Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Retired reporter still gets tips: Wagner's digging at the county building

Joe Wagner retired from the Plain Dealer late last year, but he still gets reporting tips. Sources who didn’t know he'd left the paper called him recently to tell him they’d heard county auditor Frank Russo and recorder Lillian Greene might extend civil service protection to some of their employees.

So Wagner, now a spokesman for county executive candidate Ken Lanci, took the news to his new boss. Lanci mentioned it in his Jan. 13 campaign announcement (see video here).

“I’m troubled by comments that there are efforts to reclassify many county employees as civil service workers,” Lanci said. “That’s not reform, that’s political patronage again. And it’s not what we voted for.” Lanci said he’d sent the county a public records request to find out if the tips were true. “I urge the transition team to make sure no actions are taken that limit our opportunities to remake government in this new era,” he said.

Usually, creating a civil service is meant to prevent patronage. Giving government employees job security protects them from depending on their boss’s re-election. But reclassifying a patronage-laden workforce as civil service just before leaving office would have the opposite effect -- it’d make it hard for the new county executive to cut spending and fire the least-qualified employees. Wagner, author of the Plain Dealer’s 2008 “Payroll and Politics” exposés of the auditor’s and recorder’s offices, was naturally interested in the warnings. So was Lanci.

“It happened by happenstance,” Wagner says. “My sources over at the county who still thought I was there, they called me on my cell phone: ‘Did you hear that?’ ‘Well, I hadn’t, but I guess I just did!’ ”

Will any county officials try this move before the new government takes over? Or is it a false alarm? Calls I placed to the recorder’s and auditor’s offices yesterday were not returned.

{Update, 7 p.m.: Russo staffer Destin Ramsey confirms that Russo considered giving all his employees civil-service protection, but decided against it. See this new post.}

Lanci and Wagner say they’re starting to receive documents from some county agencies, but they’re still reviewing them; other county offices haven’t responded yet. “The Plain Dealer’s made a big records request over there too, on the same subject,” Wagner says. So watch for more news on this soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If they'd been indicted by now we wouldn't have this worry.