Commissioner interrogated, asked to resign


EATON — A conversation she had about State Capital Budget funding for projects in Preble County — which didn’t include her fellow commissioners — turned a regular Monday commissioners’ meeting into an inquisition of Commissioner Rachael Vonderhaar — and even a request for her resignation.

The nearly hour-long public comment portion of the Monday, June 24, meeting included comments and questions from Bullen Equestrian Center rep Kaylee Lebo, Preble County Republican Party Chair Fred Voge and State Rep. Rodney Creech.

Lebo, a resident of Lewisburg, spoke about the Bullen Equestrian Center and state capital funding which had been applied for fairgrounds improvements.

“I would like to start with a little history of the Bullen Equestrian Center. In 2021 there was a group of 4-H advisors and community members who had a vision to build the Bullen Equestrian Center which would provide a place for the 4-H kids to be able to show under all the weather because most of the time they were standing outside in the rain for their fair week. For the investors, one of the largest things they wanted to do was provide an economic impact for the fairgrounds. And to bring in money to the fairgrounds. This was brought before the commissioners at that time and at that time, Rodney Creech supported the Bullen Equestrian Center.

“Now jump ahead to 2023 when we were approached by a gentleman named Chuck Smith, who has always run the All American Quarter Horse Congress Cutting, which is a national show and even international. He had a vision and saw opportunity here in our county to have this show here.

“For the show that we had, we transformed the Expo Center into an indoor arena,” Lebo continued. “And it provided an opportunity for our local cattlemen to have an income of around $200,000 from this last year. It provided restaurants with new people coming in — we had 11 different states and even people coming in from Canada come to our fairgrounds, and provided for restaurants, construction workers entertainment, the Rodeo Shop — last year, and brought in a roughly around $80,000 of income for the fairgrounds. American Quarter Horse Congress does an economic study every year. And with that we had an economic impact of $1.1 million to Preble County, and we’re looking at an impact of $2.4 million in 2024.”

According to Lebo, to continue to have the shows here, a 200-stall barn is needed. “The stalls that we have now are not enclosed and the weather cannot provide a place to keep having them,” she said. “So, this hinders our December, January, February and even March shows. This year we were booked at least three weekends of the year during those months. We did have to cancel one or two of them due to the weather and the stalling being outside. There was a rodeo there this winter too, that has never happened and that provided again, entertainment and income to the community.

“In December of ‘23, I filed for the capital grant with the state and we were originally awarded that money $700,000 for the stall barn. So my question for you Rachael, is how did you get involved with the $700,000 and how that got split up?”

“I didn’t redirect any funding related to your request,” Vonderhaar responded to Leebo’s question. “I received a phone call from the Speaker’s office asking me for a potential list of other projects in Preble County, as to how I felt about that funding, and I said I’m supportive of it.”

Vonderhaar said that call came in March. Lebo wanted to know when Vonderhaar brought the call to anyone else’s attention.

“There’s nothing to bring to anyone’s attention. I was asked for my personal opinion, and I gave it,” Vonderhaar said. Lebo pressed on, asking Vonderhaar if she spoke to her fellow commissioners or State Rep. Creech about the call.

“I was asked for my personal opinion what additional projects needed done in Preble County,” Vonderhaar said. “I supported the request for the $700,000 for that project. And then I gave an additional list. Other counties of our size were receiving over a million dollars or better.”

Vonderhaar went on to ask Lebo about the fact she (Lebo) announced at a recent Fair Board meeting that she (Vonderhaar) had requested the funding be changed.

“Which is inaccurate, and I don’t appreciate it. I received plenty of phone calls that evening. And that is unacceptable. You didn’t even call and check in with me, before you shared something of that level and then and I find it disrespectful, along with the dog and pony show that’s taking place this morning,” Vonderhaar said.

Twin Township resident and Preble County Republican Party Chair Voge also spoke to the matter of the phone call and funding. “The issue of the phone calls and who called who could be settled quite easily with a public record request. And this is a public record request. I want logs of all phone calls, emails, notes, anything taken between any of the three Preble County Commissioners and people in Columbus in charge of this capital improvement. The issue of the phone calls and who called who could be settled quite easily with a public record request. And we can settle it real quickly as far as who calls who and whatnot,” he said.

