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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Fisher faulted in Coleman timecard inquiry

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU
Coleman Coleman
CHRIS RUSSELL / AP Enlarge

COLUMBUS - The wife of Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman was paid for work she didn't do while at the Ohio Department of Development and her boss, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, missed obvious "red flags" about her problems, a state investigator said yesterday.

Inspector General Tom Charles, however, determined that Mr. Fisher, who doubles as development director, did not improperly fire Frankie Coleman's supervisor after she questioned her timesheets.

Mr. Charles referred the Coleman issues to the Columbus city attorney for consideration of possible criminal charges and recommended a number of changes in supervisory procedures within the department.

The report noted Mrs. Coleman initially lied to investigators when she claimed to have worked every hour declared on her timesheets. Her government-issued electronic parking pass, however, appeared to show she came and went as she pleased.

The investigation revealed what appeared to be a pattern of unexcused tardiness and absenteeism dating back months to her work on Gov. Ted Strickland's transition team.

Mrs. Coleman resigned as assistant manager of work force development, effective tomorrow, and has entered an out-of-town inpatient alcohol treatment program.

The inspector general's report faulted department officials, including Mr. Fisher, for ignoring or missing a number of "red flags that Coleman's hiring was a mistake, regardless of her qualifications."

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett noted that the incident occurred within a Democratic administration that had pledged to clean up corruption in Columbus.

"[Gov. Bob Taft's conviction] involved the failure to report some golf outings," he said. "This involves stealing taxpayer funds. Big difference. This goes to theft in office."

Mr. Fisher said the department will take steps to recover the money Mrs. Coleman was paid for 15 days between Feb. 27 and April 27 during which she was either entirely or substantially absent without leave. She was paid $2,450, including benefits, for those 56 hours.

He said he accepts responsibility for hiring Mrs. Coleman despite concerns about her alcohol history. Mr. Fisher blamed the failure of staff to promptly get to the bottom of the absenteeism issue on "an extraordinary workload."

"I have been most troubled by the speculation that the department would take retaliatory action against a whistleblower," he said. "That will never happen under my watch."

He said Mrs. Coleman's hiring was based on her qualifications and staff recommendations, and that Mr. Strickland was not consulted in advance.

Her husband, a Toledo native, chaired the transition team. Mayor Coleman was also Mr. Fisher's running mate in their unsuccessful 1998 Democratic gubernatorial campaign against Mr. Taft.



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