The Sudden, Mysterious Disappearance of Linda O’Connor from Ohio’s ODJFS

OhioNews Bureau ONB COLUMBUS: People involved with Ohio’s workforce development programs are puzzled by the sudden, mysterious turn of the year disappearance of a high-placed, high-profile, high-paid deputy director for the Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS). She was touted as one of Governor Strickland’s big hires. Someone who would establish an effective state workforce development operation. Where in the world is Linda O'Connor? She’s definitely not with Carmen San Diego. But where is she?

The answer to this question is hard to come by, especially from state communication officials who are keeping tight lipped about the circumstances surrounding her sudden, unannounced, non-noticed disappearance from a job seemingly key to Ohio's economic future.

TIGHT LIPS OBSCURE SUNKEN SHIPS

In a terse response January 16th to a question from ONB about whether O’Connor was forced to resign and where she could be contacted, agency spokesperson Scarlett Bouder would only say that O’Connor “is no longer employed at ODJFS.” Bouder added that the agency “does not release private information of existing and former employees.”

Citing the agency's privacy policy, Bouder said any additional information on the circumstances surrounding O’Connor’s resignation would have to come from O’Connor herself. Bouder declined to provide any information that could lead to contacting O’Connor, again citing the agency's privacy policy. Bouder said that O'Connor has been replaced by Bruce Madson, former Director of Local Operations for ODJFS. “This change will not impact workforce development, its agenda, operations or responsiveness to our customers,” she wrote in an email. Keith Dailey, chief spokesman for Strickland, said the governor was not involved in hiring O’Connor, a decision he understood came after she was interviewed by Deputy Director Terry Thomas, who was working under the authority of ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelly. Daily acknowledge that Bruce Madson, a long-time ODJFS staffer, has now replaced O’Connor in the role of deputy director for the Office of Workforce Development. Dailey said the change from O’Connor to Madson took place on or about December 31, 2007 and was a personnel decision he said was likewise made at the agency without consultation or participation from Strickland. “The governor has full confidence in Director Jones-Kelly’s and Assistant Director Terry Thomas’ management of the Department of Job and Family Services,” Dailey said.

ONB MAKES PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST

Given the paucity of information on the sudden separation of O’Connor from ODJFS from Dailey in the Governor’s office and Bouder at ODJFS, ONB made a public records request for O’Connor’s personnel file. Bouder said the request was sufficient to have the agency’s human resources division produce the information, which would be forthcoming with personal information redacted. O’Connor had previously worked at the Ohio Department of Development during the administration of Bob Taft before starting a contract assignment a few years ago with ODJFS. During his first months in office, Strickland, a Democrat, appointed O’Connor Deputy Director for the Office of Workforce Development at ODJFS. ONB was tipped of last week by an informed source who requested anonymity due to their close-quarters involvement with Ohio’s workforce development programs that not a few people were “shell shocked” at the news that O’Connor was gone from her position.

MYSTERY THEATER

With little information about what happened and why, the mysterious disappearance of O’Connor was heightened even more at a workforce policy group meeting last week in Columbus. According to one eye-witness, not a single mention was made of her departure. Adding to the mounting mystery about whether O’Connor was fired or forced to resign, was the additional rumor that Terry Thomas, Chief Workforce Development Officer and Assistant Director at ODJFS, Connor's boss and the person who interviewed her, is moving to the Ohio Board of Regents along with Tom Fellrath, who will implement the Ohio Skills Bank, a program O’Connor oversaw as part of her job duties.

As recently as early November, O’Connor was listed on a memo about workforce development initiatives in her ODJFS position. In the agenda for the 36th annual conference for the Corporation for Appalachian Development held in mid August 2007, Thomas and O’Connor were listed as featured speakers, as they were for the 2nd annual conference of “Ohio’s Taking Care of Business” in late October. At the COAD conference, they teamed up to speak on “transforming Ohio’s Workforce Development Initiatives to be more customer-focused and linked to the state’s economic development strategies currently underway.”

In April O’Connor was a member of the leadership team for the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development grant held at the Athens’ office of the Information Technology Alliance of Appalachian Ohio. How important is workforce development to Ohio? According to Strickland, “The future of job growth in Ohio is in investing in our regional strengths and making sure we have the most-educated, highly skilled workforce possible.” If you’ve got information leading to ONB contacting Linda O’Connor, please contact us. ONB will report further once ODJFS responds to our public records request in the coming days.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal.

Find ONB archives here. If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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to personal issues; other times, workplace harassment.

Hopefully, nothing worse.

Word keeps changing the " to the special character curly quotes and making your url reference not work.

I think you use the same last two paragraphs in all your pieces, maybe you can just cut and paste it!

Hope that helps.