Employee says ‘Plumber’ probe concealedWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The state employee directed to run a records check on Joe the Plumber told Ohio lawmakers one manager ordered the check and another dictated an e-mail sent from her address covering up the act.
The records check came in the final stretch of this fall’s presidential election, after Republican nominee John McCain made a Toledo plumber named Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher a theme in his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama.
Vanessa Niekamp, a 15-year state employee who now works for the state Department of Job and Family Services, made her statements Thursday as legislators considered a bill that would require the firing of any state employee who improperly accesses confidential personal information.
Niekamp said Doug Thompson, the agency’s deputy director, ordered her to write a cover-up e-mail to the department’s information security officer. Thompson entered her office, closed the door and dictated the e-mail word for word, she said.
“He appeared very upset, his neck was bright red, and he was shaking,” Niekamp told the House State Government and Election Committee on Thursday.
Niekamp said she thinks Wurzelbacher is owed a public apology.
The department declined a request by The Associated Press for a copy of the e-mail, claiming lawyers said it was not a public record.
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland suspended Thompson, the state’s director of child support, for four weeks without pay. He also suspended Fred Williams, the department’s assistant director for two weeks.
Helen Jones-Kelley, the agency’s director, was suspended for a month without pay despite calls from Republican legislative leaders that she should be fired.
Paul Fraunholtz, the deputy director of family stability, and Judi Cicatiello, the deputy director of unemployment compensation, were also reprimanded. All four were ordered to receive ethics training on the handling of sensitive information.
One manager named in Niekamp’s legislative testimony _ assistant deputy director Candi Brown _ was not among those disciplined. Niekamp said Brown is the one who requested she check the state’s child-support computer system for Wurzelbacher’s name.
Niekamp said Brown told her that Wurzelbacher had contacted the department to dispute how much child support he owed, which turned out to be untrue. Niekamp said Thompson revised the story a week later, saying Jones-Kelley and Fraunholtz had requested the check.
Strickland has maintained that the information accessed by the department was never shared outside the agency, and Inspector General Tom Charles found no evidence it was used for political purposes.
State Rep. Shannon Jones, a Columbus Republican, said she introduced the bill because she believes high-ranking officials weren’t punished enough.
“The systematic misuse of government databases and the governor’s woeful under-reaction to state government workers engaging in this outrageous behavior make House Bill 648 necessary,” she told the committee.