COLUMBUS Former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell s decision to give 19 employees a total of $80,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses on his way out the door was illegal, according to a legal opinion from Attorney General Marc Dann.
Mr. Blackwell s successor, Jennifer Brunner, said she will seek to force the return of the money.
"In this instance, it is difficult to characterize the bonus payments as anything other than a benefit solely for the employees who received them," wrote Mr. Dann. "The bonuses were in essence a gift or gratuity to employees, who were planning to leave the office, for the past performance of their duties duties for which they already had been compensated.
"The employees provided nothing in return for the payments, and thus it cannot be said that the bonuses were for the primary benefit of the public or to further the efficient operation and management of the offices," he wrote.
Mr. Dann added that Mr. Blackwell had no authority to award such bonuses to non-union employees except as part of a formal program established by the Department of Administrative Services.
Ms. Brunner said she will ask state Auditor Mary Taylor to make a finding that the bonuses were illegal expenditures as part of a special audit Ms. Brunner has already requested.
Mr. Dann noted Ms. Brunner could see to directly recover the money. If the money is not repaid within 45 days, collection proceedings could be initiated by the attorney general s office.
Mr. Blackwell, a Republican, served eight years as secretary of state before running unsuccessfully last year for governor. Before leaving, he approved more than $80,000 in bonuses for 19 employees, all of one of whom did not remain with the office.
Both Ms. Brunner and Mr. Dann are Democrats.
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