Officials improperly use state computers to access records on "Joe the Plumber"
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Although "Joe the Plumber" quickly fell out of the public's consciousness after the presidential election, investigations continued in Ohio to determine if state employees improperly used government computers to access information on Joseph Wurtzelbacher. So far investigations have resulted in two officials resigning and one having his position revoked.
Numerous searches after debate
Public records requested by the Columbus Dispatch showed that information on Wurtzelbacher's drivers license or SUV was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles three times shortly after the final presidential debate on October 15. The accounts accessing his information were assigned to the office of Ohio's Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency, and the Toledo Police Department.
It could not be immediately determined who checked the records or why, but direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information is limited to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
When the news came out, Ohio McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay immediately tried to paint it as political, saying, "It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question."
The Obama campaign shot back. "Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," declared spokesman Issac Baker.
Soon after word of the three searches came out, Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles was called on to investigate another search, this time from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Department director Helen Jones-Kelly confirmed that she did okay a check on Wurtzelbacher after the debates, but assured investigators that there was no political motivation behind it. She said, "Our practice is when someone is thrust quickly into the public spotlight, we often take a look" at them. "Our practice is to basically look at what is coming our way."
Despite her initial pledge of innocent, the Inspector General found that Jones-Kelly did in fact improperly access information on Wurtzelbacher using state computers. It was also discovered that she had also improperly conducted political fundraising for Obama. Following the news, Governor Ted Strickland suspended her for a month without pay, but Jones-Kelly decided to resign her post instead.
In a statement she said, "This decision comes after a time of pause, in which I realize that I continue to be used as a political postscript, providing a distraction from urgent state priorities."
Also leaving their positions in the department for their involvement in the records search are Fred Williams, assistant director, whose resignation is effective January 31, and Doug Thompson, who saw his position as deputy director of child support revoked.
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