Voge also brought back up the topic of the American Quarter Horse Cutting events coming to Preble County.

“I’m probably the culprit that caused this to come to Preble County because Chuck Smith did contact me and asked for quotes to deliver cattle to other counties in Ohio in order to continue having these competitions in Ohio, and before I would do that, I requested him to come to Preble and look at the facilities we had and see if there was a possibility we could work this out,” he said. “And so we did. The commission cooperated. The Fair Board cooperated 100 percent, and the cooperation between the commission and the Fair Board was better than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime here in Preble County. And everything is moving along very, very well. It’s been more successful than what I ever thought it would be.

“Following up with Kaylee’s thing about the economic development part of it,” Voge continued. “A lot of us don’t realize but there were two families in Preble County that increased their weekly income over $100 per week, just by trucking a cattle for the first session that we had last fall.”

Voge asked Vonderhaar if she had asked Commission President David Haber his opinion on the funding question at any point in time.

“When I was contacted, I was asked for my personal opinion related to other potential projects in addition to the $700,000, not an ‘if this’ or ‘if that,” Vonderhaar countered. “In this situation, this is prior to our state representative being removed from his positions at state. Since that time, things have changed at state level. And by awarded — it was in the House budget before it moved over to the Senate side. The budget has been rewritten. And things have changed. That is not ‘awarded,’ that is what would potentially take place this Wednesday (June 26) after the budget at state level is passed. That’s what awarded is, so at this point, nothing has been awarded. So we’re debating something that’s not even finalized yet.”

“I’m not debating anything,” Voge responded. “I asked a simple, direct question deserving a simple and direct answer. Did you talk to Commissioner Haber about this?”

“Why would I ask him what my personal opinion is?” Vonderhaar replied with a question, to which Voge continued his interrogation. “Yes or no, did you or did you not?”

“No, I did not, because I would not ask somebody else what my personal opinion is,” Vonderhaar stated. “I was asked what was my personal opinion related to additional projects in Preble County. Other counties of our size received a million dollars or better. Our county at that point was being awarded potentially $820,000, $700,000 for the fairgrounds here, and $100,000-plus for Darke County, which is not in the district of our state rep. At that point, I was asked my personal opinion. If there’s a chance to get more money, I’m always going to advocate for Preble County to get more money. And that’s what I was doing.”

“So that’s what you have a problem with?” Vonderhaar questioned. “Because your project that you are requesting, I was supportive of. Our county was supportive of. So, this is all prior to what has changed in Columbus.”

Continuing in the same vein of questioning Vonderhaar, Voge asked if she had asked Commissioner Adam Craft .

“No. And everything I did is on email, so everybody can follow it,” Vonderhaar said. I cannot help it the leadership dynamics in Columbus changed from the moment that that was initially in the budget from the House side to where it is finalized for the vote for Wednesday.”

Voge said Vonderhaar did not “have enough respect for her fellow commissioners to inform them she had provided information regarding the grant request for the fairgrounds. I have a problem with that,” he said, noting she had emailed the individuals who had provided project quotes for the project in the original request to let them know about her call.

“At that time I was going through the primary that we were in, and my fellow commissioners were running somebody against me, why would I share that with people who are actively running candidate against me?” Vonderhaar asked Voge, who told her “because you have a motive.”

When asked by Vonderhaar what that motive was, Voge responded with, “to do as much damage to some of our Preble County officials as you possibly can.”

Vonderhaar retaliated: “Getting as much money for Preble County as possible is a problem — that’s how you see this.”

“I still don’t understand why you wouldn’t have told us that you’d made that suggestion and not at least been up forward with us,” Voge said.

“Because I’m not going to share something until I know it is a certainty. I have no idea how the certainty of this will turn out. The vote’s not until Wednesday. It could be pulled out, Fred. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. So I don’t know how this is going to finish,” Vonderhaar said.

