An ethics investigation is being called for in the wake of a Dayton Daily News investigation published Sunday that found Ohio Senate Chief of Staff Jason Mauk and Communications Director John McClelland maintained full-time government jobs while getting paid nearly $80,000 to do political work in 2013 and 2014.
The newspaper’s story raised questions about how much oversight Senate leaders provide of top staff, and whether the two state employees — who held top positions in the Republican Party until starting work for the state in 2011 — were following state requirements for the use of leave time when they did work for the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
Two advocacy groups on Monday — Common Cause Ohio, a good government watchdog, and Progress Ohio, a liberal think tank — said they’ll be calling for an investigation of whether ethics policies were violated and more restrictive policies are needed.
Since 2006, the state auditor has told the Ohio Senate it should require employees to certify that they’re actually working the hours that they’re being paid.
All of the state’s 54,000 workers — except for the 106 full-time Senate employees — punch time cards, fill out time sheets or sign log books to document their work hours, according to state Auditor Dave Yost’s office.
Their counterparts in the Ohio House have used log books for decades before installing an electronic key card system last year to track their 148 full-time and 55 part-time workers.
Three Republican state auditors in four separate audits have made the same recommendation that the Senate needed better oversight of its payroll records.
Senate full-time employees are automatically paid for 80 hours in a two-week pay period, unless they file for leave. This lack of documentation “could result in the Senate paying employees for hours not actually worked,” wrote then state Auditor Mary Taylor in a 2009 management letter. Former state Auditor Jim Petro made the same written recommendation and current Auditor Dave Yost gave the direction verbally, according to Yost spokeswoman Carrie Bartunek.
“It is really surprising that they didn’t follow common sense solutions recommended in the last four state audits,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. “This is basic administration and at the end of the day we’re talking about taxpayer money. We need to know when government employees come to work and when they leave.”
While working for Penmen Group LLC, their newly formed for-profit consulting firm, Mauk and McClelland collected $232,000 in government pay last year — $132,110 for Mauk and $99,663 for McClelland.
The newspaper investigation also revealed that Mauk and McClelland were allowed to revise their leave and comp time records back six months.
State ethics laws bar government employees from using state resources — such as time, phones, and parking spots — while doing outside work.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Austintown, said “a thorough review” is needed to ensure the two weren’t running political campaigns while on state time.
“This is taxpayer money. If these guys were working on government time on campaigns, that’s an issue and it’s a major one,” he said. “That is offensive to all Ohioans. I’m not saying with certainty that that happened here, but people deserve answers.”
The Senate has been planning to install a key card swiping system for months in the Statehouse. It is in the testing phase now but not yet fully operational.
In February, the Controlling Board approved a request for $80,000 for installing access control devices on doors. In March, the board approved $55,855 for card readers and exterior security cameras at the Statehouse.
The Joint Legislative Ethics Commission, a 12-member bipartisan panel of state senators and representatives, handles investigations of General Assembly staff and members. JLEC Director Tony Bledsoe said his agency can open its own investigations or do so based on sworn affidavits from witnesses with direct knowledge of wrong doing or based on a referral from outside agencies.
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