Many state agencies keeping their current policies

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The investment scandal evolving at the Statehouse and an ethics investigation into Gov. Bob Taft's golf outings have caught the attention of state agency heads but haven't brought widespread changes in ethics policies.

An outside consultant continues to examine the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation's investment accounts and already has determined the losses are over $300 million. The bureau runs Ohio's insurance plan for workers injured on the job.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Ethics Commission has concluded its investigation of Taft's failure to report up to 60 golf outings and other events and is preparing to turn its findings over to prosecutors.

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Taft has refused to release any information about whether he paid for the outings himself until the investigation is over. Public employees are required to disclose gifts over $75, but Taft did not include them in his reports.

All public agencies have ethics policies, but they vary within each department. That hasn't changed since news of the scandal began emerging in April. Lawyers in Taft's office are reviewing ethics policies but haven't given any new directives to Cabinet members or agency chiefs, Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said Friday.

It's been ''business as usual'' at the Department of Agriculture, director Fred Dailey said.

''We haven't done anything special. Managers go through four hours of training every year. We have a special ethics section in our employee handbooks. We get memos around Christmas time about getting gifts,'' Dailey said.

Senior managers are expected to keep their staffs up to date on any changes in state law or policy, department spokeswoman Melanie Wilt said.

When Wilt receives offers for lunch, she says, ''I appreciate the invitation, but I want you to know up front that I'm paying for it,'' she said.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's work is regulatory, like the Agriculture Department, but most of the electric, gas, and phone companies it regulates know the rules and play by them, commission Chairman Alan Schriber said. Even paying for yourself can lead to trouble, he said.

''There's always a perception issue. If a utility has (luxury) box seats at a ball game, can I go if I pay my own ticket? I have always said that if the seat is not available to the public, I don't ever want to be seen there,'' Schriber said. ''They don't even ask any more.''

Ohio's ethics laws, updated in 1994 after a bipartisan scandal in the Legislature over speaking fees, are tough enough if they're enforced, said Bob Lawry, a professor of law and director of Case Western Reserve University's Center for Professional Ethics.

''Every time we have a public policy question, they change the law and think it fixes it. It doesn't,'' Lawry said.

As for golf, apparently it isn't as popular with some agency chiefs as it is with others. Schriber said he hung up his clubs four years ago and Dailey doesn't play golf.

''I continue to believe that golf courses are a waste of good pasture land,'' Dailey said.

John McCarthy is a correspondent for the Ohio Associated Press' Columbus bureau.