The Columbus office of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor has seen an exodus in recent months, on top of years of staff turnover, raising questions about the 2018 gubernatorial hopeful's leadership and oversight.
Taylor's office, which has usually hovered around six to eight staffers, has lost at least 18 people in her six years as lieutenant governor, an Enquirer analysis shows. Including past drivers, the total rises above 20. She has had five chiefs of staff in less than three years.
The revolving door's pace accelerated in recent months under chief of staff Mehek Cooke, whom Taylor hired in September. Cooke departed Monday after less than seven months. Five other staffers left the office during Cooke's tenure. She will help run a 501(c)(4) nonprofit in support of Taylor's gubernatorial ambitions, several people briefed on the situation said, but Cooke did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Some of the departures have been fraught with baggage, or worse. Nick Conley, one of Taylor's drivers, was removed earlier this year for being under the influence of alcohol during work hours, during which he also helped with administrative duties.
In 2014, then-chief of staff Laura Johnson and her administrative aide, Heather Brandt, departed after Taylor discovered they had been filing time sheets for hours they were away from work, such as for Johnson's hair or nail appointments. After an investigation, the Ohio Inspector General cited "inadequate oversight and an absence of supervision" in Taylor's Columbus office.
Some turnover is expected in a lieutenant governor’s office – people move up and move on in politics. But only one person remains from Taylor's original seven-person lieutenant governor's staff in 2011: Mark Hamlin, now chief of staff.
"As in any office, public or private sector, when staff get new opportunities to grow and take on new roles, that's something we encourage," said Michael Duchesne, spokesman in Taylor's office, in a statement. "Mark Hamlin moving from Deputy Chief of Staff to Chief of Staff will support the work of our office as we continue to work on behalf of the Ohioans we serve. We're excited for him to continue growing in this new role. He's certainly earned it."
Duchesne declined to comment specifically on Cooke’s or Conley’s departures.
Taylor has faced questions about her office leadership and oversight before. Her senior staff was the site of a couple messy departures when she was state auditor. As auditor, she faced questions about how much time she spent away from the main office in Columbus. In 2011, Kasich ordered Taylor to reimburse taxpayers for using a state plane to commute from her home to the state capital. Her primary home continues to be with her family in Uniontown, between Canton and Akron.
The lieutenant governor has no defined role in the Ohio constitution, beyond taking on assignments from the governor. Duties in Taylor's small office are limited. Her office oversees Gov. John Kasich's "common sense initiative," an effort to talk with businesses and rid the state of regulations that cause needless headaches. She also oversees Ohio's Department of Insurance, which has its own offices and generally has been exempt from the turnover issues in Taylor's personal staff.
The Enquirer will update this story.