Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez gave promotions and raises totaling about $150,000 a year to workers in her office after they worked on her 2010 re-election campaign.
All 12 of Ms. Lopez’s current managers who worked for her office in 2010 contributed money or volunteered time to her re-election campaign that year, including the woman who coordinated campaign volunteers and is now her chief of staff. Of her 19 management employees, 16 contributed money. The three who have not reported campaign contributions are new hires.
A Blade survey of political campaign contributions to the 11 county “row” officeholders, including Ms. Lopez, in the last two even-year elections reveals that she has received the most contributions from her staff: $9,230 from 37 individuals in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Some gave as little as $30. Others contributed more than $1,000.
A core group of staffers who provided valuable volunteer hours to help her win the 2010 election received a total of $150,000 in pay raises, which Ms. Lopez credited to merit, skill, and dedication to the public’s work, not their loyalty to her.
Ms. Lopez said the raises were fair compensation for additional duties taken on over a period when she reduced her office staff from 116 to 95 people.
The auditor said she was forced by the drastic reduction in county revenues in 2010 to reorganize her staff. She said she kept the brightest and the hardest working — those who would “assume additional duties and put a smile on their face every day.”
“I’m honored that employees who have worked with me are spending their free time periodically working with me on my campaign,” Ms. Lopez said. “I work to recruit motivated, hard-working individuals who can impact people’s lives. If you look at all the directors I’ve hired since 2007, I kept my promise.”
To her Democratic opponent in the race for mayor, Toledo Councilman Joe McNamara, the auditor’s office raises and campaign contributions show that taxpayer funds are being used to promote Anita Lopez’s political ambitions.
Mr. McNamara contends Ms. Lopez’s use of her office staff sends a message to her employees that they should contribute to her campaign and volunteer their personal time toward getting her elected.
“It looks like she is using her office to advance her political career, which totally abuses the trust the taxpayers put in her,” Mr. McNamara said. “I don’t think the next mayor of Toledo should be giving huge raises to people who donate or help them get elected to office.”
Mr. McNamara has vowed not to accept contributions from people he can hire and fire.
It may be an easy pledge for Mr. McNamara to make, because he has only one person who reports to him, a council aide whose services he shares with two other councilmen. A search of Mr. McNamara’s campaign-finance reports of the last several years reveals almost no contributions from city workers.
Ms. Lopez is running aggressively to be mayor, one of seven people whose names have been certified to appear on the primary ballot Sept. 10.
She’s using the same tactics that helped her hold on to her auditor’s office seat in 2010: high-profile signage and large groups of volunteers, decked out in her campaign T-shirts, joining her at festivals, walking door-to-door — and giving money to her campaign.
Ms. Lopez’s office staff was visible at her mayoral campaign kickoff April 16 that was conveniently scheduled for 5 p.m., just in time for her workers to clock out and get to the Aurora Gonzalez Community Center in South Toledo to cheer for their boss.
Ms. Lopez acknowledged that the employees who got raises volunteered or contributed to her campaign. All were given the opportunity to comment for this report.
The single biggest raise went to Chief of Staff Abby Arnold, who was Ms. Lopez’s volunteer coordinator in the 2010 campaign to defeat surprise Republican challenger Gina Kaczala.
Ms. Arnold — the daughter of John Irish, a former Lucas County Democratic chairman and current Lucas County Board of Elections member — was hired by Ms. Lopez in 2007 as personal property manager at a salary of $45,900 and moved up the management ladder to a pay level of $50,900 in 2010.
The year after the election, she was promoted to chief of staff and a $76,134 salary, and she since has received two more raises to $85,000 a year.
Some of Ms. Arnold’s higher compensation is attributed to her absorbing the duties of four people, which is credited with saving county taxpayers $76,688.
Ms. Arnold has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is licensed in 2012 by the International Association of Assessing Officers as an “assessment administration specialist.”
