THE MILITARY

Judges’ choice for Veterans Service Commission disputed

Montgomery County panel’s president, Common Pleas Court judges spar over recent appointment.

By Barrie Barber
StaffWriter

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DAYTON — The president of the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission contends the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas overstepped its bounds in its most recent appointment to the five-member panel.

But an administrative law judge who is part of a group of judges who agreed to appoint the Rev. Wilburt O. Shanklin to a five-year term said his claim misinterprets the Ohio law that was legally followed in the decision.

Ashley Webb, president of the Montgomery County Veterans Services Commission, said he was concerned the court directed local chapters of the Disabled American Veterans to nominate Shanklin for the position shortly after he joined the DAV, then appointed him over the incumbent, Tommy D.

Adkins, who had been active for years in the DAV and had the organization’s backing.

The DAV was empowered under state law with recommending candidates for the post, with the court making the final decision.

“The bottom line is there’s a process set up that has checks and balances,” Webb said.

“The person that they chose is much more connected politically then being (known as) a veterans’ advocate.”

T h i s n ews p a p e r l e f t repeated messages for Shanklin requesting comment on his commission appointment. He currently is listed as a court-appointed member on the board of Greater Dayton Premier Management, the local housing authority.

Administrative Law Judge Mary K. Huffman would not discuss the reason the judges decided to appoint Shanklin, but said Webb has misinterpreted the statute and attempted to interfere with the court’s statutory duty.

“I believe he has wholly misinterpreted and misunderstood it,” she said. “... We have a statutory duty and we exercised it.”

The candidates were interviewed by a panel of judges. A Dec. 15 document shows seven of the 11 judges in the Court of Common Pleas signed off on the appointment.

“I will tell you there was absolutely nothing political about it,” Huffman said. She emphasized in letters dated Aug. 4 and Oct. 20 to two local DAV commanders the names of three candidates must be submitted. The organization was to provide a cover letter explaining why the candidate was endorsed for the post, the letters said.

The process to make the appointment was the same judges follow for other boards and commissioners, she added.

“We utilize this same process that we use in every single statutory appointment that we make,” she said.

Incumbent accused of interference

Huffman directed the DAV to add an additional candidate’s name to the nominating list after another nominee dropped out and she was told the incumbent DAV appointee — Tommy Adkins — tried to dissuade Shanklin from seeking the post.

In a meeting Oct. 27 at the Dayton VA Medical Center, Shanklin asked Adkins about applying for the commission, but was told the Oct. 4 deadline had passed, according to Adkins and a Nov. 2 letter he submitted to Webb that’s now part of the commission’s record of events.

Shanklin had just joined the Disabled American Veterans when he inquired about becoming a member of the county Veterans Services Commission, officials said. Each seat on the commission is represented by a veteran who is a member of a veterans service organization.

Huffman said Adkins’ information to Shanklin had interfered with the process because the deadline had been extended. The court extended the deadline from Oct. 4 to Nov. 15 after one candidate withdrew, according to the court.

But Adkins, who has denied he interfered, said he did not know that at the time and told Shanklin what he believed to be true. “I told him exactly what I knew at the time which was the deadline had passed,” Adkins said.

Huffman sent an Oct. 31 letter to local DAV leaders, saying the court was contacted by “a Montgomery County citizen” about the denial and directed the name of that person be added to the list of candidates. The letter added if it was true Adkins provided the wrong information to the citizen, it was “extremely troubling” because Adkins was both a nominee and DAV representative on the commission.

‘Undue influence’ on DAV

“I can speak for the board in that we have discussed this in our public meetings and there is a consensus that the appointment process was not adhered to by the court,” Webb said. “The undue influence on the Disabled American Veterans commanders (and) the demanding that a particular name be put on the list of recommended sources is inappropriate.”

Huffman said she did not know who the name of the person was when she sent the letter, only that the person was turned away when he inquired about applying for the post despite the deadline extension.

“What we were very dissatisfied with is Mr. Adkins had attempted to interfere with another citizen of this county who had expressed interest,” she said in an interview. “I don’t know who that person was so to suggest that we wanted a specific individual is completely untrue.”

The Dayton area DAV leaders to whom the letter was addressed, David J. Weeks and William J. Bates Jr., declined comment Friday on the matter.

Adkins said Huffman did not broach the issue with him when he was interviewed by three judges last month for reappointment to the commission. “If that was a concern to her she could have addressed it in the interview,” he said.

Webb, county

quarreled before

The issue became a key concern at a Dec. 20 public meeting of the Veterans Service Commission and commissioners decided they will send a letter to VSO leaders about how the process works, Webb said.

Adkins, a Dayton VA volunteer who helps veterans obtain benefits, said he has looked out for the VSO and veterans interests, such as bringing up the issue the county must pay rent or provide office space for the veterans’ service commission, which it has paid out of its own budget. A DAV resolution had endorsed him as the best choice for the post.

“I think I did a very good job in my short time there,” he said. “I did bring a lot of money back to the veterans of Montgomery County.”

This is not Webb’s first conflict with the county. Last year, Webb’s close reading of state law led to six veterans board seats appointed by county commissioners to be eliminated, downsizing the board from 11 members to 5.

Board members are paid roughly $745 a month and oversee a small staff that helps people access federal veterans benefits and doles out emergency aid to qualifying veterans.

Staff writerJosh Sweigart

contributed to this story.