“What I can tell you is, I’ve never been hoodwinked so badly in my lifetime by another true professional with extensive business experience here in Ohio,” Voge said. “And you stabbed us in the back in no uncertain terms. That’s what you did.”

“So you’re upset that I advocated for Preble County for additional funding? I mean, I just want to make that clear. The State Rep. lost his leadership positions during this time. Do you think at the state level they will continue to fund his projects?” Vonderhaar countered. “That wasn’t pulled out until after that happened.”

Commissioner Craft too asked why Vonderhaar had not told them. She repeated, “Because I don’t share publicly something that’s not finalized.”

Vonderhaar shared further her reasoning for her opinions on the funding: “The fencing around the fairgrounds, the Ag Society approved going after funding anywhere they could find it for the fencing for the fairgrounds. That is what one of those requests was. The fact that the water is coming into the Expo building while we’re having chamber events, and we have quotes on how to fix that. Yes, if there’s a chance to fix the roof on the Expo, and someone asks me what additional funding Preble County needs — I’m going to submit it, because water coming in on our events inside that building is embarrassing.

“And when the Historical Society is trying to finish up their project, and Harold (Niehaus, PC Historical Society President) says to me, ‘Rachael, while we’re in this, is this alright for me to submit this additional funding?’ I said I would be disappointed if you didn’t advocate for a board that you sit on while this conversation is taking place. Harold has submitted other things to the state budget before and gotten funded,” she continued. “There are a lot of people who know the process to submit funding requests, because it’s perfectly acceptable for these funding requests to come from anywhere.”

“I appreciate the leadership you have taken on this bringing the Quarter Horse Congress events here to the county, and I completely understand the value of it, which is why I was supportive of it,” Vonderhaar said. “When I was specifically asked during that phone call how I felt about the $700,000 I said it is good for Preble County, please leave it in there. Those are my words. So, I’m disappointed in what is taking place here today. And that it is happening on this scale,” Vonderhaar said of the interrogation. “But I understand now that I’m not allowed to advocate for money for Preble County unless it goes through all the men in the room first, because that’s exactly what is taking place here today. And it is disappointing to me as a female to be scolded by so many males in this room here today related to doing what was best for Preble County, and I find that unacceptable.”

Vonderhaar at one point questioned the Commission’s five minute rule for public comment, and Voge noted, “The majority can override that rule,” and the discussion continued.

“So let’s be clear, I’m not allowed to give my personal opinion unless I check with the men in this room?” Vonderhaar asked.

“It depends on what the issue is,” Voge replied. “When you’re acting as county commissioner, you need to act as a team. You obviously are not playing as a team member.”

“I don’t know that I was called as a county commissioner,” Vonderhaar said. “I was asked what my personal opinion was related to potential additional funding.”

Voge eventually asked for Vonderhaar’s resignation and asked Commissioners Haber and Craft about criminal charges against her.

“Based on the record, I’m going to recommend you resign. And I’m asking, will you resign?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “I will not. Preble County means too much to me for this dog and pony show.”

“So then my comment to the other commissioners is, we obviously have a criminal element to this where you have one going outside of the majority. And do you refer that to the Sheriff’s Office or the Prosecutor’s Office or do citizens need to do that? How do we go ahead and begin something like that?”

Haber said they would need to ask the prosecutor.

“You want charges brought against me for having a personal opinion?” Vonderhaar asked Voge. “Because it impacts your checkbook. I mean, really that’s what this conversation is. Is this what we’re going to go into?”

“It affects the county as a whole. Everybody in the county,” Haber said.

“Every single one of these conversations we’ve just had related to these projects, it is the individual job of each of us to represent this county. No, I don’t have to run my personal opinions in front of anybody,” Vonderhaar said.

State Rep. Rodney Creech was also in attendance and thanked Lebo, Voge and others for their work.

