Putnam County Recorder Cathy Recker - Putnam Sentinel
Putnam County Recorder Cathy Recker

PUTNAM COUNTY — A letter dated April 22, 2019, sent to members of the Putnam County Republican Party begins as follows, “It is with heavy heart that I inform you of my wife Cathy’s intent to step down as the Putnam County Recorder due to a debilitating illness. In the interest of the residents of Putnam County, the Republican Party and the employees of the Recorder’s Office we respectfully request your support to appoint me to fill the vacancy of the unexpired term.”

The ‘me’ in the prior statement is Troy Recker, husband of Recorder Cathy Recker. The letter was signed by both Troy and Cathy Recker. The exact medical nature of the “debilitating illness” referenced in the Reckers’ letter, and any specific diagnosis, remains unknown. However, following interactions with Mrs. Recker and after speaking in confidence with others who work in various departments within the courthouse, it is strongly believed that the illness referenced in the letter from Mr. and Mrs. Recker is not physical in nature.

It should be noted that this letter was sent solely to the members of the Putnam County Republican Party. As it was not sent to the county government, it is not considered a letter of resignation by the county.

August 1

Commissioner’s meeting

Last Thursday, August 1, a meeting was held in the Commissioner’s office that included Auditor Robert Benroth, his deputy Kim Nordhaus, the three commissioners, and a representative from a local law firm.

“The meeting today concerns a personnel issue. The issue has to do with the Putnam County Recorder,” began Mr. Benroth. “This is a public record that we received. As you all are probably aware, the county auditor is charged with all OPERS records for accounting. Somebody retires, somebody does anything, we are notified and we have to, more or less, sign off and approve. Well, I’m going to go ahead and read it, because it’s a short letter.”

The letter, dated June 19, 2019, was then read into the public record by Mr. Benroth. It states that the OPERS, “Executive Director is granted authority to commence disability benefits for [Cathy Recker].” It goes on to detail for the Auditor the next steps that must be taken in order for disability benefits to commence. It also includes the following, “Note: If the employee remains on your payroll past July 31, 2019 the employee’s disability benefit will not be paid, the employee will forfeit their disability benefit, and the employee will be required to re-apply for a disability benefit if eligible.”

This means that in order for her to receive the benefits for which she was approved, Mrs. Recker needed to either retire or resign prior to July 31, 2019. Again, this meeting took place the next day, August 1, 2019, after no action was taken by Mrs. Recker.

Later, in response to questions on the process of applying for disability benefits, OPERS spokesman Michael Pramik stated, “It’s fair to say that a member choosing not to accept disability benefits after being approved is rare.”

Prosecutor Gary Lammers

weighs in

County Prosecutor Gary Lammers was intended to be in this meeting as well. He was delayed by his duties in court that morning, and was unable to attend. However, he did visit the commissioners office following his court duties and the conversation regarding Mrs. Recker continued between himself and the three commissioners.

Mr. Lammers first spoke of his understanding of the events in a manner similar to what had occurred a short while earlier with Mr. Benroth. That an application for disability benefits had been submitted and approved for Mrs. Recker, and that a deadline had passed for her to receive those benefits.

Mr. Lammers also revealed he was conducting legal research as the county’s solicitor regarding what to do in cases where an elected official may be unable to fulfill their sworn duties as the result of a disability.

“I have done some checking,” Mr. Lammers said. “The statute doesn’t really, at least, I’ve been unable to find something that deals with this type of issue. Many times, if the disability prevents the individual from actually showing up ­— they’re laid up at a hospital getting treatment, or bed ridden, whatever the case may be — there are requirements that, if the elected official doesn’t show up for a certain number of days in a certain window of time, then by statute the position is deemed to be vacant.

“It’s my understanding the Sec. of State’s office has been contacted about direction. And, there’s not much you can do. Now, I find that hard to believe, so I continue to keep scouring. And then, I thought it was going to become a moot point when I heard there was an application to go on disability.”

It was initially assumed that Mr. Lammers’ inquiries on what can be done when an elected official appears to have a cognitive issue began after the Auditor’s office received a letter from OPERS approving Mrs. Recker’s request for disability benefits. With this previous statement, Mr. Lammers revealed that his legal research began before Mrs. Recker’s application.

“I would say it was probably late fall, early winter [of last year],” said of when he began researching the issue, “November or December.”

