Two Ohio Department of Medicaid employees who applied for jobs with ODM vendors, and a cosmetology and barber board inspector who signed off on family members’ barbershops, were among 20 public employees reprimanded last year for violating state ethics laws.
This is according to Ohio Ethics Commission settlement agreements from 2019 obtained by the Dayton Daily News using Ohio public records law. The Dayton Daily News made all of the settlement agreements available on our website, reporting some of the ethical violations by public officials for the first time.
You can search the settlement agreements at the bottom of this story.
Unlike in previous years, none of the cases settled in 2019 were from this area. Last year, the Dayton Daily News found five Miami Valley officials were reprimanded in 2018. In addition to the three state agencies, the reprimands from 2019 include elected and appointed officials from cities, villages, townships, schools and other government entities across Ohio.
The two ODM employees who got in trouble for seeking work with companies that did business with Medicaid were Pharmacologist Margaret Scott and Project Manager Thomas Dexter.
In October 2017 Scott left ODM to work at CVS as a clinical adviser. The Ethics Commission found she did not tell ODM that she was seeking a job with CVS, which was interested in matters before ODM, where she oversaw aspects of the pharmacy program.
The investigation found Scott didn’t misuse her position to get the job and said it was a mistake, but admitted in November 2019 that taking the job was a potential violation of state ethics law and accepted a reprimand.
Dexter tried to get a job for both himself and his wife with a company called Sandata, which does electronic visit verification for Medicaid, according to ODM’s website.
Sandata reported the job solicitation to ODM because the company was “concerned about retaliation for not giving Dexter employment based on the prominent role he holds over the (Sandata/ODM) contract,” according to an investigative report from the Ohio Inspector General, which also looked into the case. The OIG probe followed the ethics commission’s and resulted in no additional consequences.
The investigations found Dexter tried to get his wife hired at Sandata in 2017, and himself in 2018. The company hired neither of them. In addition to the public reprimand, Dexter was fired from ODM.
Dexter told OIG investigators he had taken ethics training and thought he knew the rules. He admitted in the Ethics Commission settlement to violating state ethics laws.
Ohio Department of Medicaid spokesman Kevin Walter said all agency employees get ethics training and “(these two cases) are just showing that the system has worked.”
Barber board inspector
The Ohio State Cosmetology and Barber Board discovered an employee violating ethics law when the agency was created in December 2017 out of the merger of the Ohio cosmetology board and Ohio barber board.
Johnny Mack Hobbs worked as a barber shop inspector since 2014, an investigation found, and his boss on the barber board said it was OK for him to inspect barber shops owned by his father and brother in the Toledo area.
He inspected these barber shops 22 times between 2016 and 2017.
The Ethics Commission noted mitigating circumstances, such as Hobbs’ cooperating with the investigation and that he ceased the inspections when he was told to.
Hobbs admits that he violated state ethics law and accepted a public reprimand.
The most common ethics rules local officials ran afoul of dealt with being involved with employment matters for relatives. Some were involved in hiring family members. Two Ironton school board members participated in discussions regarding health insurance for teachers, though both were married to teachers and on their wives’ insurance.
A trustee in Genoa Twp., north of Columbus, violated ethics law by sending an email to township employees promoting his son’s Kickstarter campaign.
Another recurring issue is public employees with private businesses that do business with the government they work for. A Village of Rio Grande fire chief, for example, provided goods and services to the village through his private business totaling more than $10,000, ethics investigators found. He admitted to violating state ethics law.
Ethics commission: Ask before you act
Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said settlement agreements allow them to avoid the cost and uncertainty of taking cases to court. And ethics commission settlement agreements can’t be expunged like criminal convictions.
“(After an expungement) there’s no continuing legacy or public awareness of what had happened, and I think that minimizes the deterrent value,” he said.
Nick’s office prefers to avoid ethical lapses through education rather than slapping someone with a reprimand. They educate thousands of public employees each year in Ohio ethics law. Nick said they issued more than 250 advisory opinions last year, responding in less than two weeks.
“If you’re not sure if your conduct is lawful, ask the question and you’ll get an answer,” he said.
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