“There are people in this county in leadership roles that are trying to take our legs out, specifically mine. Okay, the good thing is that I play by the rules. I’m always on the up-and-up. Point to me one time that I have served myself before my county, one time, show me. I’m here to serve the people of this county and I’m here to make the county a better place. I hate it we’re here today. But I’m also glad we’re here. And I can tell you, I’m not here because I’m a male. I’m here because I’m a leader in our county. And I don’t care if you’re a male or female.”

Creech also shared information regarding the current state of the Ohio House, the speakership, and his loss of his position as Agriculture Chair. He noted, he lost his power on May 10, and addressed Vonderhaar as well.

“Your email right here that went to the Speaker’s office on March 14 says, ‘these are the programs we this is what we talked about.’ At the very end. It says ‘Thank you, Dan, Karen and Harold for helping to problem-solve for Preble. Can you explain what helping to problem solve for Preble means?”

“Yeah, we have the opportunity to find additional funding. And that’s what we did. I asked within a short window if they could submit those requests and they turned it around quickly,” Vonderhaar said. ‘Find funding for the problem projects they’ve been trying to fund. That’s problem solving.”

Creech questioned who had contacted Vonderhaar, and she explained. Creech then shared the process of the state funding projects. He said it was “weird” a “lady they didn’t know who just happened to be a county commissioner” was called about the funding.

“Now we’re talking politics. And I can tell you right now, Rachel Vonderhaar, I stood right here three weeks ago and gave you all an update. And what did I say at the end? I said, ‘If you want money to come back to this county because I’m kissing butt and playing politics, You’re never going to see a dime.” I ain’t playing politics. I ain’t playing games. And that’s what we’re doing today. This was a personal attack, and you’re going to be held accountable for it.”

Creech went on to share a text from Dan Baker, whom Vonderhaar had spoken with regarding the funding. Baker is “chief finance guy under the Speaker” of the Ohio House.

Creech read his question to Baker: “’Did you talk to the commissioner or just go off emails?’” and noted Baker came back with, “’Speaker said he didn’t talk to her. He just saw email.” Creech noted, he asked, “‘Did you talk to Rachel or just go off the email?’ He said, ‘I think she called first then send a follow up email.’”

“That’s why I’m looking forward to your phone records,” Creech told Vonderhaar, “Because if they truly called you, he’s a liar, and I’ll get that taken care of.”

“And he verbally told me you contacted him, which kind of makes more sense, because out of all the counties out of 19 ‘No’ votes, why would they only contact one?” Creech said, noting he already had 11 other projects lined up.

“Rachel Vonderhaar is telling people that I was going to lose the money and she saved it. So what this really is, and it’s been going on for a couple years, it’s Rachel Vonderhaar trying to make Rodney Creech the State Rep. look like he’s not doing his job. And oh, hey, here’s Rachel Vonderhaar, ‘I saved the day.’ Well, guess what? It’s gonna backfire pretty bad on you, because we got everything in writing. We’re going to get everything we need,” Creech said.

Creech said he was told nothing would have changed with the funding “if Vonderhaar didn’t call.”

“At the end of the day, this was done for personal gain, trying to get recognition for projects that you wanted to accomplish – not Preble County, not the Preble County Fairgrounds, not the Preble County Commissioners. This was done for personal gain and to try and step on me,” he told Vonderhaar.”

“I’m very, very disappointed, but we’re going to get this money back. What happened was Preble County is going to get a huge win. Well, we have two huge wins. We’re going to get money for the horse stalls, but we also figured out what’s going on this commission office,” Creech later added.

“I just want to place on the record, on May 15, you told us that you didn’t apply for funding that, oh magically you did?” Craft said near the end of the discussion, accusing Vonderhaar of lying to her fellow commissioners.

“I said nothing,” Vonderhaar noted. “I sat in silence.”

“There’s two different types of lies, Rachael. First of all, there’s a lie that you tell. And then there’s a lie that you just don’t say,” Craft responded.

“The State House gets to make the decision with their money,” Vonderhaar reiterated.

To hear audio of the meeting in its entirety, visit . At press time, the official announcement on approval of the Capital Budget had not been made.

Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on X @emowenjr.

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