- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The former chief of staff to Ohio’s lieutenant governor charged the state about $5,000 for time she spent driving to and from work and hair and nail appointments, the state inspector general said in a report Tuesday.

Laura Johnson stepped down from her job as Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor’s top aide in June 2014 after irregularities were discovered in her timesheets. Johnson’s administrative assistant also resigned.

The report from the state’s watchdog comes as Taylor is considering a run for governor in 2018. Taylor, a Republican, is next in line to succeed Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking the GOP’s nomination for president. She’s a former Ohio auditor and serves as director of the state’s insurance department.

At the time of the two employees’ resignations, Taylor’s office had said that it became aware of Johnson’s timesheet issues while responding to a public records request made by a Democratic-leaning blog, Plunderbund. The blog had asked for payroll records, timesheets and parking logs.

The records showed that the two employees reported working hours that did not match their parking garage and building entry logs, according to Taylor’s office. There were also days when both reported work hours either before entering or after leaving the garage.

Taylor, who said she had asked Johnson to resign, forwarded the irregularities to Inspector General Randall Meyer for further review last year.

Meyer’s office said Tuesday that a review of records brought into question the employees’ claims for pay for a number of working hours outside the office.

For instance, investigators found that between mid-2013 and mid-2014 Johnson claimed pay for about 86 hours of drive time to and from the office or salon appointments, along with about five hours of time spent at the salon. The inspector general’s office valued the time at $5,245.

In total, the state’s watchdog questioned nearly 533 hours that Johnson claimed as work when her car was not parked at the office’s garage and there were no corresponding work-related appointments on her calendar or corresponding work produced.

The inspector general’s office said local prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case.

Her attorney has said that Johnson denies wrongdoing. Taylor’s office said Johnson has paid $1,290.17 to the state.

Johnson had worked as Taylor’s chief of staff since 2011. Taylor told investigators that she gave limited authorization to Johnson to work from home to accommodate certain personal appointments.

According to the inspector general’s report, Taylor said she did not authorize and was not aware that Johnson had claimed as work time the travel to the office and salons.

The inspector general recommended that Taylor comply with policies requiring supervisor approval of all timesheets and consider paying employees who work in the lieutenant governor’s office from a lieutenant governor’s budget, not the state’s Department of Insurance.

A Taylor spokeswoman said Tuesday the lieutenant governor remains disappointed that flexibilities provided to Johnson were abused.

“We appreciate the Inspector General’s recommendations and we have already started implementing similar ideas,” Taylor spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said in an emailed statement. She said Taylor’s office has strengthened its timesheet approval process.

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