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Published: Friday, 1/19/2001

Ohio civil liberties director quits post

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Civil Rights Commission accepted the resignation yesterday of executive director Melanie Mitchell, as the state's investigation into alleged spending irregularities continues.

John Burlew III, chairman of the five-member commission, said he did not have evidence to justify firing Ms. Mitchell, a Republican and former deputy director of the state Department of Transportation under Governor Voinovich.

“To indicate there are not problems in this agency would be like trying to hide the rising sun ... I have no interest in discussing the past or the errors that were made. There are continuing investigations,” Mr. Burlew said.

Ms. Mitchell, who became executive director in August, 1998, had been on administrative leave with pay since Jan. 4. Her chief aide, Mackenzie Milo, deputy director and chief of human resources, remains on leave.

State Inspector General Thomas Charles has requested information about Ms. Mitchell's out-of-state travel, including lodging and rental cars paid for with state tax dollars. Mr. Charles has said he expects his investigation to be completed within several weeks.

Larry James, an attorney representing Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Milo, said they have not committed any crimes. He said her resignation was spurred by differences with the commission over personnel issues, but he would not provide details.

The commission oversees laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing.

Mr. Burlew, a Cincinnati attorney who initially was appointed to the commission by Democratic Gov. Richard Celeste, said Ms. Mitchell's resignation did not involve any “hidden or secret agreements” for severance pay.

Commission members said they were unaware that Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Milo increased their salaries last year to $97,760 and $73,673 respectively.

But Governor Taft said he has no plans to call for the resignation of any commission members.

“Chairman Burlew is the one who is cleaning up the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and addressing the problems that have been inherited in that administration. I want to commend Chairman Burlew for the tremendous job he has been doing,” Mr. Taft said.

Mr. Burlew said he did not consult the governor's office about the decision to accept Ms. Mitchell's resignation.

“If [Mr. Taft] would like me to resign or feels the agency is not going the right way, I would certainly do that,” Mr. Burlew said.



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