Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ohio’s AG Marc Dann Must Resign

Another embarrassment for Ohio politics. It seems only yesterday that the state was trying to recover from Republican Governor Bob Taft having to stand trial for four misdemeanor counts of violating state ethics laws. Taft failed to report golf outings and other gifts, and was found guilty and fined $4,000. That particular ethics probe was triggered by the discovery that an Ohio Republican fund-raiser had lost more than $10 million of the $50 million of state money that he had invested in things like coins.

Now, we have to be shamed by the juvenile, immature behavior of Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann his staff and Dann that brought charges of sexual harassment, and questions about how the AG’s office is managed.

Several Dann staff members have been booted by being fired or by resigning, but Dann refuses to do so, writing off his mismanagement of the office to exercising poor judgment. (Read Dann’s statement here.)

This isn’t good enough.

If Dann’s judgment is so poor that he can’t manage his office staff, then he doesn’t belong in the position of state Attorney General. Being Ohio’s AG doesn’t mean one should be allowed to learn on the job for how to properly run an office. Yes, we all know that profanity, sexual innuendo, drinking, and all kinds of non-work bad behavior can occur in any work environment. But it appears that in Dann’s office, it was a way of life. And that is not consistent with what Ohio constituents should expect. As far as I am concerned, Marc Dann has completely lost any shred of credibility he may have had when he was elected.

The people of the State of Ohio deserve better. Marc Dann should either leave on his own accord, or Ohioans should take steps to have him impeached. Marc can then go back to living in a college dorm world on his own time and on his own nickel.

Here's the story from AP:

Ohio attorney general admits to affair with employee

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Just 16 months into his four-year-term, Ohio's attorney general admitted he was in over his head as he acknowledged an affair with a subordinate and his failure to stop problems that led to a sexual harassment investigation that brought down three of his aides.

Marc Dann apologized to his wife and supporters but insisted he would not step down. He took responsibility for the scandal, saying he was not prepared for the office or to run such a large agency.

"I did not create an atmosphere in my public and personal life that is consistent with the important mission of the Office of Attorney General," the Democrat said Friday after the three aides were fired or forced out in the harassment investigation. "I am heartbroken by my failure to recognize the problems being created and by my failure to stop them."

Dann had punted the probe to a well-respected lieutenant, state Sen. Ben Espy. The investigation uncovered a seedy underside to the office rife with booze, profanity, inappropriate sexual activity, misuse of state vehicles and on-the-job threats involving the Mafia.

Fired were Anthony Gutierrez, who led Dann's general services office, and his communications director, Leo Jennings. Edgar Simpson, Dann's policy chief, was forced to resign. But Espy conceded that he had no authority to take action against Dann, his boss and a constitutional officer elected by voters.

Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett called Dann "unfit for the job of attorney general since he took office," and Kevin DeWine, the parties deputy chairman, said Dann allowed immoral and unethical behavior to thrive in his office.

"He turned the attorney general's office into a raunchy frat pad," he said.

Even Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, on whose coattails Dann rode into office in 2006, expressed disappointment over the attorney general's behavior. He said the monthlong investigation into the harassment claims of two 26-year-old staffers showed a "double standard" with Dann staying while some employees were let go.

Dann, 46, said his affair was consensual and refused to disclose the name of the employee. He said the relationship came during a difficult time in his marriage, but that it "was wrong and I deeply regret it."

Voter Melissa Holden, 38, of Columbus, said Dann should consider resigning.

"When you put yourself in the public eye like that you have to set an example," she said.

The fallout of the probe is an especially painful blow to Dann because he has made his political name fighting corruption.

Espy's report said Dann showed poor judgment in allowing one of the women who alleged harassment by Gutierrez to have drinks and pizza at the condo near Columbus shared by Dann, Gutierrez and Jennings. Jennings is accused of attempting to get another staffer to lie about details of a social event where one instance of alleged harassment occurred "so that it didn't seem like there was anything extramarital going on."

Simpson knew about Gutierrez's history of policy violations and failed to address inappropriate behavior, investigators said.

Jennings denied wrongdoing. "I haven't done a thing except do my job. My conscience is absolutely clear," he said.

Gutierrez declined comment and referred questions to his attorney, Sam Amendolara, who did not return messages seeking comment. No phone listing for Simpson could be found.

Dann's scheduler, Jessica Utovich, with whom he had a close relationship in which they often used profanity, nicknames and teasing when e-mailing each other, resigned voluntarily, said Tom Winters, first assistant attorney general. He did not give a reason, and Utovich did not return a message seeking comment.

When interviewed for the sexual harassment investigation conducted by assistant attorneys general, Dann said Utovich stayed overnight at the apartment for reasons he would not discuss. During her interview, Utovich would not say whether she ever stayed overnight at the apartment, where Dann stayed while working away from his home in northeast Ohio.

The 26-year-old women who accused Gutierrez of harassment — Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout — feel vindicated, said their attorney, Rex Elliott.

"There are questions that go all the way to the top of that office about how the leader of that office allowed this environment to persist," he said.

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