Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Politics and County Jobs: A Dangerous Mix, Part II

I've been a little surprised by several of the responses to my prior posting on this issue, so I decided to do a little more checking, and to clear up come confusion. Besides basic notions of common sense, ethics and good government, it turns out there are far more rules around this than some people might realize. It's best if we all understand them as soon as possible.

First, as most know, there are two types of positions -- classified and unclassified.

1. The rules regarding "unclassified positions": under state law, unclassified positions essentially serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority (which varies depending on the department), and there are generally far fewer restrictions on their political activity and involvement. It is ultimately up to the "appointing authority" to establish such rules.

Here at the Board of County Commissioners, there are clear rules regarding the top management team for which we are the appointing authority (administrator, deputy administrators, department heads under the administrator, etc.). Although they are unclassified positions, these employees can NOT engage in partisan political activities concerning the office of the Board of County Commissioners, including participation in reelection campaigns of incumbents. This includes refraining from financial participation, donation of time, attendance at fundraising events, distributing campaign literature, etc.

This makes for a very clean system--and one I strongly support. Professional administrators and managers working for the citizens do not feel any pressure to involve themselves in the politics of the elected officials, and do not base their professional/management decisions on the political prospects of those elected officials. It also means elected officials like myself make decisions about those we appoint based on their professional skills and successes (or failures), and not on how many yardsigns they planted or parades they marched in. Overall, that is a good thing for the orderly and professional operation of the County. I don't know what the ethical rules are regarding unclassified employees (and there are many such employees) under other "appointing authorities" in the County, but few if any will have such a rigorous rule. (I think they should for many unclassified management positions and other employees, but ultimately that's not up to me.)

2. The rules regarding "classified positions":

Both under state law and county rules, "classified positions" do have considerably more restrictions. While classified employees can express opinions, make voluntary financial contributions to candidates or organizations, attend political rallies that are open to the public, display political materials in their home or property, wear badges/buttons, they can NOT do a number of things, including (to name a few):
- serve in an elected or appointed office in a partisan political organization;
- "campaign[] by writing for publications, by distributing political material or by making speeches on behalf of a candidate for partisan elective office";
- solicit contributions for any party or candidate;
- or participate in partisan activities at the political polls.

3. There is also clear state law on what people in public office can NOT do as it relates to classified employees (and in some cases, any public employees):
- no person holding or seeking public office can promise, either indirectly or directly, to use their authority or influence to secure a classified position, or to affect a promotion or increase in salary in a classified position, as reward for political influence or service (O.R.C. 124.61)
- no officer or employee of the state or county shall appoint, promote, suspend, lay off, discharge or impact the rank or compensation of any employee in the classified service, or promise or threaten to do so, for giving, withholding, or refusing to support any party (O.R.C. 124.60)
- no person, for the benefit of a political party, campaign committee, etc. can coerce a contribution in consideration of, among other things, "preferring, or maintaining the status of [] any public employee with respect to compensation, duties, placement, location, promotion, or other material aspects of employment." (O.R.C. 2921.43 (C)(2) (Note: this applies to ALL employees).

BOTTOM LINE: In response to the casual suggestions by some commenters on my previous blog entry that personnel decisions should be made in part on partisan political activity, because (as one commenter said) "we would rather hire a known individual, who was willing to give of their time, money and effort", that's a precarious and dangerous road. Depending on 1) the employee's current status, 2) the position they are seeking, 3) the way in which the connection between their political activity and personnel decision is made or communicated, or 4) the activity in which they participate in (ie. distributing campaign literature as a classified employee), such an approach could very well violate both County policy and state law.


Anonymous said...

Why is the county operating their own civil service office for the screenng and hiring of personnel when the state civil service commission provides this service during a fiscal crisis?
Since you've read up on the civil service law, why does the county have no lists of qualified candidates for positions who have been administered the civil service test for various positions?

It is important to note that while their are some distinctions between classified and unclassified and exempt and nonemempt employees - the mandate always is to hire the best qualified employee for each position based on objective, measurable criteria (if the entity receives federal funding in whole or in part)with few exceptions defined by law.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of classified personnel not engaging in political activity, what do you think of this? Patty Clancy raised a quarter- million dollars for her Clerk of Courts race illegally.

Patty Clancy’s position as an assistant chief probation officer is clearly a classified position under the Ohio Revised Code 2301.27, which states, “all positions within the department of probation shall be in the classified civil service”. Her position does not fit into any of the exceptions to her being in the classified service, specifically 124.11(A)(9). None of the exceptions to the mandatory classified service apply to probation employees like Patty Clancy. Basically, her position does not have fiduciary responsibilities directly to any elected officials.

Court officials have tried to get around this by saying that Clancy’s job description says her position is unclassified. However, no matter what they put on her job description, the Ohio Revised Code, under 2301.27, is clear that her job is classified. There is case law which expressly states that it does not matter if an employer says an employee is unclassified, the employee’s duties are what determines if the position is classified or not, not the title of the position.

Also, as you know as an attorney, the statuary interpretation requires a specific statute like 2301.27 to trump more vague language as contained in 124.11(A)(9).

The truth is the whole probation department is classified except for the Chief Probation Officer. For some reason, Hamilton County has been getting away with not adhering to the law.

Other elected officials were involved in Patty Clancy’s illegal fundraising this, like Joe Deters and Greg Hartmann.

Isn’t it time to cleanup politics in Hamilton County? We can’t have faith in our elected officials when this kind of activity is allowed to go on.

Anonymous said...

I thought Clancy WAS appointed as chief probation officer?

Anonymous said...

She was named assistant chief probation officer.

Anonymous said...

Re: Clancy
This is exactly the kind of thing that tees me off about the Democratic Party here and the news media - they are too lazy to realize that this issue is newsworthy and that it's campaign season 24/7. Whether Democrats buckle down and invest in doing their homework - then this change in political power will merely be a flash in the pan and they'll sit around wondering why

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