By offering a legal opinion on the filling of a newly created $70,000-a-year position in the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Office, the office of county prosecutor Joe Deters will be examining employment protocol in an agency that recently hired his own daughter as well as at least another, more distant relative.
Last month, Donald Robinson — the chief Municipal Court bailiff for Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler — was reprimanded for pressuring employees to campaign for Winkler's re-election on their own time. Two weeks later Winkler transferred him into a newly created job as "safety services director" — at his previous salary of $70,035 a year. At the request of County Commissioner Todd Portune, the prosecuting attorney's office agreed last Wednesday to give a legal opinion on the maneuver.
"It raises the specter of an ongoing need to look into this to see exactly what is going on," Portune said at the Commission meeting. "We're trying to cut costs, not expand budget."
But such an inquiry into a hiring practice by Winkler would put Deters in the ethically awkward position of examining the conduct of not only a fellow Republican politician, but of one who hired his 22-year-old daughter Mary Elyse as a part-time employee. Hired Sept. 22, Elyse Deters works 12 hours a week in the Municipal Court office on the main floor of the courthouse. She receives $12 an hour, according to the Hamilton County Human Resources Department.
"I think that this raises questions about the independence of an investigation," said Caleb Faux, executive director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. "It verges on a conflict of interest."
Elyse Deters was off Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Another member of the extended Deters family works in the same office. Rachel Schoenling, a 22-year-old criminal justice student at the University of Cincinnati, was hired in January, also as a clerk. She earns $13.64 an hour and works 35 hours a week. Joe and County Commissioner Dennis Deters, she said, are brothers of her uncle Daniel "Buzz" Deters, who worked as a Municipal Court bailiff from 1989 to 2007.
Schoenling politely answered CityBeat's questions. She said she heard about the job from a friend. At Buzz Deters' encouragement, she said she applied for the job and was hired by Winkler's chief human resources officer, Tony Rosiello. She was not aware if her more powerful in-laws, whom she sees sparingly, intervened on her behalf.
"I told my uncle about it, and he told me to turn in a resume," Schoenling said Friday morning.
CityBeat went two floors up to ask Winkler if the two women were hired on their merits or if either Joe or Dennis Deters played a role, but a receptionist said she was in a meeting. CityBeat left messages for Winkler, office administrator Mark Waters and Rosiello. None called.
Deters, who is participating in the murder prosecution of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, could not be reached for comment Friday. Phone calls to his media relations staff were not returned.
CityBeat has spoken to no one who suggested that Joe Deters used his influence to land court clerk jobs for family members. The Ohio Ethics Law forbids public officials from doing that. Violations are rated as a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
Faux said the Hamilton County courthouse is swimming in the practice.
"The courthouse has been a pretty cozy place for the Republican Party for years and years," he said.