Thursday, January 3, 2013

UPDATED: Two indicted Wildlife Division officials continue to see pay increases

Two of the indicted so-called Brown County Five are not only still on the job within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources they are - as required by law - collect what looks like pay increases.

However, sources familiar with the issue says such appearances of a raise may simply be an individual taking the opportunity to "cash in" sick leave or personal leave.

At least exempt state government workers are entitled to 32 hours of personal leave.

"Sick leave is a little more complicated," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Importantly, the source said also, state employees have not received a raise since 2008.

Indicated in Brown County Court in April, 2010, the former Ohio Division of Wildlife’s human resources manager, Michelle Ward-Tackett, and the former manager for the agency’s Wildlife District 5 (southwest Ohio) office, Todd Haines, are facing fifth-degree felony charges for alleged obstruction of justice and alleged complicity of obstruction of justice.

A fifth-degree felony is punishable by a jail term of up to 12 months, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both.

Also under the same legal cloud are three since-retired Wildlife Division officials that includes the agency’s former chief, David Graham.

The charges against the Brown County Five stem from an issue that alleges they should have handled a case involving the former state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County, Allan Wright, as a criminal matter rather than as an administrative one.

Last year Wright plead guilty in federal court on another matter and related to violating the government’s Lacy Act, which seeks to protect fish and wildlife resources.

Also, the case involving all five current and former Natural Resources Department officials is now before the Ohio State Supreme Court, which is exploring a legalistic technical issue centered around the topic of self-incrimination.

Both Ward-Tackett and Haines have been reassigned to other duties within the Natural Resources Department.

Consequently, each also continues to collect a paycheck.

Further, Haines and Ward-Tackett have seen those paychecks grow, too.

This, as a result of the two employees’ longevity with the Natural Resources Department, said the agency's chief spokeswoman.

But longevity would not apply once a state government employee achieves 20-year employment status, the source said also.

Bethany McCorkle, the Natural Resources Department’s chief of communications, says Ward-Tackett has been employed by the agency for a little more than 24 years while Haines’ service extends for a little more than 25 years.

Beginning in 2008, and according to as compiled by agency critic Troy Conley, Ward-Tackett’s annual salary was $90,223. That figure grew to $91,016 the following year and then to $91,189 in 2010 - the year she was indicted.

In 2011, Ward-Tackett collected an additional $2,664, bringing her annual income to $93,853.

For Haines, his respective 2008 income was $82,496, increasing to $83,315 in 2009, then to 83,547 in 2010 when he was indicted. In 2011, Haines’ income rose to $84,509.

McCorkle said “these numbers are close.”

However, the source said that in 2009 and 2010 state workers were required to take 10 days off without pay, a decision that was reversed in 2011, which simply brought their incomes back up to pre-cut levels.

In the case of both Haines and Ward-Tackett, their respective 2012 incomes are not known.

McCorkle did say since both Haines and Ward-Tackett are exempt employees, “the remaining increases were a result of longevity increases between 5 and 20 years, equal to .05-percent times the number of years of service, times the first step of the pay rate of the employee’s classification.”

And since Haines and Ward-Tackett have not been found guilty of any alleged crime, they are still state employees, and thus are eligible for whatever benefits the legislature and administration have approved, McCorkle says.

Asked whether Ward-Tackett and Haines would lose their pensions should the courts ultimately find them guilty of any alleged wrong-doing, McCorkle says it is possible.

“In general, the charge of obstruction of justice could possibly cause someone to lose their pension,” McCorkle said. “That, of course, would be up to the court system.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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