Embattled Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen indicted on felony charges

Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen.
Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen.

NEW PHILADELPHIA — A Tuscarawas County grand jury indicted Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen on 15 charges Friday after a year of conflict between the 8-term veteran and the City Council's efforts to hold him accountable.

The charges allege Homrighausen pocketed $9,295 in wedding fees that should have been directed to the city from 231 weddings, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber said.

Homrighausen is facing one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony; one count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract, a fourth-degree felony; six counts of filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent returns, all fifth-degree felonies; four counts of soliciting improper compensation, all first-degree misdemeanors; two counts of dereliction of duty, both second-degree misdemeanors; and one count of representation by a public official or employee, a first-degree misdemeanor.

"The Special Investigations Unit also determined that the mayor failed to claim wedding fees on federal, state, and local tax returns; failed to declare the payments on ethics financial disclosure forms; and interviewed and hired his son for a city job in violation of state nepotism laws," a release from Faber's office stated.

Tuscarawas County Sheriff Orvis Campbell said the mayor had been served with the charges Friday afternoon.

The mayor could now be suspended from his office under an Ohio law.

How to suspend a mayor: Elected officials facing accusations of wrong doing can be suspended or removed in Ohio

Dover City Council President Shane Gunnoe said Friday the mayor should resign or be removed from office by appropriate legal means.

"Obviously the indictment of a sitting mayor of the city of Dover is a black eye for our community," Gunnoe said. "It's terribly embarrassing to all of those associated with city government. That's part of the reason City Council has been adamant that the mayor resign.

"Obviously the conduct of his office over the last year or two is part of the reason City Council has asked that he resign. But I believe our community is obviously stronger than the actions of one man."

Homrighausen, 73, stopped coming to work and council meetings for months in this city of about 13,000 residents south of Canton along I-77, prompting a council investigation into his physical and mental well-being. Council members have repeatedly called upon him to resign, citing a declining faith in his ability to lead the city.

Homrighausen did not reply to a phone call and email message seeking comment.

Homrighausen did not attend council meetings since before he broke his hip in February 2021. He eventually began using Zoom to give his mayoral reports until the council required in-person briefings.

The eight-term mayor returned in July and found himself at the center of a state investigation with three special prosecutors from the Ohio Auditor's Office assigned to the case. He also has been peppered with critical questions from the council about hiring, firing three employees who helped council and cost overruns at the city's power plant.

Dover mayor asked to resign 13 months ago

Council first called for Homrighausen to resign in February 2021 citing his "declining ability" to lead the city.

Members complained of missed deadlines and time-sensitive material not being addressed. They also said there had been a lack of communication from the mayor.

Later, council members all spoke of how difficult an action it was to call for his resignation.

"This is a meeting that I absolutely take no joy in presiding over," Council President Shane Gunnoe said at the time. "In fact, I've said many prayers hoping this meeting would ultimately not be necessary."

In the following week, Homrighausen instructed all department heads and city employees to report any inquiries, questions or requests for documents they received to his office.

In March 2021, council voted to hire Ulmer & Berne, a law firm, to assist in an investigation into personnel matters related to the mayor's office.

The report of the investigation, released in May, described a chief executive who had become detached from daily city business, used his influence to have his son hired for a city job and expected employees to solicit donations for his reelection campaigns.

Richard Homrighausen accused of retaliation

In December, while saying he was "taking care of city business," Homrighausen fired Service Director Dave Douglas, Safety/Human Resources Director Gerry Mroczkowski and the mayor's executive assistant, Eva Newsome. All three testified about the mayor during the council investigation.

Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen hands paperwork to Safety Director Gerald Mroczkowski after firing him, the mayor's secretary, and the safety director, Tuesday, Dec 21 in Dover.
Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen hands paperwork to Safety Director Gerald Mroczkowski after firing him, the mayor's secretary, and the safety director, Tuesday, Dec 21 in Dover.

The three appealed their firings to the State Personnel Board of Review, alleging that Homrighausen had violated Ohio's Whisteblower Statute.

On Feb. 8, council approved a settlement agreement with Douglas, Mroczkowski and Newsome, giving them their jobs back. That promoted Homrighausen to file a lawsuit seeking to block the agreement.

"The settlement agreement contains highly unusual terms and may be the most bizarre settlement agreement drafted in Ohio’s history," the suit said. "Instead of abiding by his statutory duty to act in Mayor Homrighausen’s best interest, Law Director (Doug) O’Meara has instead admitted liability on behalf of Mayor Homrighausen."

The agreement said that the mayor's firing of the three "was so obviously motivated by illegal retaliation" and the termination was illegal.

Homrighausen vetoed the settlement agreement, but council is expected to override his decision.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Grand jury indicts Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen