Like their national counterparts, Hamilton County Republicans often preach about how they dislike government and want to reduce its size.
The truth about county government, however, is that it’s been rife with wasteful spending for decades, a period in which the local GOP had a lock on virtually all of its elected positions. Just like in Washington, it’s now up to local Democrats to come in and clean up the GOP’s financial mess.
Faced with a deficit, County Commissioners David Pepper and Todd Portune, both Democrats, have proposed $36 million in cuts to next year’s budget, and more are likely. Some of the cuts include eliminating jobs in the offices of the Clerk of Courts, County Recorder and the County Treasurer, along with the Probation Department.
Anyone familiar with Hamilton County government knows that a large segment of the jobs are essentially political appointments, given to cronies of whichever party controls the particular office doing the hiring.
Still, the political quid pro quo is usually kept somewhat discreet and hidden from public view. Not this time.
In a letter distributed last week to the Republican judges who dominate the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, a Probation Department staffer reminded them of all the work she’s done for various GOP campaigns as the main reason she should fill a vacancy that the judges will decide on.
In a one-page letter, Probation Office Supervisor Gwendolyn DaCons Taylor lobbies to become the county’s assistant chief probation officer. That job was previously held by Republican Patricia Clancy, who left it after being elected Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in November.
Taylor lists six GOP candidates and the specific work she did for each of their campaigns this past fall. The letter mentions time spent marching in parades, distributing campaign literature and staffing phone banks, among other activities.
The other top contender to fill Clancy’s old job reportedly is the daughter of Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. Think she’s ever worked on any campaigns? It’s no wonder the public has become cynical about politics.
When asked, Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou said the letter shocked him.
“Gwen Taylor’s work as a Republican activist should in no way be a consideration for her promotion into a government/ taxpayer-funded position,” Triantafilou said. “Her work at the probation department should be the only criterion. Republican Party work should not be a factor for promotion in county government.”
Hamilton County government’s workforce is divided into two categories: non-classified (managerial) and classified (rank-and-file) employees. The county has adopted Ohio ethics laws pertaining to what political activities classified employees can and can’t do. They’re prohibited from asking for donations or distributing materials for candidates or selling tickets for political party events, for instance.
County commissioners take it a step further and also prohibit their non-classified employees (like the county administrator) from being involved in political activities of any kind. Such restrictions don’t affect other independently elected county offices like the Clerk of Courts, Treasurer or Recorder.
It’s not surprising that Clancy’s campaign spent more than $252,000 to get her elected last fall, compared to $33,000 spent by her Democratic opponent. The Clerk of Courts has long been the GOP’s bastion of patronage jobs, with 327 people on the payroll at last count.
The county administrator has proposed cutting 68 positions in the Clerk of Courts.
For decades now, Republican leaders have been saying it’s time to begin operating government more like a business. If they truly mean it, they can begin by not giving taxpayer money to friends in exchange for favors, by reducing the number of patronage jobs and by enacting some ethics rules.
After all, everyone must sacrifice in a recession.
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