Thursday, November 20, 2008

'No legitimate reason' to check Joe the Plumber records, Inspector General decides

Well, duh! We all figured that one out as soon as it was made public....

The report states:

In summary, we determined that ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley’s authorization to search three confidential agency databases for information on Wurzelbacher was improper, and that her use of state email resources to engage in political activity was also improper. We further find an omission on the part of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for failing to prevent a misuse of the OHLEG system by an agency contractor, and a wrongful act with the contractor for using OHLEG to access confidential information about Wurzelbacher.


Director Jones-Kelley’s authorization of the searches done on Wurzelbacher did not satisfy the Ohio Administrative Code requirement that access to ODJFS’ confidential database systems must be related to an “agency function or purpose.” Although the Director indicated that it was agency practice to search ODJFS databases when someone is “thrust quickly into the public spotlight,” we found no policies or procedures to support her.


We determined that Taxation checked its database systems twice on October 16, 2008, and a third time on October 17, 2008, in response to media inquiries about the status of a tax lien against Wurzelbacher. We interviewed Taxation’s Communications Director, John Kohlstrand, who confirmed that he coordinated with the Ohio Attorney’s Office in preparing a response to reporters. Taxpayer records maintained on Taxation’s data system are deemed confidential by statute and the public release of any such information is prohibited. Public information regarding the status of a tax lien may be released by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office after a lien is filed in court. All of the information appearing in the media about Wurzelbacher’s tax lien was consistent with public information released by the OAG and available from the Lucas County Clerk of Courts.

We found that Taxation’s searches were not inappropriate based on criteria established by the agency and the Internal Revenue Service, which govern access to such records by authorized employees. In this case, Taxation officials checked their database to verify whether Wurzelbacher’s tax lien was still valid. We found no evidence that any confidential information was shared with anyone outside the agency.

They also said the Toledo Police Department was conducting its own investigation into the violation of the LEADS system by one of their clerks.

The IG report concludes:

"The justifications she (Dir. Jones-Kelley) offered in support of her decision were not credible, and they included contradictions, ambiguity, and inconsistencies. The information she said she relied on emanated from unreliable sources, such as blogs and hearsay. Therefore, we find that she had no reasonable basis to authorize searches on Wurzelbacher."

Now - will she be disciplined? She's been on paid administrative leave since the investigation began, but not because of this issue - rather, for using her state computer and emails for political purposes.

The report will be sent to the office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien for review.

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