A former state employee who was fired a decade ago amid the “Joe the Plumber” scandal is now working for his old boss as the chief financial officer for the Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.
ADAMHS Executive Director Helen Jones-Kelley this month hired Doug Thompson to fill the vacant CFO position for the agency.
ADAMHS oversees public mental health and addiction treatment services in the county by contracting with various service providers.
Thompson worked for Jones-Kelley at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in 2008 when both were reprimanded for conducting state database searches that had no legitimate agency purpose.
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The searches were conducted on Samuel Wurzelbacher, who gained national attention as “Joe the Plumber” when he confronted then presidential candidate Barack Obama over taxes during a campaign event. He became a household name after repeated mentions during the final presidential debate that year.
Jones-Kelley was suspended and then resigned as head of the agency, while Thompson’s position was revoked.
“Usually you don’t get the gang back together after this kind of scandal,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio.
Jones-Kelley last week defended the hire, saying Thompson’s experience both in government service and more recently as CFO of the Dayton YWCA made him the most qualified candidate for the job.
“It was about who’s the best talent to serve ADAMHS and to serve the community,” she said. “He was an outstanding county employee when he was here… He brings a great deal of experience that’s going to serve us very well.”
Thompson was director of child support enforcement during Jones-Kelley’s tenure as head of the Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services, then went with her to Columbus when Gov. Ted Strickland chose her in 2007 to run the state of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services.
ODJFS is the largest government agency in the state overseeing Medicaid, unemployment compensation, subsidized child care, welfare and more. Thompson served as the department’s deputy director of child support.
The Joe the Plumber scandal occurred during the heated presidential election between the Democrat Obama and the Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Then-Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles concluded in an investigation that Jones-Kelley improperly authorized state database searches for personal information about Wurzelbacher.
The report also singled out Thompson for attempting to deceive internal investigators.
According to the report, Thompson told a staffer to email the chief privacy officer saying the inquiry was in fact for child support purposes.
“We believe that this email orchestrated by Thompson was an attempt to deceive, as there was no agency function or purpose for accessing Wurzelbacher’s records,” the report said.
Wurzelbacher, who could not be reached for comment, filed a lawsuit that accused Jones-Kelley and employees Fred Williams and Thompson of improperly searching “confidential state databases” to retaliate against him for his criticism of Obama.
The case was eventually dismissed because the court found Wurzelbacher’s rights to free speech and privacy were not infringed upon.
Thompson, through Jones-Kelley, declined to comment for this story.
Judy Cook, president of the ADAMHS board of trustees, said the board is responsible for hiring the executive director and does not interfere with that person’s hiring decisions.
The board was kept in the loop on the recent hires, and no objections were raised, Jones-Kelley said.
“His credentials are what we’re after,” Cook said of Thompson.
In a separate move, Jones-Kelley hired Paula Cosby — formerly executive director for the Dayton nonprofit Clothes That Work — for the newly created position as director of external relations.
Jones-Kelley said the new position was needed because ADAMHS’s strategic plan calls for “more marketing and expression of ADAMHS in the community.”
Cosby will be tasked with improving the agency’s website and serve as social media coordinator, a position that was vacant, Jones-Kelley said.
Both Cosby and Thompson will be paid base salaries of $91,000. The previous CFO made $116,000.
Cosby’s position is partially paid for by the Greater Dayton Brain Health Foundation, for which she will also serve as manager, Jones-Kelley said.
ADAMHS consistently spends about 8 to 9 percent of its budget on administration, according to Jones-Kelley, which she said is less than some other mental health and addiction agencies in the state. Franklin County reported spending 10.5 percent of its mental health budget on board operation in 2017.
Jones-Kelley said she considered the past incident in her hiring of Thompson and anticipated there could be some criticism. There were some who questioned the board’s decision to hire Jones-Kelley in 2011 given her involvement in the scandal just a few years earlier, but many others defended her long track record of government service.
“Everyone deserves a second chance as long as everybody in the community is aware that these two people are connected to a previous scandal,” Turcer said. “And that we’re paying attention to what’s going on and we make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”