Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney, and the Price of “Loyalty”.

“It is money, money, money! Not ideas, not principles, but money that reigns supreme in American politics.”

 Robert C. Byrd

A recent op-ed from the Courier-Journal discussed how elected government officials in  Jefferson County have expected their employees to contribute financially to their re-election coffers.  For example, the Jefferson County Attorney’s office seems to have a long history of expected contributions from the attorneys working in that office going back as far as Bruce Miller.  Basically,  money has been contributed over the years by attorneys employed at the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office to assist their boss’s election efforts.  A practice that is not new, not novel, not regulated, and worse yet apparently not acknowledged beyond a simple denial by the current occupant of that political office – Mike O’Connell.

The Courier-Journal calls attention to this practice and asks its readers if this is what we want or expect from a County Attorney.  Whether called campaign contributions or  tokens of employee “loyalty”, should it continue?  

As an Army Judge Advocate and Army Officer occupying a position of trust and public service, we were held to a standard even higher than the criminal and ethical codes. Accepting money from those who work for you was and is absolutely prohibited.  We were expected to even avoid even the  “appearance of impropriety”.

The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office has a large staff.  A very large staff with over 400 attorneys.  All of us have read the stories on how difficult it has been for government lawyers to pay their school loans and raise a family on their government salaries with some even delivering pizza on their own time in the evenings.

Well, the Courier-Journal has issued the challenge and concluded its opionion-editorial piece with the following:

Mr. O’Connell can deny he seeks money from employees. But he can’t deny the appearance that employees feel pressured to give.

His current fundraising may not violate the law. It may skirt the Metro ethics ordinance.

But like so many things in politics, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

So why not limit contributions from employees? Or just stop taking them?

That way his employees could devote their full loyalty to the public and keep all of their hard-earned paychecks for doing so.

Sometimes the Courier-Journal irritates me with the reactionary tone of their editorials and even their stories.  However, the position that the news media occupies as the “Fourth Estate” aka the “press” can never be understated.  And although everyone seems to fawn over the new digital age, there is just some power and authority found in the written word on a piece of paper that is not found in audio or video.

You may not always like or appreciate the stories, but most of us will acknowledge the value they provide in accountability with the gathering of facts, interviews of those involved, and a marshaling of all that has been accumulated with a conclusion and opinion which you can either agree or disagree.  Those of us who blog part time owe a debt to the hard work that it takes to uncover these stories which allow bloggers like myself to throw in out two cents worth of opinion.  Thank you.

Here is the op-ed piece.  Hopefully, the Courier will keep it available on-line for some time.

Mike O’Connell’s Loyal Employees

Ah, for the good old days of Jefferson County politics where the “2 percent” club flourished in local offices and employees didn’t have to wonder how much to donate to the election fund of the boss.

Former Jefferson County Attorney J. Bruce Miller called his request for 2 percent of employees’ pay the “Assistant County Attorney Voluntary Fund.”

And former Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Greene made it easy by tucking envelopes into the paycheck of each employee that bore their names and a calculation of 2 percent of their pay.

But times have changed.

Today, it seems heavy-handed, if not outright wrong, for elected bosses to suggest employees must donate a fixed amount for the privilege of keeping their jobs.

So Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell has come up with a new euphemism for employee support, calling it “loyalty.”

“I tell people that I hire that I seek competency, diligence and loyalty,” he told The Courier-Journal’s Andrew Wolfson. “And loyalty means they support me and this office in all things we do, including my election.”

His staff of nearly 400, including 120 prosecutors, has been amazingly loyal, according to campaign finance records of Mr. O’Connell, a Democrat who is running for re-election to his second full term.

Nearly half of the $201,000 Mr. O’Connell has amassed since his last election in 2010 came from assistant county attorneys and other employees in his office.

And this was for a race in which he didn’t even have an opponent until lawyer Karen Faulkner stepped forward one day before last week’s filing deadline.

Click on the above heading for the rest of the CJ Post.


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One thought on “Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney, and the Price of “Loyalty”.

  1. My fund was INDEED called the “Assistant County Attorney’s Voluntary Fund” — and it was. During my 16 years as Jefferson County Attorney there were dozens of assistants who NEVER CONTRIBUTED TO THE FUND. Not a single one of them was terminated, AND every one of them continued working for me and with me. Therefore, the premise of this op-ecd piece is ‘a lie.’