UPDATED: Pay for Play in O’Connell’s Office?

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UPDATED JAN. 25: The meeting referred to below was attended only by attorneys, not staff. O’Connell also responded to the accusation that he was withholding raises from personnel:

“Our employees are funded by Metro Government and by the state of Kentucky. Believing it inequitable to give only Metro-funded employees raises, I am working on a strategy to give raises to my staff regardless of funding source. Metro still has the allocation.”

Here’s the original post:

Does O'Connell's loyalty requirement force staff attorneys to make p0litical contributions?

There’s some trouble stirring in the County Attorney’s office, thanks to some accusations made by our pal Ed Springston on his blog.

Springston wrote the other day that Mike O’Connell had done something we all know goes on all the time — but is rarely mentioned in the media, primarily because sources fear for their jobs.  According to Springston’s post, O’Connell made the requirements for keeping a job in his office a little too clear for some in the room.

According to witnesses, who prefer to remain anonymous, O’Connell told all that were sworn in to his office on January 3, 2011 that their job is a political one and they are required to donate money to political candidates and campaigns when and where he told them to as a condition of employment.

In addition, Springston charged that O’Connell also denied the 2% raises to staffers approved by the Metro Council, instead putting the money in a mysterious fund for rewarding employees.

These were pretty serious charges, but I’d heard them from another source as well. So I wanted to hear O’Connell’s side of the story. Here’s what his office sent over:

The County Attorney’s Office has operated very effectively under my predecessors. I have made few changes.

A meeting on January 3, 2011, preceding the statutory swearing in of Assistant County Attorneys, was the ideal time to address my expectations to the attorneys who, by law, serve as my appointed assistants.

Those expectations include:

·      Competence
·      Diligence
·      Intelligence
·      Loyalty

When discussing loyalty, I explained that the County Attorney’s Office is elective. I do expect their support in carrying out my policies the public. That expectation of support extends to candidates whose political campaigns I support. Those will be candidates who support the mission of this office and enable us to maintain one of the highest DUI conviction rates in the nation, convict more than 80% of domestic violence perpetrators and collect more than $79 million in child support annually.

I explained all of this very directly for the benefit of my at-will attorneys, so that they had a clear idea of the standard for success in this office under my administration.

No one is or has been required to contribute money either to my campaign or to a candidate I support.

So you believe whoever you want. I think of it as two different interpretations of the same event. And no one’s naive enough to think that O’Connell doesn’t keep track of who donates to his campaign. It’s the ugly part of working in politics, as staffers have accepted and complied for years.

Which doesn’t make it right.  And he didn’t address the 2% pay issue, so maybe I’ll hear back on that one.

O’Connell won re-election last fall easily, his first after being appointed by Mayor Abramson.  He could be there a long time, which means he’s gathered a lot of power.  But obviously he’s not universally loved downtown.