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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 14, 2006

State 'abstinence' head suspended in ethics case

Columbus--An anti-gay Ohio Department of Health program supervisor has been given a one-day suspension for hiring a company she had ties to for state work.

Valerie Huber, who runs the health department�s �abstinence only until marriage� sex education programs, was found guilty of �neglect of duty� in a department probe. She had �participated to a substantial degree in the selection of the vendor� for which she was also the Ohio agent.

The company, Cox Creative of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was contracted to design a media campaign for grades 7-12 worth nearly $100,000 over two years.

Huber gave her health department address when she registered the company in Ohio as its statutory agent.

An investigation was ordered by department director Dr. Nick Baird on January 6 after he was tipped off about the situation.

According to papers released by the department, Huber received a �one day working suspension� with pay.

Anti-gay ties

Both Huber and Cox Creative founders Melissa and Alan Cox have substantial histories with anti-gay enterprises and causes.

Huber controls federal funds for the �abstinence� programs, promoted by the Bush administration and social conservatives.

The programs, which are not science-based and come under little scrutiny, are accused of diverting money from HIV prevention programs, particularly those targeting gay men. They also ignore gay youth, who are not allowed to marry.

Huber is responsible for the department�s annual abstinence-only conference in October, which has been criticized for its overt conservative Christian messages and anti-gay speakers, including ones openly recruiting for the �ex-gay� movement.

Melissa Cox is the former director of marketing and public relations at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, which advocates �curing� gays through �conversion therapy� and lobbies against condom availability. She has also been an editor of Focus on the Family�s Physician magazine.

Huber, 47, of Johnstown, served her suspension February 7 under Baird�s order.

�Your agreement to act as statutory agent created an appearance of impropriety and possible lack of public confidence in the procurement process,� wrote Baird to Huber.

�As a result, the procurement in question has been cancelled and will have to be re-bid, which negatively impacts the operations of the Ohio Department of Health.�

�During this [suspension],� wrote Baird, �you will work your normal hours and you will be paid at your regular rate of pay. However, your employment record will reflect this suspension for purposes of progressive discipline.�

Huber earns $28.50 an hour.

High-level lawyer

A pre-disciplinary meeting was held January 18. Huber was represented by Columbus attorney Donald C. Brey of Chester, Wilcox and Saxbe.

Brey is primarily an election law specialist who often represents the Ohio Republican Party, their candidates and conservative causes.

He was a special counsel to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell in 2004, helping him stave off an effort to disqualify petition signatures to keep the Ohio marriage ban amendment off the ballot. Brey also represented the anti-gay side in a 2002 attempt to repeal a Cleveland Heights domestic partner ordinance.

Low-level employment actions are not Brey�s usual work or that of his firm, according to its website.

Brey argued that Huber had no financial relationship with Cox, and as such did not use her position to aid a �business associate.�

In a memorandum to Baird from the department�s general counsel Jodi Govern, other disclosures of Huber�s �administrative errors� are discussed, such as mishandling purchase orders for the �abstinence only� conferences.

�Ms. Huber has acted in a manner that is a clear conflict of interest,� wrote Govern. �She claims that she did so unknowingly; however, that is not persuasive.�

�Ms. Huber has committed a variety of administrative errors since her employment began about which I have some knowledge. In each instance,� wrote Govern, �she has claimed that she �did not know� and that �no one ever told her.� �

One of these was Huber�s purchase order to pay anti-gay evangelist Doug Herman to speak at last fall�s �abstinence� conference.

Herman was recruited to keynote the event after columnist Maggie Gallagher was dropped. The situation was resolved, according to Govern, when he agreed to waive his $1,500 fee.

A broader probe

E-mails released by the department show that the investigation into Huber�s conduct was broader than the Cox incident, and that she spent time trying to figure out who brought the allegations.

On January 12, Govern answered, �As far as �who� brought the �allegations,� ODH will be officially bringing the allegations. If you are asking who alerted Dr. Baird about this matter, the answer is the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.�

The matter also set off concerns about �leaks� within Huber�s office.

Bernard Schlueter, who works for Huber, wrote to Baird: �I simply wish to share with you a concern I have that we have an internal problem with information leaks of internal processes and business . . . particularly the untimely sabotaging and informing outside interest groups of, for example, the review of contractual review before decisions are made and made public.�

�Somehow I suggest that consideration be given to this matter because it is putting us (ODH, you, me and abstinence) in a bad light and in a continual waste of our time and energy besides giving the media and political people fuel for their causes,� wrote Schlueter.

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