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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

County protests jobless benefits for fired worker

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Defiance County commissioners are appealing the state's payment of unemployment benefits to the former director of the county's Senior Services Center, who was fired last month amid allegations of financial misconduct.

In a letter last week to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' Bureau of Unemployment Compensation Benefits, assistant Defiance County Prosecutor Russell Herman asked that Diana Mayer be denied jobless benefits, arguing that she was discharged for "gross mismanagement" of the center.

Mrs. Mayer, who had been director of the center since 1988, was placed on administrative leave May 19 by the county commissioners, who then removed her on June 3.

Three weeks later, the Defiance County sheriff's department said it was conducting a financial investigation of Mrs. Mayer, though officials refused at the time to release details of the inquiry.

In his letter, Mr. Herman listed five instances of improper spending of public funds that the county alleges took place before Mrs. Mayer was placed on leave.

They include:

w●The use of more than $870 in government funds to buy groceries for two employees' families for funerals.

w●Spending government funds to buy groceries and supplies for an employee's wedding, using on-duty county staff members to prepare and decorate the Senior Services Center for the ceremony, and using food from the facility's pantry for the reception. "Clientele of the Senior Center were made to leave the facility early so that this private party could be held," Mr. Herman wrote.

w●Using prisoners on work release from the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio to move employees from one personal residence to another on two occasions, and using a county van for the moves.

w●Buying "numerous nonfood items" as gifts for prisoners from CCNO with grant funds reserved for the purchase of food for qualified seniors. The alleged purchases also violated the regional jail's policies, Mr. Herman wrote.

w●Using levy funds and grant dollars to buy groceries for a private citizen who was not a Senior Center client.

Mr. Herman also wrote that Mrs. Mayer "refused to cooperate at all" with authorities during the probe and violated the commissioners' directive to have no contact with Senior Center employees during her unpaid administrative leave.

Mr. Herman said no criminal charges have been filed against Mrs. Mayer. "The determination hasn't been made one way or the other yet," he said,.

Mrs. Mayer could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Herman said no date has been set for the state agency to hear the county's appeal of the decision to pay jobless benefits to Mrs. Mayer.

Dennis Evans, a spokesman for the Department of Job and Family Services, declined to discuss the specifics of Mrs. Mayer's case but said the circumstances under which a person leaves a job are a key factor in determining eligibility for benefits. "You can't have been terminated for cause," he said. "We seek information from both parties to make our determination."

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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