Article By MARK TATGE, PLAIN DEALER BUREAU
Wednesday, January 13, 1999
"Ethics panel won't give opinion on developer
COLUMBUS - The Ohio Ethics Commission declined to render an opinion about whether a developer who raised funds for former Gov. George V. Voinovich may have violated state ethics laws by participating in the construction of a statewide radio network.
The opinion, requested by Department of Administrative Services Director Sandra Drabik four days before the first phase of the $271-million project was approved last fall, said the commission didn't feel it could appropriately render advice about a contract already awarded.
The department sought an opinion about whether Daniel Slane, a Columbus shopping center developer appointed to boards by Voinovich, could be hired as subcontractor by Lyndhurst-based TRW Inc. and Motorola Co. of Chicago to oversee the construction of 201 radio towers. The towers would provide the backbone for the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System, a high-tech voice and data communications system designed to link various state law enforcement agencies. ...
Drabik wrote the commission Sept. 10 seeking an opinion four days before the massive project was scheduled to go before the State Controlling Board. Drabik said in her letter that she was seeking advice whether Slane had a possible conflict of interest.
Drabik said yesterday that "issues had been raised about the role of Mr. Slane with the Ohio Building Authority and bond issuance . . . and there have been questions about Mr. Slane and other boards.
"We were being careful with our contracting process," she said.
Slane was appointed by Voinovich to the Ohio Building Authority, the Board of Building Appeals and the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board. He also sits on the Ohio State University Board of Trustees.
David E. Freel, executive director of the ethics commission, responded to Drabik's request by saying the commission could not render an opinion on such short notice. Drabik said she wanted the opinion even if it took longer.
Anyone who gets a favorable opinion from the commission is shielded from civil or criminal action as long as the facts on which the opinion is based correctly present the situation, said Freel.
The state's handling of the MARCS contract has raised controversy.
The cost of the project ballooned by $100 million. The bid process came under attack by Ericsson Inc., which says it was disqualified before its financial package was opened by the state. The contract was awarded to the only remaining bidder, TRW/Motorola, which bid $365 million, roughly twice Ericsson's pricetag.
... After eliminating Ericsson, state officials negotiated exclusively with TRW/Motorola trying to get the company to shave its cost estimate from $365 million to $271 million, according to Department of Administrative Services documents.
The department kept the negotiations and the details secret until last August, just weeks before the deal went before the Controlling Board.
Contract documents showed Slane, who raised money for the Republican Governor's Association and for Voinovich's 1990 gubernatorial campaign, was picked by TRW to handle development of the radio towers. As part of the arrrangement, Slane has agreed to acquire and lease 121 sites to the state at a cost of up to $8.1 million per year, or about $160 million for 20 years. ..."
Article By JON CRAIG, Beacon Journal Columbus Bureau
Published Friday, December 4, 1998, in the Akron Beacon Journal
"Ethics panel probes radio pact
* Commission investigates whether former Voinovich fund-raiser has conflict of interest in $358 million project. Communications network will unite agencies
COLUMBUS: The Ohio Ethics Commission has been asked to decide whether a former political fund-raiser for Gov. George Voinovich has a conflict of interest as subcontractor on a $358 million statewide radio communications project. The Department of Administrative Services made the request for two related opinions on Sept. 10, according to David E. Freel, executive director of the Ethics Commission. That was four days before the initial $26 million phase of the project was approved by the state Controlling Board.
Freel said the commission has since asked the department for additional information on the project, which aims to modernize communications for at least 10 state agencies. The matter will go to the commission on Jan. 11.
Administrative Services spokeswoman Gretchen Hull said her department asked the ethics commission to determine whether general contractor Daniel Slane has any conflicts as a past and present state board member. Slane is president of Slane Telecom, a subcontractor to TRW Inc. of Cleveland, which the state selected to build the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System with Motorola of Schaumburg, Ill. ...
In March, Slane resigned his unpaid chairmanship on the Ohio Building Authority, the state agency that will finance the communication system through the sale of bonds. Slane said Voinovich asked him to resign that seat when he was appointed to the Ohio State University Board of Trustees last year.
Slane also worked as a fund-raiser for the Republican Governors Association when Voinovich was its chairman and for his first gubernatorial campaign in 1990. Voinovich was elected to the U.S. Senate last month.
In an earlier interview, Slane said he did not think his state board appointments conflict with his subcontracting work. He also has served on the Capitol Square Review & Advisory Board. Slane was paid nearly $11,500 last year as chairman of the Ohio Board of Building Appeals, a job he still holds.
Slane said his company would wire two of the initial seven state prisons being linked with the state-of-the-art communications network.
A total of 201 towers are needed for the radio network. The state already has access to, or will purchase, 68 towers. Leases on the other 133 towers are expected to cost at least $82 million.
Sources said various state officials want to know who owns the 122 radio tower sites to be leased to the state by Slane. Slane is a major developer of real estate, including 80 Rite Aid drugstores. His financial disclosure form last year showed he owned at least 18 commercial properties in Ohio.
Slane's company could receive up to $8.1 million a year for 20 years by leasing radio towers to the state if officials exercise all their lease options with Slane, according to TRW's contract with the state.
Administrative Services Director Sandra Drabik has declined to release the location of possible radio tower sites, saying that is proprietary information that could drive up the cost of buying or leasing towers.
But David Firis, a tower owner from Medina County, wondered yesterday if Slane, as a subcontractor, already has access to a list of potential sites, while Firis doesn't. ``We've obviously got a good ol' boys club,'' said Firis, of Wadsworth. ``It certainly stinks to high heaven and smells like it does.''
Firis estimated he could lease tower sites in Medina and Huron counties at one-third the cost projected by Slane's company.
Firis said he was never contacted by state officials about leasing towers that he owns. Firis said he knows of another tower owner who also was overlooked by state officials in Portage and Trumbull counties.
Firis said he was recently asked to send a list of his tower sites to the Department of Administrative Services to be considered.
``It's either progress or I'm spinning my wheels for nothing,'' he said.
Hull said the ethics commission was asked to determine if Slane has a conflict of interest as a subcontractor assigned to build new towers on state-owned property and whether Slane's company has a conflict as the entity responsible for identifying and selecting tower sites to be leased directly by the state."