Jason Wuliger resigned as Lake County Commissioner Jan. 7 due to his recent discovery regarding a possible legal conflict of interest caused by his past personal business involvement.
Wuliger, a Republican from Kirtland, was elected to the position in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election after defeating Democrat Jim Dugan. His official term began less than a week prior to his resignation.
In his resignation statement emailed to the Cleveland Jewish News, Wuliger explained that investments he made in his prior primary occupation with investment firm Nachson Ventures posed the possibility that he could break several Ohio ethics laws if he were to “vote on, authorize, deliberate or discuss” any county spending with them. He said in order to avoid breaking those laws as well as to not cost taxpayers’ money that may be incurred should he stay in the role in a legally sound manner, he deemed it best to step down.
“My family and I are devastated,” Wuliger said. “We all worked very hard, had tremendous supporters and volunteers, and there is a lot of good I hoped I could do as commissioner. However, my fidelity to the law is unflinching. I felt that it was urgent that I act now, before there was even the possibility of my participating in a vote or any other action occurring that could find me on the wrong side of any of these laws.”
In managing Nachson Ventures, his firm invested in a large number of companies, some publicly traded and some private, Wuliger said in his statement.
“While I generally own a very small amount of any particular company, I recently learned that my ownership stakes make relevant several Ohio ethics laws,” he said.
As commissioner, Wuliger is required to authorize county dollar spending.
“Lake County government is a large operation with many complex components, each of which does business with a wide variety of companies,” Wuliger said. “... Were I to vote on, authorize, deliberate or discuss any county spending related to a company that I, a family member or a ‘business associate’ was involved with, several Ohio ethics laws could be implicated.”
Wuliger made the discovery upon transitioning into the position and diving into how the county does business and the chance interaction it could have with certain investments.
“I started to explore the various revised code sections that could be implicated by it,” Wuliger told the CJN Jan. 8. “That’s what got the ball started to make the decision I made.”
Wuliger said it would be imperative for him to know the investments of his family members and business associates in order to follow the laws. Even if he were to recuse himself in an attempt to avoid breaking any laws, it wouldn’t be enough. Punishment for violating these ethics laws could be up to 18 months of jail time per offense.
He reached out to the County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ohio Ethics Commission and numerous private attorneys to try to figure out a resolution that wouldn’t result in his resignation.
“I have considered how to set up a compliance process that would allow me to continue to serve,” Wuliger told the CJN. “My conclusion is that to do so would require enormous efforts on the part of county employees, would cost the taxpayers money, and as I indicated in my resignation letter, would require such a large effort from me personally that it would prevent me from devoting the time and attention to the role of commissioner that the people of Lake County deserve.”
Heartbroken by the sudden discovery, Wuliger decided his only option to stay within the law would be immediately parting as Lake County commissioner.
Now no longer commissioner, Wuliger, a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike, said he will focus on operating Nachson Ventures and will spend time with his family.
“Although I cannot serve the public in the way that I had intended, it is important for each of us, however we can, to help people improve their lives, communities and country,” Wuliger said. “I will not stop in my efforts to do so.”
Lake County Republican Chair Dale Fellows expressed his sadness in seeing Wuliger step down.
“I love Jason to death and I empathize with his decision he’s had to make,” Fellows told the CJN. “I just wish it would have been a different outcome and that he could have served, but he is such a man of high integrity and high ethics that he just felt that he couldn’t do it. ... I know he’ll continue to be serving the county too, just in different capacities. That’s just who he is.”
Fellows said Lake County Republican Central Committee members have no sooner than five days and no later than 45 days to meet to appoint the new commissioner, as determined by Ohio Revised Code. The appointed commissioner would serve for two years and then be subject to the 2022 Primary and General Elections.
“The way we’ll do is just allow anybody who’s interested to campaign for the position amongst the 140 or so members of our central committee that we have,” Fellows said. “Ultimately, those members will decide as everybody gets one vote. I’m sure there’ll be a number of people that will be seeking the appointment; there’s a lot of great people and great elected officials in Lake County, and others that maybe aren’t elected officials but are great community leaders, who will be interested.”
The meeting date is yet to be determined, and members have to decide the best way to meet due to COVID-19, Fellows said. When it is decided, the meeting will be open to the public.
“You want to make sure you allow everybody the opportunity to speak and everybody the opportunity to have questions answered,” Fellows said. “The public has their opportunity to weigh in and then ultimately vote.”