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Big raises given some Mandel staffers

State treasurer says restructuring saved taxpayers $2.6 million.

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, whose hiring practices became an issue during his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate last year, gave raises averaging 15 percent to 33 key people on his leadership team, including a $30,000 salary bump for his long-time aide Michael Lord.

Overall, Mandel says he saved taxpayers $2.6 million over the past two fiscal years by eliminating 14 positions, consolidating jobs and finding efficiencies. The treasurer employs 113 people, including 56 who serve at the will of the officeholder. The raises took effect Jan. 1.

Lord in six years has gone from making $29,000 a year as Mandel’s legislative aide to serving as his chief of staff, making $130,000. Chris Berry, who joined the treasurer’s office in 2011, was elevated from deputy press secretary to press secretary and received a 64.5 percent pay hike, to $62,500-a-year. Deputy Legal Counsel Brock Miskimen added legislative liaison to his duties and received a $20,000 salary increase, to $75,000. Brian Miller went from community education officer making $46,500 to deputy communications director making $62,500 — a pay raise of 34 percent.

“Those kinds of raises are jaw dropping and obnoxious. I mean, they are public servants,” said Matt Mayer of Opportunity Ohio, a conservative think tank.

A Dayton Daily News investigation into Mandel’s public office hiring practices last spring revealed he placed young staffers into high-level positions, even though he had promised during his 2010 campaign for treasurer that he would only hire qualified financial professionals. Mandel’s hiring practices became a flash point during his campaign for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown.

When the race was over, Mandel made his campaign political director, Joe Aquilino, director of regional representatives for the treasurer’s office and tapped his campaign video tracker, Jared Borg, to be Aquilino’s deputy. The treasurer has satellite offices throughout the state and the regional reps do community outreach with business leaders and local elected officials.

Aquilino, who has been a lawyer for two years, is paid $90,000 a year while Borg, who served as Mandel’s Senate campaign political coordinator and collected video of Brown’s public appearances, makes $62,500.

Berry said the treasurer’s reorganization allowed the office to save $2.6 million while maintaining a AAA investment fund rating during a down economy. “The results speak for themselves,” he said.

Some staff members made out better in the restructuring than others. The dozen workers who were shifted into new jobs received pay increases averaging 21 percent, the Daily News review showed. Raises averaging 11.6 percent went to another 21 at will employees whose job titles did not change. Another 23 at will employees did not receive raises.

In a written statement, Mandel said, “We have found ways to tighten our belt, leverage technology and do more with less while continuing to provide great service to Ohio taxpayers.”

Statewide staff cuts

Trimming headcounts has occurred throughout state government as departments deal with tightening budgets. Since January 2010, staffing statewide is down 8.4 percent, to 53,571.

Secretary of State Jon Husted has trimmed his staff count by 20.7 percent, while Attorney General Mike DeWine increased his by 5.7 percent. The governor’s office has remained unchanged, while State Auditor Dave Yost has reduced his staffing by 7.9 percent.

Currently, Mandel’s staff numbers are down 17.5 percent, though some vacancies may still get filled, Communications Director Seth Unger said.

The budgeted annual payroll under Mandel fell from $12 million for fiscal year 2010, when Democrat Kevin Boyce was treasurer, to $10.8 million in the current fiscal year. It is projected to dip to $10.4 million next year. The remainder of the budget savings came from other efficiency measures, according to Mandel’s office.

Husted and DeWine did not dole out a similar package of raises or promotions in recent months for their leadership teams, according to their offices. Six exempt employees received raises in Auditor Dave Yost’s office within the last six months, totalling $37,252 in added payroll. In November, two employees on Gov. John Kasich staff — Deputy Press Secretary Connie Wehrkamp and Legislative Liaison Matt Carle — received pay raises of 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Most state employees are seeing much smaller pay increases, if they get them at all. Members of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 36,000 state workers, are working under a three-year contract with a pay freeze, though many are still eligible for step increases and longevity pay. The last union pay increase was 3.5 percent in 2008.

Sally Meckling, spokeswoman for OCSEA, called the raises in Mandel’s office “outrageous.”

“While our members have made the hard decisions to take pay freezes and benefit cuts, Treasurer Mandel refuses to hold up his end of the bargain,” she said.

2014 and beyond

Mandel lost to Brown after a bruising campaign, but supporters say he will resurface in future high-profile races. He has already announced his intention to run for re-election as treasurer in 2014.

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Rob Scott said Mandel has 30 years left in his political career.

“Now he is really on the radar for the movers and shakers in (Washington,) D.C. and here in Ohio. His name identification is through the roof now,” Scott said. “His whole career is ahead of him. This was a blip. It has raised his profile. He is — no doubt — going to be a leader in the Republican party.”

Mandel told newspaper reporters recently that he wasn’t the first, second or even third pick by GOP insiders to run against Brown. In the end, Mandel raised tens of millions of dollars, and lost to Brown — an established name in Ohio politics for decades — 53 percent to 47 percent. It was the closest U.S. Senate race in Ohio since 1976.

During the campaign Mandel emphasized the two tours he served in Iraq as a United States Marine Corps Reserve, and said he wasn’t a career politician, often referring to Brown’s statements as “Washington-speak.” But he also had to fend off charges over his hiring decisions and campaign ads, which independent fact-checkers held up as less than truthful.

Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said Mandel’s Senate run left him damaged politically.

“This past year, Josh Mandel proved he is a politician Ohioans just can’t trust and he continues to reward his political hacks and cronies,” he said. “Mandel scorched his future by running one of the most vile campaigns in Ohio that we have seen in years and now he is scrambling to try to repair his record.”

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