'Joe The Plumber' Records Improperly Searched
An agency director improperly used state computers to find personal information on "Joe the
Plumber," a government watchdog said in a report released Thursday.
There was no legitimate business purpose for the head of Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services to order staff to look up the records, Inspector General Tom Charles said.
Investigators weren't able to determine whether the searches were politically motivated, the report said.
"All these searches were done in the midst of a national political campaign," the report said.
"But we did not find any evidence that shows the data was accessed or information released in
response to media requests in an effort to support any political activity or agenda."
The agency director, Helen Jones-Kelley, was placed on leave this month over separate allegations that a state computer or state e-mail account was used to assist in political fundraising for Democrat Barack Obama's campaign.
The inspector general's report concluded that she improperly used state e-mail to engage in political activity.
The report looked into 18 background checks into Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a Toledo-area man known as Joe the Plumber. He became a household name in the final weeks of the presidential campaign after asking Obama about his tax plan at a campaign stop near Toledo.
Eight of the checks were done without any legitimate business purpose, the report said. Charles recommended tighter policies on access to confidential information in state computer databases.
The findings have been forwarded to the Franklin County prosecutor's office in Columbus.
There was no home telephone listing for Jones-Kelley in Columbus.
Jones-Kelley has said the search of Wurzelbacher's records were part of routine checks her agency conducts when someone suddenly emerges in the limelight.
She told state Senate President Bill Harris in a letter that records were checked because Wurzelbacher had indicated he might buy a business and it was determined he that owed back taxes. The department wanted to make sure appropriate actions were taken if he owed child support, received public assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes, she wrote.
Jones-Kelley's reasoning was at times contradictory, inconsistent and ambiguous, the inspector
general's report said.
It also found no policies or procedures to support her claim that it was the agency's practice to look into someone thrust in the spotlight.
As Wurzelbacher's profile was elevated in Republican John McCain's campaign, criticism over the Ohio search rose to a fever pitch.
Republicans were furious that Wurzelbacher was targeted, saying that he was simply a private citizen who stood up and questioned the Democratic presidential candidate.
Ohio House speaker Jon Husted said Thursday that Wurzelbacher was owed an apology.
"He definitely deserves an apology," Husted said. "I think the people of the state of Ohio deserve an apology."
According to Husted, there were other officials who deserved punishment for the searches, 10TV's John Fortney reported.
In addition to Jones-Kelley, Husted said that ODJFS assistant director Fred Williams and deputy director of child support Doug Thompson deserved to lose their jobs.
"If these individuals were acting on their own, then they need to be dismissed," Husted said. "If someone else was with them to take this action, then we need to know who that is."
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland issued a statement Thursday after the report was made public.
Although he praised Jones-Kelley for her dedication to the agency and state, Strickland said he accepted the inspector general's judgment that there "was not an adequate business purpose for the searches in question."
Strickland said he issued a one-month unpaid suspension for Jones-Kelley, and issued a management directive to all state agencies regarding the proper use of state databases.
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