Of Pledge Cards and Patronage

It’s kind of like peeling an onion. Once you begin twisting, more and more layers are revealed.

Ever since CityBeat cited a letter last week written by a Hamilton County Probation Department employee listing the work she’s done for the local Republican Party as a reason she should get a promotion, other county workers have weighed in via telephone calls and posts on local blogs about how common the practice is and what exactly is permitted under the law.—-

Some readers (and a few elected officials) have pointed out that county employees basically fall under two categories: classified and non-classified or supervisory. There are state and county rules about what political activities are allowed for employees, but the ones for classified workers are much stricter.

Generally, classified employees are allowed to make voluntary financial contributions to candidates or organizations, attend political rallies that are open to the public, display political materials in their home or property, and wear items like campaign badges.

But classified employees are prohibited from serving in an elected or appointed office in a political party, campaigning by writing or distributing political material or making speeches on behalf of a candidate, soliciting contributions for any party or candidate, or participating in partisan activities at the election polls.

Based on those prohibitions, it sure seems like some county employees routinely violate the rules. The question is, will their supervisors put an end to the practice?

Regardless, some commenters have written that they see nothing wrong with county employees doing campaign work, while others have alleged they feel intimidated by their supervisors into “volunteering” for various campaigns. Some even suggested that the Hamilton County Republican Party requires some county job applicants to sign “pledge cards” as a condition of employment.

Local GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou, a former judge, vehemently denies the latter allegation.

“There is no ‘pledge card’ of any kind that I know about,” Triantafilou told CityBeat. “I would neither condone it nor support it. Promotions should be given based on competence and merit ... not political work.”

Also, Triantafilou said the letter written by Probation Office Supervisor Gwendolyn DaCons Taylor that lobbies the county’s Common Pleas Court judges for the promotion is inappropriate.

“Gwen Taylor’s work as a Republican activist should in no way be a consideration for her promotion into a government/taxpayer-funded position. Her work at the probation department should be the only criterion,” the chairman said. “Republican Party work should not be a factor for promotion in county government.”

Still, if Taylor is a “Republican activist” and a classified employee, her partisan activities may violate the rules.

Triantafilou believes Taylor misunderstood how hiring and promotions are decided.

“Sometimes, political candidates from both parties will bring campaign staff or campaign helpers into government positions,” Triantafilou said. “President-elect Obama will bring his top campaign staff into his administration. Every President in recent memory has ‘rewarded’ campaign work with positions within government. This is not unusual.

“Occasionally, on the local level, a candidate will run, find help from someone, then bring that person along into a government position,” he added. “The Democrats and Republicans do this.

“One example of a Democrat doing so would be Judge Ted Berry hiring his campaign manager, Wayne Coates (now the Recorder-elect) as his bailiff once Judge Berry was elected to the bench. This was expected and normal. This may leave Ms. Taylor confused.

“However, the situation you describe in your e-mail is not the way things operate and I would not condone it if it did.”

Taylor, a longtime Probation Department employee, reportedly wrote the letter after learning her main competition for the assistant chief probation officer’s job was Jodie Leis-George, daughter of GOP bigwig and Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.

In 2007, Leis-George was appointed by the Common Pleas Court as the assistant director of the Probation Department’s community service program. It assigns defendants into supervised projects as a condition of their community control or probation.

One local woman, who used to be active in Republican Party events and asked that her name not be used, said patronage is common throughout the ranks of Hamilton County government. She said Taylor’s letter was inappropriate but somewhat understandable, given the local GOP’s lackluster record of promoting African-American women.

“I don’t know Gwen well,” the source said, “but I’m sure she’s probably thinking that whatever merit she would bring to getting the job it would not matter going up against Si Leis’ daughter.”

In fact, the source said there have been only two or three African-American women to hold any significant posts in the Hamilton County Republican Club during its 80-plus year existence.

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