She said she was more involved in the 2010 campaign than she is in the mayoral campaign because then she was working part-time and now, as chief of staff, doesn’t have the time to spare.
“I’m helping out and volunteering when I’m able to,” said Ms. Arnold, denying that Mr. McNamara’s focus on the issue has had anything to do with her lower profile.
She said there was “absolutely no correlation” between political activity and rewards on the job.
“When I say volunteer, I mean maybe ‘lit drops,’ door-to-door, going to parades, maybe standing at a football game with a sign,” said Ms. Arnold, who is 33. “Some of these people did one or two things. It really depends on each person. If there would have been lit drops scheduled on a Saturday and a Sunday, somebody may have signed up for both shifts, maybe they signed up for one shift, maybe they signed up one weekend and not again for a few weeks. It kind of depends on whatever everybody’s personal schedule was at the time and their level of interest in it.”
She said she understood when she started with the county that her boss’ job depends on getting re-elected every four years but said there is “absolutely not” an expectation that one must campaign for the officeholder.
“I work for Anita because I believe in her, I believe in her vision,” Ms. Arnold said.
Ms. Arnold has contributed a total of $775 to Ms. Lopez’s campaign. John Mattimoe, Ms. Lopez’s general counsel and director of the board of revision, donated $1,450, and Peter Rancatore, chief deputy auditor, contributed $1,050.
Mr. McNamara has aimed similar barbs at Mayor Mike Bell.
In fact, the number of directors who contribute or contributed to Ms. Lopez’s campaigns is dwarfed by the number of executive appointees during Mr. Bell’s 3½ years in office who contributed cash to the mayor's campaign account.
Though they do not have to be identified as the mayor’s employees, The Blade counted more than 40 people who have held appointed posts under Mr. Bell who contributed a total of more than $12,000 to his campaign.
Of those, major contributors were Deputy Mayor Stephen Herwat, who contributed $2,100, utilities Commissioner Tom Crothers, who contributed $1,050, and Deputy Mayor Shirley Green, who contributed $500.
Mr. Bell, who oversees a city work force of 3,000 people, has collected $14,195 from employees who work for him, mostly in executive appointed positions, since he took office in January, 2010.
Mr. Herwat and mayoral press secretary Jen Sorgenfrei also serve as close political advisers to the mayor.
Mr. Bell provoked a political firestorm from City Council when he proposed raises for many of those same executive staff in October. Councilman Steve Steel, a Democrat, suggested the mayor’s raises to top lieutenants would come back to him in the form of campaign contributions.
Mr. Bell said Friday that contributions and volunteer efforts on his behalf are inappropriate “only when somebody’s forcing them into it, or if your job is dependent on you being able to help with the campaign. That, I think, would be crossing the line.”
The mayor said he doesn’t bring up political contributions to his staff and claims not to know who has contributed and who hasn’t.
Mr. McNamara’s campaign staff has researched Ms. Lopez’s office and staff salaries — it’s known as “opposition research” in politics — and concluded there is a correlation between helping Ms. Lopez politically and getting paid in her office.
“Lopez has cost the people of Toledo over $100,000 by paying off her top political staffers with huge raises and salaries, while the average family is cutting back in order to pay their bills,” said Andrew Grunwald, Mr. McNamara’s paid campaign strategist and manager. “This is unethical at best, and certainly appears to be an example of political corruption. These facts raise serious questions that Lopez needs to answer, and she needs to answer these questions without a script.”
Ms. Lopez said there is no politics waged in her office and her employees campaign for her if they choose to do so.
State law allows public employees to contribute to, and work for, their bosses’ political campaigns. It is a common patronage feature of Lucas County politics that many who work for the 11 administrative “row officers” got their jobs through family and political connections, and willingly lend a hand or make political donations at election time.
“These people helped me get elected and volunteered for my campaign, and on their own personal time,” she said. “There were numerous individuals that never did anything [on the campaigns] that got raises.”
In addition, several people who got raises and contributed to the Lopez campaign also lost their jobs because of cost-cutting.
