- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

TOLEDO, Ohio

An agency director improperly used state computers to find personal information on “Joe the Plumber,” a government watchdog said in a report released Thursday.

The order by Helen Jones-Kelley, director of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services, that her staff look up the records had no legitimate purpose, Inspector General Tom Charles said.

The report said that, although the timing was suspicious, investigators could not determine that the searches were politically motivated or ordered.

“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.”

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, suspended Mrs. Jones-Kelley for a month without pay after reviewing the findings. He rejected a request to fire her.

Earlier this month, Mr. Strickland placed Mrs. Jones-Kelley on paid leave over separate accusations that a state computer or 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 Joe Wurzelbacher, a Toledo-area man who became a household name in the final weeks of the presidential campaign after asking Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Mrs. Jones-Kelley in Columbus.

Mrs. Jones-Kelley has said the search of Mr. 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 Mr. Wurzelbacher had indicated that he might buy a business and it was determined that he 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.

But according to the inspector-general’s report, Mrs. Jones-Kelley’s reasoning was at times contradictory, inconsistent and ambiguous.

The report also found no policies or procedures to support her claim that it was the agency’s practice to look into anyone thrust in the spotlight.

Mr. Wurzelbacher did not answer his phone Thursday, and his voice-mail box was full.

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