“I sit on the records board with her,” Mr. Lammers continued. “And, I just noticed some reactions, responses that she was giving during the course of a meeting, or a failure to respond appropriately; failure to talk about things that I knew, at one time, she was well versed in, and she couldn’t recall. Cognitive functions, ability to recall, things of that nature. That’s what tipped me off myself. Again, I don’t deal with her day-in and day-out. I’m on the county records commission board and we meet about every quarter. She’s always been very active with our records retention schedules. She was kind of the hub of all that.

“And, with the [former Jobs & Family Services] building vacated, we are now using that as our records center. She was very proactive and very involved in that. She had all of her records moved down there. And then, during a discussion that highlighted [the issue], we were talking about the records center and she said, ‘What are you talking about? What records center?’

“And then, I started hearing more and more from others. Other attorneys, other officials, just employees who would have contact with her. They would say, ‘Something seems different. Something seems off.’ And, it’s more of her cognitive skills. I mean, physically she looks as she’s always looked. She’s always showing up.”

Addressing his research, Mr. Lammers brought up the legal issue of her retaining the ability to be physically present during a meeting with the Board of Commissioners.

“It’s not meeting the vacancy requirements in this circumstance, if it’s more of a cognitive ability to do the job,” Mr. Lammers said. “She has deputy clerks who are doing the job. So, the work is still getting done. I can’t say that this office is suffering and the work isn’t getting done. I can’t even argue that.

“Primarily as a figurehead, that individual is showing up, and the work is getting done. It’s a unique situation and I haven’t been able to find an ‘out’ for us. And, I know that I’m not the only one that’s been looking.”

A conversation

with Recorder Cathy Recker

Also on Thursday, August 1, a separate conversation was held with Mrs. Recker in the Recorder’s office. In this conversation, Mrs. Recker stated her intention to remain in office. She characterized the application for disability as a mistake.

“I want to continue to stay,” she said. “I’ve been redoing everything. It’s been so long. I’ve got a lot of things going on at my house, and things like that. But now, I don’t want to leave it go. I want to be there.”

It was noted that she qualified for disability benefits, and that this is a matter of public record.

“I didn’t want to. That was my husband helping on that,” Mrs. Recker responded. “I’m good. Right now, this is what I want to keep.”

She was then asked what medical condition resulted in her being approved by OPERS for disability benefits.

“Anything that I’ve had, I mean, I’m fine.” Mrs. Recker said. “I’m back to the right. It’s not a problem anymore. I just had a couple of things that I had to work, you know. But, I’m good. It’s back. I had to go see a doctor every once in awhile. I mean, for awhile. But, I’m done with it. I’m good.”

She was then asked if she felt capable of carrying out all duties as described in Ohio’s revised code for the county recorder’s position.

“Absolutely,” came the response.

Process and documentation

Mr. Pramik, spokesperson for OPERS, was also questioned regarding the process of becoming approved for disability benefits. “When applying for disability benefits, the member has his or her own doctor perform the initial examination,” he wrote in an email. “The paperwork is then sent to our third-party administrator, MMRO (Managed Medical Review Organization), which might request further examination by a credentialed physician that it chooses.”

When speaking on Friday, August 2 with Mrs. Recker’s husband, Troy Recker, he stated that this further examination was not requested. Presumably then, the initial examination by Mrs. Recker’s doctor and resultant medical records satisfied OPERS criteria for disability benefits.

In the interest of the public, the documents underpinning this article are available for view online at: http://bit.ly/ReckerDocs (please note, your web browser may present a ‘redirect warning’ when using this link. Yes, in this instance, it is safe to proceed). Those documents include:

• the April 22, 2019 letter from the Reckers to members of the Putnam County Republican Party;

• the June 19, 2019 letter from OPERS provided by the Auditor’s office;

• the July 17, 2019 letter to Mrs. Recker informing her that her application for disability had been accepted, along with the proof of delivery, both provided by the Auditor’s office.

In the ‘About Us’ section of the Putnam County Recorder’s website, the role of the Recorder is described as follows, “The Recorder serves as the custodian of a large number of public records. The records in Putnam County date back to the mid 1800’s. By law the recorder is charged with the accuracy and safekeeping of these records. Documents that are submitted for recording are scanned and microfilmed by the most modern methods available to maintain safe keeping and replication at any time. It is my responsibility to see that these records are preserved and available to you.”

As of now, it is understood that Mrs. Recker will retain her position as County Recorder.