Taylor staying under radar as state auditor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2008

State Auditor Mary Taylor has largely stayed out of the limelight during her first year in office.

Though it may seem strange behavior for a politician, Taylor is representing a party that is trying to regain its reputation as responsible after being toppled by scandal.

The only nonjudicial statewide Republican elected official other than U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, Taylor has kept a relatively unknown, unheralded position just that.

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She’s touted an improved internal audit system and bringing more efficiency to the delivery of Medicaid services — hardly items that Democrats would jump on. She’s the first certified public accountant to hold the state’s top accounting job.

The state Republican Party now finds itself the underdog after years of dominating the top political positions in the state capital. Taylor holds a seat on the state’s Apportionment Board, the crucial target for both political parties because of its authority to draw state legislative districts in 2011 to the controlling party’s advantage. She intends to seek a second term in 2010.

When opportunities for partisanship have presented themselves, Taylor appears to have run in the other direction. The most visible example came last week, when Taylor ordered fellow Republican and former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to return more than $80,000 in bonuses he had given to outgoing employees in 2006.

Using an opinion from Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann that was issued after Blackwell left office, Taylor found that the former secretary of state had no authority to issue the bonuses. This was after being asked by another statewide elected Democrat, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, to conduct a special audit.

The political statement made by the findings was far weightier than the tiny amount of money the bonuses represent out of total state expenditures: Don’t expect Mary Taylor to cater to Republicans.

Blackwell said that he first cleared his spending decisions with the Department of Administrative Services — a claim that is verified by former department Director Scott Johnson in an e-mail interview with The Associated Press. But it appears any consulting Blackwell’s staff did was purely verbal. The current department, under different leadership with Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration, told Taylor as part of the audit procedure it could find no documentation that approval was given.

The audit was almost exclusively based on Dann’s opinion. There was apparently no effort by Taylor to go out on a limb for Blackwell, who, after all, lost badly to Strickland during the 2006 race for governor and isn’t someone that Ohio Republicans would cuddle up to any longer.

In August, Taylor found in an audit that 19 Hope Academy and Life Skills schools had paid some board members multiple times for attendance at a single meeting. The practice was legal at the time but was deemed abusive by Taylor. She also found improper credit card purchases, faulty documentation and misallocation of purchases.

The schools, which use taxpayer money, are managed by White Hat Management. President David Brennan and his wife have given Taylor $60,000 in campaign contributions since 2005. Brennan has also given tens of thousands of dollars to a national political action committee that supports charter schools and has provided campaign cash to prominent Republicans including Blackwell and House Speaker Jon Husted through its Ohio arm.

She’s also ruled against public schools, including the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Stephen Majors is a reporter for The Associated Press.