From the moment he took office, Gov. Ted Strickland put his stamp on the Department of Public Safety by hiring a civilian director to pull the State Highway Patrol back into line.
While the patrol is one of eight state divisions under public safety, it had largely operated autonomously, free of heavy oversight from its parent agency. That changed, some patrol officials argue, once the governor took over in January 2007.
What has ensued is an all-out power struggle, with retiring patrol officials accusing the administration of meddling in any investigation that could reflect poorly on Strickland. The administration contends that some with the patrol are carrying out personal vendettas and risking the storied reputation of the entire division.
The clash has sparked a series of judiciary committee hearings at the Ohio Senate where, for the first time since 1986, subpoenas have been issued. Separately, the Ohio inspector general’s office is probing the dispute. Both inquiries were launched to address concerns of interference raised by troopers.
“The failure to investigate crimes well within our legal authority because a civilian authority tells us otherwise” is making the patrol ineffective, former patrol Superintendent Col. Richard “Butch” Collins told the Senate judiciary committee last month. He added that morale, especially at headquarters, is low.
“In my opinion, the patrol is on a precipice in great danger of falling into the abyss of total political control,” retired Col. Thomas Rice told the committee on Feb. 23.
Strickland vehemently disagrees, adding that he does not believe either man speaks for the troopers working in the field. Instead, Strickland said the quarreling is coming from a smaller group of retirees and a few active officers who have been passed over for promotion.
“I think Col. Rice is just flat-out wrong,” the governor said, adding that he has heard that Rice might hold a grudge of some sort against him. “If he has a serious problem with me, then let him be man enough to call me up and come in and sit down and talk to me face to face.”
As for Collins and morale issues at the patrol, Strickland doesn’t see that either.
“Obviously I would not have had any negative feelings about the colonel or I would not have appointed him to start with,” the governor said in an interview. “But if there is a morale problem, I don’t sense it among the rank-and-file of the highway patrol.”
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Article courtesy cleveland.com