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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Let Allen investigation play out


Editorial

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Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen's 3 1/2-year affair with a subordinate, a relationship that began when the woman was an intern in his office and continued as he promoted her, was a critical lapse of judgment. Whether it is cause to remove him from office remains to be seen.

The woman involved, Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Collins, is a former Enquirer employee who worked as the letters clerk on the editorial page before leaving in 1998 to attend law school. In a federal sexual harassment and discrimination suit filed Thursday, she said she felt compelled to engage in the affair and continue it in order to keep her job.

Allen claims the affair was consensual. While the married father of two says the affair was embarrassing, he insists it did not violate his office's policies on sexual harassment or prohibited conduct. He pre-empted the lawsuit last Wednesday by admitting the affair and apologizing to the public.

Allen is entitled to the due process of the courts and the county's harassment complaint procedure. While his behavior has been disgraceful, there are a number of questions that need to be sorted out.

Were laws violated if the affair took place on county time and county property? Was Collins hired and promoted on her legal qualifications or because she was having sex with Allen? If others in the office knew of the relationship and suspected she was getting favors from it, why didn't they speak up?

If a consensual affair on private time does not violate the letter of Allen's own office's prohibited conduct, it comes close. That code bars sexual conduct in the workplace, even if that conduct is consensual. Allen denies Collins' claims that their relationship included liaisons in his office, or on county time. It is clear that he hired and promoted a woman with whom he was having a relationship. That is clearly a conflict of interest, even if it is not specifically prohibited in the department's rulebook.

Collins' conduct also raises questions. If the relationship was not consensual, why did she wait 3 1/2 years to file a complaint about it? If, as she alleges, the relationship was the subject of office gossip and ridicule, why didn't she leave the office?

If the affair was consensual and her complaint is filed out of spite, then she deserves to be fired. If harassment or discrimination occurred, then Allen deserves to lose his job, although no one in the county government has the authority to fire a separately elected official.

The timing of Allen's admission also ensures that it is virtually impossible for the voters to turn him out. He is unopposed for re-election this year. The deadline for an independent candidate to file for the ballot was Aug. 20, five days before his admission. A write-in campaign is still possible, but unlikely to carry the day against an established candidate, even one covered with this kind of tarnish.

Whatever the truth of this matter, it is clear that the people of Hamilton County are the losers. Allen's conflict is now under investigation at a cost to the taxpayers, many who now are wondering about the lack of judgment exhibited by their chief law enforcement officer.



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