Ms. Lopez attributed some of the raises in her office to employees taking on the duties once handled by three people.
Auditor’s office salary records show Ms. Lopez’s predecessor had 116 direct employees in 2006 — the year before she took over — which declined to 95 in that office by 2012. Ms. Lopez also oversees Lucas County Information Services as chairman of the Data Processing Board, and appoints the director. LCIS also saw a big reduction in personnel, from 44 in 2006 to 30 in 2012.
By contrast, while she cut the work force she inherited, Ms. Lopez said the size of the city work force under Mayor Bell has increased during his tenure.
Yet it is Ms. Lopez who has the backing of powerful public-employee unions, while Mr. Bell has attracted union disdain, largely because of his support for Issue 2/Senate Bill 5 in 2011.
Total payroll in the office dropped from $6.4 million in 2006 to $5.7 million in 2012.
It is illegal for a state official to solicit contributions from one’s classified employees.
Former Ohio Auditor Thomas Ferguson pleaded guilty in 1996 to nine misdemeanor counts of illegally soliciting employees for contributions. The Democrat was given a suspended one-year jail term, fined $2,500, and ordered to complete 180 hours of community service.
Ms. Lopez said she has never asked for a contribution or for someone to staff a campaign event for her while at the office.
Others besides Ms. Arnold who got pay raises while being politically active in Ms. Lopez’s campaign, either by volunteering or making contributions or both, are:
● Miranda Jarouche, who went from being a clerical supervisor in 2010 earning $47,948 to purchasing/board of review director in 2011 getting $59,149.
● James Molnar, who was director of tax accounting in 2010 with a salary of $71,391 and became director of special assessments, tax accounting project manager, in 2011 with a salary of $74,955.
● Shimeako Cole, who was a staff accountant getting $40,000 in early 2010, became “disbursements/finance manager,” at a salary of $58,000 in July, 2011, and director of disbursements and finance in late 2012, with a salary of $62,650.
● Peter Rancatore, Jr., who was chief deputy auditor in June, 2008, at a salary of $73,950. His title didn’t change but his pay did, going up to $85,155 by the end of 2012.
● Emmanuel Yakumithis, who was paid $71,392 as director of education and outreach in 2008. He resigned in February, 2011, and returned in November, 2011, with a new title, assistant chief of staff, at a salary of $85,000.
● Cynthia Savage, who went from director of education and outreach in 2010 at $42,500, to executive assistant in 2011, at a salary of $59,949. Records show she was promoted to “board of revision hearing officer” in May, 2012, at a salary of $65,000, but is now listed as executive assistant, at the same salary.
● Sam Olaniran, who was chief accountant in February, 2009, at a salary of $65,000, and in June, 2011, got a $10,000 pay raise. He got another big pay raise in 2012, along with a promotion as director of accounting and internal control at a salary of $80,246.
● Angela Carlozzi, stepdaughter of Dennis Duffey, a former Lucas County Democratic interim chairman and secretary-treasurer of the Ohio State Building & Construction Trades Council. His organization was one of the first to encourage Ms. Lopez to run for mayor. She rose from a $29,120-per-year executive assistant job to manager of education and outreach, being paid $40,000 in 2011, and to director of education and outreach and assistant dog-license director at a salary of $45,000.
Also known to show up at Ms. Lopez’s events is Mr. Mattimoe, general counsel and director of the board of revision, who is paid $87,561. His pay went up by $861.
One of Ms. Lopez’s newer employees came to her after a successful job coordinating the campaign in northwest Ohio to defeat Issue 2/Senate Bill 5, a law that, had Ohio voters ratified it, would have severely weakened public-employee unions’ bargaining power.
William Benner was hired in May, 2012, as an executive assistant at a cost to taxpayers of $49,500, and went on leave in May of this year to manage Ms. Lopez’s campaign.
Blade Staff Writer Arielle Stambler contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.