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Springboro councilman had 2 potential conflicts, skipped arts center votes

One member of Springboro City Council didn’t vote last week to move forward with the redevelopment of the city’s central crossroads.

Councilman Stephen Harding recused himself and left the council chambers on Thursday before developer Jerad Barnett began his presentation on a $4.5 million performing arts center where tenants, including the Springboro Chamber of Commerce, where he serves on the board, and Harding’s mother’s business, are expected to lease space.

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Harding, who completed ethics training after his election, also abstained from voting as the remaining six members of council voted unanimously to set aside $8.2 million to pay for construction of the center and street, and water and sewer improvements of $3.7 million to support redevelopment on the northwest corner of Ohio 73 and Ohio 741, Central Avenue and Main Street, in Springboro.

“It’s easier to step away so people don’t make a hill of beans about it,” said Harding, past board president of the local chamber and son of Becky Harding, an owner of the Center Stage Academy of the Arts.

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Harding said he participated in discussions on the chamber office and mother’s business.

He said he was recovering from a heart attack during some of the chamber board discussions of relocating the chamber’s office from South Main Street.

He said he initially referred his mother to the city manager’s office at the time when she decided she wanted to move the dance studio from one of the buildings still standing in the former shopping plaza being redeveloped by the city.

“It was just an option,” Harding said. “It wasn’t me steering anybody.”

He said he decided to recuse himself after learning Thursday before the meeting from City Manager Chris Pozzuto both the chamber and his mother’s business were planning to move into the center.

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Paul Nick, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said Ohio Ethics Law could apply to Harding’s relationship with the chamber. In this case, Nick said, he would be considered a business associate.

Nick said state ethics law on participating in a property matter “prohibits an official from using the authority or influence of her public position, formally or informally, in any matter that would render a definite and direct financial benefit or detriment for a person with whom the official has a close family relationship, such as a spouse, sibling, child or parent.”

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The city indicated it was still negotiating leases.

“Any official who’s not sure can ask us for advice,” Nick added. “If you follow our advice, it takes you out of harm’s way.”

Of Harding’s recusal, he said, “It was prudent of him at this point to make that determination.”

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