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Collins can legally run for office

Will take leave of absence

It’s official and it’s legal. The assistant director of the county welfare agency can run for public office and will have a leave of absence from that job to campaign, against the wishes of his boss.

Christopher Collins, newly appointed assistant director of the department of job and family services, came to the Lawrence County Commission to state he was taking a leave without pay for the next two months to run for county commission.

Collins beat out 12 other candidates for the job this past summer when then assistant director Terry Porter was promoted to the top spot. Last month he filed at the last minute to run for the seat now held by commission president Les Boggs.

At Monday’s commission meeting Boggs, who will face Collins in the March Republican primary, asked Porter if he approved the leave.

“It’s already been approved by two commissioners,” Porter replied. “I see no point in giving my opinion on what is a done deal.”

Last week commissioners Bill Pratt and Freddie Hayes Jr. had been approached by Collins’ father, Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins, about the leave.

Pratt said in Monday’s meeting that the leave would be in the best interest of the agency as it would prevent campaigning from being a distraction.

However, Boggs questioned if campaigning was a valid reason for the leave.

At which point Hayes called Porter’s position “grandstanding.”

“I don’t appreciate that at all,” Hayes said. “(We were) supposed to get a (legal) opinion.”

Collins said Porter was deferring his decision to the commission.

“I never heard him (Porter) say he was deferring,” Boggs said. “Let him speak for himself.”

Last week Boggs asked for a legal opinion from county prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson on whether Collins is defined as classified or unclassified. Unclassified serves at will, at the discretion of the commission. When Porter had the No. 2 job, he was classified.

The Ohio Revised Code states classified personnel cannot run for office in a partisan race.

“The Ohio Revised Code makes it very clear I am unclassified,” Collins said.

He then went downstairs to Anderson’s first floor courthouse office to see if the opinion was ready.

Collins returned with Anderson who stated the ORC allows for a county the size of Lawrence to have two administrators at the DJFS with both positions as unclassified.

However, the opinion did not address whether the leave was legal or if it should be granted by Porter or the commission.

“It should be my decision,” Porter said. “I feel it was a done deal before. He should not be given the leave of absence.”

Then Pratt reiterated the leave would be in the best interest of the DJFS.

“You have the right to run for political office,” he said. “He has the right to run. He is not taking pay. I don’t have a problem.”

Boggs then said he had no personal problem with Collins.

“The personal issue is with taking off and leaving a void to campaign,” he said. “Two others had asked for a leave of absence and were denied. We didn’t override it. I’m sticking with the director. You can’t do that. You can’t. You can’t.”

Collins said he and Porter had agreed his leaving would not disrupt the daily working of the DJFS.

“Can we make it without him?,” Porter said. “Yes.”

Next Pratt made a motion to grant the leave.

For the next few minutes Hayes kept repeating, “as long as it’s legal,” then adding “This is just stupid [expletive].”

At which point he seconded the motion, which passed 2 to 1, with Boggs voting, “No.”

The leave will start on Jan. 18 through March 18, three days after the primary, where Boggs and Collins will also face former Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship.