COLUMBUS Seventeen employees of former Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell must return more than $80,000 in bonuses he illegally granted them in late 2006 on his way out the door, the state auditor ordered today.
The Ohio attorney general determined (in a 2006 legal opinion) that former Secretary Blackwell was without legal authority to award the bonus and/or severance payments in the manner in which they were awarded, reads the audit released by Auditor Mary Taylor, who, like Mr. Blackwell, is a Republican.
Based on this opinion, the payments must be returned, the audit adds.
She noted the bonuses were also improperly counted as regular hours worked, skewing calculations for additional credit for employees when it came to calculating additional leave earned and pension benefits.
In addition to the 17 employees, she issued the order against Mr. Blackwell himself, former chief financial officer Dilip Mehta, and the office s bonding company.
In a written statement, Mr. Blackwell defended the bonuses as a prudent, long-standing, and cost-effective way of conducting business and well within my authority as an executive officeholder.
He argued that the final round of bonuses saved taxpayers money because the employees agreed not to accept unemployment compensation when they did not make the transition from Mr. Blackwell s administration to that of his Democratic successor, Jennifer Brunner, in early 2007.
Ms. Brunner requested the special audit from Ms. Taylor soon after both took office, and had asked the employees to voluntarily return the money.
Applying new attorney general opinions retrospectively to the approved past practices of statewide constitutional officeholders is troubling and sets a dangerous precedent, said Mr. Blackwell. If Auditor Taylor and Attorney General Marc Dann believe this is a prudent course of action, they should pursue even and comprehensive enforcement of this new legal interpretation.
He noted similar compensation packages had also been approved in the past by former Democratic State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow, the Ohio State University Board of Trustees, and the Ohio House of Representatives.
Mr. Blackwell, a former Cincinnati mayor and Ohio treasurer, won the 2006 Republican gubernatorial nomination but lost the general election to now Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. He now holds a variety of differing posts, including distinguished fellow with the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative think-tank.
Contact Jim Provance at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-2210496.