A close look at Citizens for a Strong Gahanna, the political action committee (PAC) promoting Mayor Becky Stinchcomb’s proposed income tax hike, reveals legal and ethical questions about the group’s ties to Gahanna officials and potential city contractors.
Among the resources offered by Citizens for a Strong Gahanna is an “Issue 4 House Party Toolkit” suggesting clear coordination between the PAC and elected officials. “Notify the committee of the date & time of your event so someone from the committee can attend along with the Mayor or a City Council member,” a “Preparing to Host Your House Party” checklist instructs supporters.
Financial disclosure documents show the PAC was founded by Gahanna Parks & Recreation Board Secretary Laura Naegele in December 2012, before the Republican mayor had publicly announced her income tax restructuring plan.
Naegele, employed by the city department expected to see the lion’s share of revenue from the proposed tax hike, serves as the treasurer of Citizens for a Strong Gahanna.
Through April 17, the top donor to Citizens for a Strong Gahanna was John Hobson — a managing partner of Playworld Midstates, which designs and builds playsets and other park equipment. Hobson issued a check for $1,000 to the PAC several weeks ago.
Citizens for Jolly, the PAC for progressive Gahanna City Council Chairman Ryan Jolley, has donated $500 to the campaign, loaned another $500, and provided $75 of in-kind support.
The only other contribution reported by Citizens for a Strong Gahanna was a $250 check from local law firm Wiles, Boyle, Burkholder & Bringardner Co. LPA.
Eugene Hollins, a municipal government attorney employed by Wiles, Boyle, Burkholder & Bringardner, colluded with Westerville City School District leadership to block a 2012 ballot initiative which, if approved, would have cut Westerville’s property taxes.
As reported by Media Trackers, Citizens for a Strong Gahanna has deceptively told voters “approximately 57 percent of Gahanna residents will see their income taxes either decrease or stay the same,” if Issue 4 is approved by local voters on May 7. The PAC and its supporters fail to mention that 21 percent of Gahanna residents already pay no income taxes.
In an earlier interview with Media Trackers, Mayor Stinchcomb claimed that if voters do not approve Issue 4, “residents will be very disappointed, and will be unhappy with the cuts I’m going to have to make — especially over time, as roads deteriorate, as we have to cut back on plowing, as the parks [will] no longer look as nice as they expect them to look since we just don’t have the money.”
“Tell me what you want; if you want these amenities, folks, we gotta pay for it,” Stinchcomb said. “If you don’t want them, and this thing goes down, we’re gonna cut.”
Despite the mayor’s insistence she has been “cutting for the last five years here,” Gahanna’s spending increased by 27.6 percent between 2008 and 2013, growing nearly two orders of magnitude faster than total revenues during the same period.
Complementing an April campaign mailer Stinchcomb’s office illegally produced using taxpayer resources, Citizens for a Strong Gahanna recently distributed literature claiming, “if Issue 4 fails, the city will be forced to close the pools, cancel fireworks and parades, [and] cut police and safety services.”
The PAC’s website also warns that without the tax rate change, “increased police response times will threaten safety.”
Gahanna voters will decide whether to adopt Mayor Stinchcomb’s higher income tax rate on May 7.