Ohio taxpayers paying big for security for state officeholders

By Randy Ludlow

The Columbus Dispatch

Security for elected officeholders is a touchy topic around Capitol Square.

But it has been difficult to miss as retired state troopers and other former officers seem to increasingly accompany their charges in public.

A Dispatch request for information about which officials have taxpayer-paid security, and in what numbers, was met with protest and resistance.

Some offices temporarily balked at turning over the names of security staffers — largely ex-State Highway Patrol troopers who remain certified police officers and carry handguns.

Others said the release of information could compromise the personal safety of the politicians. None of the politicians has been known to face a serious threat, and few would discuss the specific reasons for their need of security.

Republican Gov. John Kasich generated headlines as his legally mandated security detail of nine state troopers received more than $350,000 in overtime pay while he traveled the country campaigning for president.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, Treasurer Josh Mandel, Auditor Dave Yost, the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives collectively spend about $920,000 a year on the salaries of their security staffs.

Secretary of State Jon Husted is the only statewide executive officeholder who has no guard. “As a former college football star and a regular in the weight room, Secretary Husted is more than capable of handling his personal security personally,” said spokesman Joshua Eck.

Patrol officials would not discuss what, if any, security is provided for Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

The 99-member House has the largest security operation, with a sergeant-at-arms and five assistants who earn between $56,014 and $80,017 annually.

“Their presence is to ensure the safety of the speaker, legislators and the public,” said House Republican spokesman Brad Miller. One sergeant-at-arms is assigned to protect Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, “during all aspects of his job, including travel,” he said.

The 33-member Senate has four sergeants-at-arms who collectively earn $239,491 a year. Senate Republican spokesman John Fortney declined to provide details on their assignments, including whether security accompanies President Keith Faber, R-Celina.

“Security has to be a priority in today’s world. … Their service helps protect the Senate and every Ohioan who comes here for business or to visit,” Fortney said. The House and Senate long have employed sergeants-at-arms to monitor legislative sessions.

On the federal level, U.S. senators and House members, beyond some leaders, do not receive taxpayer-paid security during their travels.

The offices of DeWine and Yost each have one security officer paid $77,772 and $61,000, respectively. Officials would not provide details or comment on how long they have been employed. The auditor’s office security officer also works as one of the office’s investigators, most of whom are certified police officers, said spokesman Ben Marrison.

Mandel spokesman Chris Berry said the office has a security manager, but he would not comment on the “specifics of security-related matters.” The office is moving to hire a new security manager after the last one, who was paid $109,000 annually, departed, Berry said.

The Ohio Supreme Court employs one security officer, who is paid $68,106 a year, to provide security in the courtroom and during off-site visits. “For obvious reasons we do not discuss security planning or protocols,” said court spokesman Bret Crow.

Catherine Turcer, a policy analyst with the good-government group Common Cause Ohio, said, “In this day and age, many of us would like to have a big, burly man walk us up and down Pearl Alley. Yet, we all stay as safe as we can by making good choices, and it doesn’t cost $1 million.

“Generally, elected officials are in no more danger than the rest of us. Security should be correlated with death threats and real danger, not just an amorphous danger,” Turcer said.

Beyond direct employees, officeholders and state agencies also have spent about $201,000 since 2014 with Armada, a risk-assessment and security-planning company.

The security employees directly hired by elected officials do not include state-employed troopers and police officers assigned to work at the Statehouse and the Riffe Center, Rhodes Tower and other state offices.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board has spent $237,000 on security upgrades at the Statehouse and Senate Building over the past year, notably for metal detectors that visitors now must pass through to enter the complex.

The metal detectors have found no attempts to bring weapons into the Statehouse, but a handful of people have volunteered that they have had items such as pocket knives before being screened. They were instructed to remove the items from the grounds and then return, said Sgt. Vincent Shirey, patrol spokesman.

About the Author