked Stidham to meet with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the findings.
Stidham did not respond.
In response to the report and Stidham's failure to meet to discuss the findings, Cannon called for the immediate resignation of the clerk-treasurer.
Cannon contacted other officials and law enforcement about the situation. He did not specify whom he contacted besides Council President Sue Lynch, whom he said had her attorney with her.
Lynch said she was shown a copy of the report and skimmed it for 15 minutes but has not had a chance to fully read the report. She said the council had not been sent copies.
“I'm not a lawyer and this is a very serious situation that requires a great deal of care,” she said. “When I can get a copy and sit down to read it, I can comment on the specific allegations. From what I understand, this investigation is still ongoing.”
Cannon also has called for a special meeting of the Portage Board of Works at 9:30 a.m. July 3 to demand repayment of unapproved transactions made by the clerk-treasurer's office involving three companies: EGR Advisors, Keeping the Books and Paramount Technology Solutions.
“My job right now is to get the money back,” he said.