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Released e-mails offer glimpse of Taft#039;s inner circle

The release of thousands of e-mails last week by Gov. Bob Taft's office provided some insight into the workings of the governor's inner circle as well as shed some light on developments in the investment scandal emerging in his administration.

The e-mails, originally requested by the Ohio Ethics Commission, showed how Taft's office prepared for bad news concerning the scandal at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, the state's insurance program for on-the-job injuries.

However, the bulk of the e-mails had nothing to do with the investments but were included because they were in the time frame the Ethics Commission had asked for.

Some examples:

4In October 2002, the Ohio Department of Agriculture was trying to shut down Buckeye Egg Farm because of a long list of environmental violations at its four locations, where manure from millions of hens was polluting the air and water. Taft's former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, was questioned about the administration's official policy. In turn, he exchanged e-mails with Taft policy adviser Kate Bartter, a former official at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, about the issue.

Hicks: ''What exactly is our policy goal on Buckeye Egg? We need to get everyone the same talking points ASAP.''

Bartter: ''One of our policy goals was to not talk about this right now to the media! I haven't figured out why (agriculture director) Fred Dailey was talking about this but I will.''

4Taft staff lawyer Judith French e-mailed Hicks, who pleaded no contest last week to failure to report an accurate disclosure form, with the subject line ''Re: Ethics Reminder to the Cabinet.''

Hicks reply: ''Looks good.''

4Taft official Jon Allison passed along to Hicks an e-mail that then-Rep. Eileen Krupinski, a Democrat, was looking for an appointment to a state board from Taft, a Republican.

E-mail forwarded by Allison: ''(Former) Sen. (Jim) Carnes' office called me this morning because they received word that Eileen Krupinski is seeking an appointment to the Unemployment Review Commission. Sen. Carnes is highly OPPOSED to us appointing her. He said he would like to talk to Brian Hicks if she is even remotely under consideration.''

Hicks' reply: ''She should have voted for our budget.''

4And some of the e-mails, such as this one from then-policy director Paolo DeMaria in January 2002, didn't seem to have had a direct effect on good government:

4DeMaria: ''If anyone has the DeMaria Girl Scout cookie order form circulating on the floor please let me know of its location. Thanks - Paolo.''

4DeMaria to Hicks in September 2002: ''I suggested to Marcie, based on her weekly, that the Governor and Mrs. Taft attend the Lil Bow Wow concert in Columbus in early Oct. - P''

Then again, this exchange between staffer Elizabeth Ross and Hicks might have had an effect:

Subject: Re: $2 billion

Ross: ''Brian Paolo asked that I forward this to you.''

Hicks: ''I can't open this.''

John McCarthy is a correspondent for The Ohio Associated Press in Columbus.