ELKHART — Elkhart County Commissioner Terry Rodino, focus of an Elkhart police investigation, issued a general denial in the matter while other county officials say he's carrying on as normal with his duties as an elected leader.
“It's business as usual for Terry,” Frank Lucchese, a fellow county commissioner, said Wednesday. “He's keeping up with his duties and all his responsibilities.”
Rodino, president of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners, was the subject of a police inquiry for alleged inappropriate sexual activity stemming from an Oct. 29 incident in Elkhart. No charges have been filed — and details remain sketchy — but the Allen County Prosecutor's Office has been asked to review the case to decide if charges or additional action are merited.
Rodino — accused in a series of 2008 affidavits of overtly sexual behavior toward female employees in his company in an unrelated Elkhart County court case against his business (those affidavits can be read below this story) — has remained quiet, at least publicly. But on Wednesday he broke his silence, issuing a denial.
“... I am aware of the nature of the allegation and firmly deny the allegation being made,” said Rodino, who runs an Elkhart County company that makes wooden pallets.
Neither Rodino nor his attorney, Phillip Miller of Goshen, returned a call later Wednesday seeking additional comment. But Rodino was apparently alluding to a source that told The Elkhart Truth that the county official was investigated by Elkhart police because of an alleged sexual misdeed.
Rodino went on in his statement, alluding to an investigation that he is apparently carrying out and vowing to defend himself.
“While police authorities have not shared details with me, our own investigation into the motives of the allegation is in process. I will vigorously defend any such charge or allegations that are being made,” he said. He continued, saying “it is best to allow the legal system to work through its process without unnecessary interference from extrinsic, unrelated or other 'anonymous' sources.”
FULFILLING HIS DUTIES
County officials shied from commenting on Rodino's situation, but Gordon Lord, legal counsel for Elkhart County government, surmised that the attention stems from Rodino's status as an elected leader. “But for him being a public official, it probably wouldn't be as topical or as widely covered as it is,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lord, Lucchese, County Commissioner Mike Yoder and Elkhart County Administrator Tom Byers all said Rodino, re-elected to his third term as commissioner last week, continues to fulfill his official duties. He most recently attended the regular board of commissioners meeting last Monday and recently responded to some e-mailed queries Lord and Byers had on government business.
“We're going to let the investigation take its course and then we'll go from there,” said Lucchese.
Lord, unaware of particulars in Rodino's case, hasn't formally researched the matter, but just being the topic of an investigation “would certainly not in itself create an issue.” The evidence at the base of any investigation can vary widely, from reliable to not-so-reliable information.
Asked further, he said if an elected official were convicted of a serious enough crime, the official would likely have to “forfeit” the post.
The three county commissioners — Rodino, Lucchese and Yoder — oversee much of county government, setting policy, crafting ordinances and advising the Elkhart County Council on spending and budget matters. The county has a budget for 2013 of $79.6 million while the commissioners, who are considered part-time officials, each earn a base annual salary of $40,034.
The Elkhart County Prosecutor's Office normally processes Elkhart Police Department reports, deciding if charges or other action are merited.
In this case, though, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill asked that Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards be named special prosecutor, giving her responsibility in the matter. Elkhart Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker granted Hill's request.
In asking that Allen County officials handle the case, Hill cited a state law that allows such action “to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” according to court papers in Shewmaker's office.
Lord said Hill and Shewmaker did the right thing in asking for help from Allen County, noting that Hill and Rodino, as elected county leaders, frequently come in contact with each other. County commissioners are signatories to the lease on the prosecutor's office in Elkhart, Lord noted. What's more, hiring and budget issues relating to Hill's office, as with most county offices, will typically go before commissioners at some point or another.
“They're just intertwined,” Lord said.
Hill — who donated $200 to Rodino's re-election campaign in 2008, according to campaign finance reports from the year — didn't respond to a call Wednesday seeking comment. Likewise, Richards' office didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment on where the case stands.
Reporter Sharon Hernandez contributed to this story.