To the extent that Richard Bird is known in Delaware County, it’s largely because of what he’s said about Andrew Brenner.
Bird, a technology manager from Westerville and a Democrat, shot from the hip last year while running against Brenner, then Delaware County recorder, in a race for Delaware County’s state representative seat. That included accusing Brenner, a Republican, of illegally rigging a bidding process for a contract in the recorder’s office. Nothing was proven, but as a precaution, county commissioners relaunched the bidding process after bidders threatened legal action. A subsequent rebid after Brenner left the recorder’s office did result in a different company being selected to do the job for 30 percent cheaper than the one Brenner had recommended.
Although he was successful at rankling Brenner, gaining some headlines and upending the bidding process, Bird did not fare well on Election Day, losing the vote to Brenner by more than 40 percentage points. That’s a similar margin to a Democratic candidate for county commissioner with a limited job history who lived with his parents.
Emerging from defeat, Bird, 44, has refocused his attention on local political advocacy, founding a new organization he hopes will increase competitiveness for Democrats in Delaware County, where Republicans have dominated for decades.
But maybe it’s no surprise that the first point of order for Bird’s Delaware County Political Responsibility Project (DCRP) is to again criticize Brenner — this time for tax problems at a Powell business connected to Brenner.
In a press release announcing DCPR’s formation, Bird demands an investigation of two federal payroll tax liens totaling around $59,000 filed against Prestige Music Studios, a Powell business owned by Sara Marie Brenner. Andrew Brenner is vice president in his wife’s company.
Bird filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, asking the state elections watchdog to determine if any money withheld from Prestige employees was used to finance Andrew Brenner’s campaign.
Bird does not provide any proof that there is a connection between the tax liens and the $18,000 Brenner sunk into his campaign within the same time frame some of the taxes allegedly went unpaid, but wrote in his complaint that a “reasonable man would conclude that the availability of cash for Andrew O. Brenner is directly a result of his unlawful seizure of his employees’ wages.”
Bird wrote the complaint himself, but said he consulted with attorneys in the process (he declined to name them). Generally, he alleges that if any money that should have gone to employees instead went toward Brenner’s campaign without the employees’ written permission, it would violate Ohio law.
“I think it is perfectly fair that the question is asked and answered by Andrew Brenner: What is the source of the funds that drove your contributions to yourself?” Bird told the Gazette.
As they do with any written complaints, the elections commission is slated to consider Bird’s allegations on Nov. 3, said executive director Phillip Richter.
Richter hadn’t yet reviewed the complaint, so he couldn’t say if it made a legitimate legal argument, or even whether the OEC has jurisdiction to consider it. Richter did say the elections commission typically does not conduct investigations like the one Bird requested.
Still, the elections commission will solicit a response from Brenner and invite him to attend the Nov. 3 hearing, where he will be able to state his case, Richter said.
In an emailed statement, Brenner called Bird’s complaint a political stunt.
“Mr. Bird was my opponent in 2010 and has made constant attempts since then to discredit me. This complaint is yet another in a series of baseless, political attacks from Mr. Bird and his campaign,” Brenner said.
Despite any superficial appearances, Bird said he intends the DCPR to be more than just a vehicle for him to attack Brenner, and by extension, local Republicans.
“I have no doubt that there will be members of (Delaware County) Republican leadership saying, this is just Richard Bird raising a stink again,” Bird said. “I’m moving on from that. I’m not running against Andy anymore. I’m his constituent now. I can’t be responsible if he’s performing badly.”
Bird has plans for his organization beyond the elections complaint — he is filing for federal 501(c)(4) nonprofit status — for education/advocacy groups — for DCPR. If granted, the organization could accept individual donations without reporting their donors publicly, as long as the group doesn’t advocate for any political party or individual candidate.
That would allow people to help oppose a Republican candidate for office while avoiding being branded in the eyes of the local Republican establishment as a Democrat supporter, Bird said. He said this stigma has stifled political dialogue in Delaware County, and that local Republicans have expressed support for his efforts privately while being hesitant to do so publicly.
“We have people in Delaware County who can’t contribute to Democratic candidates because they’re concerned of the perception in the community, and that the Republican leadership may punish them for supporting a viable candidate,” Bird said.
Bird also hopes for DCPR to be a non-partisan, unbiased online political resource in Delaware County and elsewhere, providing biographical information about elected officials and comparing their political positions with their actual voting histories.
When asked, Bird did not rule out running for office again (due to proposed political redistricting, he could not run against Brenner again anyway unless he were to move.) But, given how difficult it is for Democrats to gain a political foothold in Delaware County, Bird thinks advocacy might be a better way to go anyway.
“It will be interesting to see if I can get more done with this than I would as an elected official,” Bird said.
But for now, Brenner is DCPR’s lone target.