Linda Oda holds two Warren County elected offices at once — an uncommon situation in government — legally acceptable in some cases — but questioned by some people.
Oda, a Republican, will earn more than $93,000 this year as the Warren County recorder and Clearcreek Twp. fiscal officer.
Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, who was twice elected Montgomery County recorder, said Oda — and others holding two similar public offices — should pick one, except when there is a shortage of capable replacements. The jobs, Dodge said, require a full-time commitment.
“I think it’s only fair to the public,” Dodge, a Democrat, said. “County government is becoming much more complicated.”
But Oda points to an Ohio Attorney General’s Office collection of opinions that set out which offices are “compatible” in the state.
“An opinion of the Attorney General may find two positions compatible so long as certain important qualifiers or limiting conditions have been satisfied,” said the introduction to the collection.
Each opinion weighs whether either position is a classified job for the state, a county, city, school district or township; if holding the two positions is prohibited by the Ohio Constitution; whether one is “subordinate to the other”; and whether it is physically possible to handle both positions.
The document also recommends that current statutes, administrative regulations or local rules or ordinances be considered to see if new amendments have created new or removed restrictions upon holding other offices or positions.
In Oda’s case, the latest opinion dates back more than 80 years.
“The offices of county recorder and township clerk are compatible and may be held by one and the same person, if it is physically possible for one person to perform the duties of both offices,” then-Ohio Attorney General Gilbert Bettman wrote on Feb. 2, 1931.
Dodge called on Ohio lawmakers to pass a law bringing the issue up to date, rather than leaving the decisions to the Attorney General’s opinions.
“Perhaps this is a time the legislature should take up some of these issues,” she said.
Except in small counties, Dodge is opposed to one person holding two public positions.
“I can’t imagine you could have two jobs. These are full-time positions,” she said.
Officials with two positions
Ohio public officials have been holding dual positions for more than a century. The opinions date back to 1904.
Last year, for example, the Attorney General ruled Stark County’s chief deputy auditor could serve as as secretary of a county land reutilization corporation, but the county treasurer’s duties were incompatible with those of the executive director of the land reutilization corporation.
Separately the Attorney General found the mayor of West Jefferson also could work as recycling coordinator for the Madison County-London City Health District, but that the responsibilities of a Paint Twp. trustee were incompatible with those of a Highland County commissioner.
This year in Highland County, Chad McConnaughey took over the county recorder’s office after the Attorney General found holding the position compatible with his seat on the Lynchburg-Clay school board.
Oda, in her second term as fiscal officer, was elected county recorder in November. No law requires those holding a fiscal officer or county recorder office to work full time.
Oda said she learned at a statewide meeting that other county recorders also served as township fiscal officer.
Rather than seek a new Attorney General opinion, Oda said she consulted two private lawyers, including the county prosecutor.
“County recorder is similar to any other countywide office in that you are paid to do a job, not work a specific number of hours,” she said via email.“My situation is unique – no doubt about it. But the people who have hired me are the voters.”
Oda’s husband, Don, is a Warren County Common Pleas judge.
Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins downplayed the 80 years that passed since the Attorney General ruling.
“It doesn’t make it bad law,” Collins said, noting opinions issued in 1999 said the fiscal officer position was compatible with two other county offices, auditor and commissioner. “Her constituents must think she has what it takes.”
Holding two offices
While smaller than Montgomery County, Warren County is among Ohio’s fastest growing, with residents and businesses moving in from neighboring Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as from around the U.S. Oda had opposition for both positions.
This year, Oda will be paid $28,176 as fiscal officer and $65,262 as the county recorder; McConnaughey will be paid $43,174 as recorder and $1,500-$2,000 for his time on behalf of the school board.
Neither Oda or McConnaughey envisioned problems balancing the two jobs.
“The first three years I was fiscal officer, I was Director of Advocacy for the Ohio Associaton of County Boards of MRDD and traveled the state extensively. I was gone overnight a lot,” Oda said.
Oda has an assistant in the township office, McConnaughey an administrative staff to assist him on the school board. Both have staffs in the recorder’s office.
Fiscal officers’ responsibilities are set out in Ohio law, but there are no set work hours. Ohio law requires county office holders to be in their offices only once every 90 days.
“I think most countywide officials look at it as I do – they work five days a week, mostly eight hour days. Sometimes more, sometimes less – whatever the job needs,” Oda said.
Oda’s term as recorder runs through Jan. 2, 2017.
Unless Oda leaves the office, voters won’t get a chance to pick another fiscal officer until November 2015 — four years after she defeated Teri Smith, 5,969-3,334. The new fiscal officer would take office on April 1, 2016.
“This was the only job I was interested in doing,” Smith said.
Residents of Clearcreek Twp.-Springboro were divided on the issue.
Speaking from experience, Jim Webber of Clearcreek Twp. noted the difficulty of balancing two jobs.
“Personally I’d rather have her focused on the county or the township,” he said.
Mary Johnson of Springboro suggested the two governments might be allowed to split the cost, but otherwise supported Oda’s choice.
“If she’s the best qualified person and she’s doing it and exceeding expectations at both, more power to her,” Johnson said.
Oda said she had no plans to resign either position.
“I’m going to continue to do both jobs until the voters have the opportunity to pick my replacement as fiscal officer. I think it is only fair,” she said.