Former elected officials get unemployment

By John Estridge, Editor

Two former elected officials were receiving unemployment benefits from the county, and one current elected official may have also received compensation.

A Freedom for Information Act request was filed by this newspaper Wednesday, March 23, with the Franklin County Auditor's Office The purpose of the request was to see the names of the recipients. However, Franklin County Auditor Erica Hudson was advised by Andrew J. Kossack, Indiana Public Access Counselor, that Indiana Code 22-4-19-6(b) forbids the release of names of those receiving unemployment benefits from counties.

Franklin County Councilman Aaron Leffingwell made the statement there were former elected officials receiving benefits during the county council meeting Tuesday night, March 22. He asked how they were eligible.

The county paid $12,465.25 for the month of February in unemployment benefits. There is $12,000 budgeted for the whole year in that line item, council president Jeff Koch said.

Council said there are seven people collecting unemployment from the county in the February claim period in question. The county does not pay into the unemployment insurance account like most companies do, which is to pay about 3 percent of the gross earnings of their employees to the state unemployment fund. For FC, that would be about $6,000 a month, according to county commissioner Tom Linkel.

Instead, the county pays the full amount of a person's unemployment claim. Currently, unemployment compensation can be paid for up to 99 weeks.

According to Hudson, the Indiana State Board of Accounts told her the county cannot pay quarterly as Linkel wants. Instead, the county must continue paying as it is currently paying.

Hudson made the statement at the Monday morning, March 28, commissioners' meeting.

After the council meeting, Hudson called the Work One office. After an investigator looked at the situation, one of the former elected officials was removed from the rolls, she said. The other was deemed an appointed official even though the person lost that position in the fall election, commissioners said at their Monday, March 28, meeting.

"The one that was clearly elected will be taken off the rolls," McDonough said Monday morning. "The one that was serving in an elected capacity but wasn't elected will remain on there."

McDonough said he was shocked by the investigator's ruling.

Commissioners and Hudson said there was not currently any plan or any way to go after the funds expended for unemployment for the former elected official.

Also, there had not been a plan to appeal the decision by Work One to continue paying unemployment compensation to the person who was serving in an elected capacity but was not deemed a former elected official.

McDonough was not aware an elected official had received unemployment compensation but said he would look into it.

"Why if they've been ruled ineligible, why do they get to keep the unemployment compensation they've received?" county resident Mike Ormsby asked.

After Ormsby's statement, Hudson said she would look into the situation.

She said state agencies have been giving her a run-a-round concerning the unemployment claims.

There was some disagreement over how the notices of unemployment concerning the formerly elected officials slipped by without being appealed.

After initially saying at the council meeting that all the notices of unemployment had been sent upstairs to the commissioners office, Hudson said those notices had been kept on file in her office until the situation became public. Then, the notices were sent to the commissioners office.

However, Hudson said the commissioners approved claims for the unemployment compensation with the names of those receiving it on the claim form. Thus, they should have known who was receiving the compensation.

Commissioners said another person has filed for unemployment compensation this week, and commissioners said they will challenge that claim.

Councilman Daryl Kramer, who attended the commissioners meeting, said the county's attorney, John Worth, should be brought into the situation, and he should be asked to look into the appeals process and all other aspects of the situation.