Reviews good for ousted Ohio parole panelists

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The two Ohio Parole Board members
removed without warning earlier this year both had good reviews since
joining the board, including positive comments within just a few months
of the decision to fire them, records show.
Board member Cathy
Collins-Taylor demonstrated "a sound understanding of policies and
procedures," was "very response" to requests for information and "very
reliable," according to her April 18 annual review that came two months
to the day before she was removed.
"I appreciate her hard work and
support of new initiatives," said board chairman Cynthia Mausser in
written comments on the form obtained by The Associated Press through a
records request. Collins-Taylor also received a positive review a year
earlier.
Board member Jose Torres was encouraged to improve his
organizational skills in his Sept. 26 review, but was also deemed
"always enthusiastic and respectful," according to his review.
"Thank
you, Jose, for your dedication to DRC," wrote Stephen Huffman,
assistant director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction. A year earlier, Mausser recommended that Torres be retained
on the board.
"His prior positions and experience have proven to be a valuable resource," Mausser wrote on
Sept 20, 2010.
The
board oversees hundreds of requests a year by inmates seeking parole,
and also makes life-or-death recommendations to the governor based on
requests for mercy by condemned inmates.
The Department of
Rehabilitation Correction has not commented on the reason for the
dismissals, saying only that director Gary Mohr was making changes to
improve the prisons system and was looking to find "the right people for
the right positions."
Democratic state Rep. Tracy Maxwell Heard
of Columbus has alleged the removals of Torres and Collins-Taylor were
politically motivated because both were appointed by a Democratic,
former Gov. Ted Strickland.
Mohr was appointed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, who replaced Strickland in November 2010.
Torres
said in an interview he was blindsided by the decision and does not
know exactly why he was let go. He wouldn’t speculate on whether
politics were involved, and said he’d stick with the facts.
"We both were appointed by the last governor, and there was an appointment made recently after
us," he said.
Collins-Taylor also said she was surprised, particularly given her positive reviews.
"All I was told is they were taking the board in a new direction," she told the AP.
Collins-Taylor
and Torres were outsiders to the prison system. Collins-Taylor was a
veteran Columbus police officer who had served as Strickland’s public
safety director, then resigned under pressure following an investigation
into a botched sting at the governor’s residence. Torres was a former
Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor who had worked as an attorney in
Strickland’s office.
Following their removal, Mohr appointed three
prison system insiders. DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the board
members selected by Mohr will be "career-oriented corrections
professionals committed to the reform efforts currently under way."
With
backing from Kasich and lawmakers, Mohr has been pushing programs to
reduce the prison population and find ways to keep offenders from
committing new crimes once released.
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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.