- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The executive director of a corrections oversight committee that has taken a hard look at Ohio’s troubled inmate food service contract and prisons security issues is guilty of insubordination and should be fired, the panel’s elected chairwoman said Monday.

Joanna Saul refused to follow directions for distributing recommendations last month about changes to the contract with Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services, said state Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat.

Smith said the issue had nothing to do with politics or with Aramark, but with what she said was Saul’s refusal to do what Smith told her to do. Saul released a series of recommendations about Aramark without clearing it with Smith, disobeying what Smith had requested, the senator said.

“I don’t want this to be made into something that it’s not,” Smith said. “It’s clearly about insubordination.”

The bipartisan panel of eight lawmakers conducts regular, spot inspections of state prisons and juvenile detention centers and takes input from prisoners and guards. It produces multiple reports a year and is independent from the state prisons system.

The state has fined Aramark $272,000 during its year-old contract for problems including shortages of main courses, understaffing and a few reports of maggots in food preparation areas.

In addition to scrutiny of Aramark, a recent report by the panel noted problems in the unit where inmate T.J. Lane, who fatally shot three high school students in 2012, was housed until his brief escape earlier this month.

Smith scheduled a Wednesday afternoon vote on Saul’s job. Saul, who declined to comment Monday, has apologized to Smith.

“I took the action that I believed still fulfilled your wishes in terms of the content of the communication, and also served the interests of the committee as a whole,” Saul said in an Aug. 19 email to Smith that was obtained by The Associated Press.

In a letter Thursday, Saul asked Smith to let her keep her job. She cited improvements to the panel’s inspections and reports and the development of a summer education series on prison-related topics.

The panel’s “oversight under my direction has truly pushed forward positive change in Ohio corrections,” Saul said, noting her love for her job and the fact she hasn’t taken a vacation or sick day in four years.

Two Democrats on the committee, state Rep. Nick Celebrezze of Parma and Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, oppose removing Saul. They said it’s the wrong time to change leadership of the panel.

The panel’s oversight “is critical at this juncture due to recent incidents involving the quality of Aramark’s foodservice and the breach of security at the Lima facility,” they wrote Smith on Thursday.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus

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