A state agency department director was fired this week after an Ohio Inspector General report alleged he engaged in political activity on the clock as he spent more than 80 hours on his personal cellphone — and sent and received 1,982 text messages — over a roughly four-month period.
The OIG’s investigation was launched in January after an anonymous complaint that John Matthews, director of claims for the Ohio Industrial Commission who also is chairman of the Marion Republican Party, “spends his workday sleeping and fundraising for the Kasich campaign.”
The OIG subpoenaed Matthews’ personal cellphone records from Oct. 1 through Jan. 22. They found 11 interactions with Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign or governor’s office, but more than 500 phone calls and text messages with Marion County politicians and party leaders.
During this time, Matthews announced he was running for Republican State Central Committee, and he was serving as a presidential primary delegate for Kasich.
OIG spokesman Carl Enslen said the state doesn’t have the content of the conversations or text messages, but the pattern and volume was enough for them to conclude Matthews was wrongfully engaged in political activity during the workday and refer the case to prosecutors in Columbus.
When confronted with the OIG’s findings, Matthews told investigators he “almost never” talked to the Kasich campaign during work hours. But when asked whether he talked to people running for local office in Marion County during work, he said, “I’m not sure, to be honest with you,” the OIG report says.
The Industrial Commission evaluates injured worker and employer appeals of worker compensation claims by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. It is led by three commissioners who are appointed by the governor.
Enslen said that while some state offices have unavoidable overlap between operations and politics, “I think it’s very clear that when you get to the level of the Industrial Commission, there’s not a segue to be involved in politics in your official duty and that’s not what your salary is paid for.”
The report recommends the Industrial Commission consider taking action against Matthews, better document employee work hours and consider formally adopting the governor’s office policy on political activity by state employees.
Industrial Commission spokesman Adam Gibbs said Friday that Matthews’ position was terminated. He was paid $106,650 in 2015, according to the I-Team Payroll Project.
The Industrial Commission is reviewing its working hours policy and continues to require employees to acknowlege they are aware they fall under the governor’s office policy.
That policy says, in part: “Even when state employees may participate in election related activities, they may not, in general, engage in those activities while on state time, on state property, or using state equipment.”
Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach lauded the OIG report.
“The Inspector General is right to take such issues very seriously and we applaud his attention to them,” she said.
“As an independent state agency, the Industrial Commission needs to make every possible effort to ensure its employees conduct themselves in accordance with the highest possible standards.”
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