Hollenbach fires deputy, which could fuel potential primary

06/14/2010 10:03 PM

Mary John Celletti

(UPDATED 12:36 p.m.) State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach laid off his deputy treasurer, Mary John Celletti, on Monday, which has rankled some Democratic activists around the state.

Celletti confirmed to cn|2 Politics on Monday night that she received a letter signed by Hollenbach at 4:30 p.m. Monday saying her services were “no longer needed” effective June 16.

“I think it was a budget and office politics issue,” said Celletti, who served as deputy commissioner/deputy of the Kentucky State Treasury since Hollenbach took office in January 2008. She declined to elaborate on the firing.

But she said she had no hard feelings toward Hollenbach, whom she said she knows from childhood.

“I’m very appreciative I had the time with Todd. I’m very sorry it ended the way it did,” she said.

Hollenbach didn’t return a message left on his cell phone Monday evening.

UPDATED: In a phone interview Tuesday, Hollenbach said he couldn’t talk about the details of any personnel actions.

“I don’t know what the office politics she’s referring to might be,” Hollenbach said of Celletti’s interpretation of being let go.

Hollenbach said Celletti is “a very nice person” who has a lot of political friend, but he said he’s not concerned that the decision to let her go will hurt his relationship with Democratic activists or legislators.

“I try to run the office like a business as best I can,” Hollenbach said. “I would put those considerations first.”

Most state agencies have been forced to cut back on expenses amid the recession and several rounds of state budget cuts. Celletti earned an annual salary of $76,356.

But the move has annoyed some Democratic insiders, including at least one of Hollenbach’s campaign organizers from 2007 who is now considering challenging Hollenbach in the 2011 primary.

“I’m not saying I’m running, but I am going to look at it,” said Steve Hamrick of Hopkinsville, who helped drum up support for Hollenbach’s campaign in Western Kentucky three years ago.

Hamrick, a businessman and minister, is a former Republican who switched parties in 1995 after chairing a group of Republicans for Paul Patton, who was running as a Democrat for governor that year. Hamrick narrowly lost the 1st congressional district race in 1992 against Democrat Tom Barlow and the 1994 GOP primary to current U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield.

He said he’s been concerned with how quiet Hollenbach has been in the job, frustrated by the lack of representation among legislative leaders and elected officials from Western Kentucky and perplexed by Monday’s firing of Celletti.

“As far as I know, Mary John did a lot of work for him for a long time,” Hamrick said. “I haven’t been involved in the running of (Hollenbach’s) office, other to say he ought to spend some more time there.”

Hollenbach said Tuesday that when he isn’t in his Frankfort office, he’s been traveling the state to offer the treasurer’s services, such as a more aggressive approach to returning unclaimed property to Kentuckians.

“I need to talk to Steve and I guess figure out what he’s been hearing,” Hollenbach said.

Hollenbach won the election of treasurer, which oversees Kentucky’s unclaimed property funds and signs the state checks, in 2007, replacing Jonathan Miller, a Democrat who was term-limited. A review of news releases from Hollenbach’s office shows that he hadn’t issued a press release in at least the last 180 days.

Hollenbach has raised $11,000 and has $6,795 in the bank for his 2011 re-election fund, according to his most recent campaign fund-raising report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Celletti has deep roots in Democratic politics. Her father, John A. Celletti, served as mayor of Shively in the early 1960s and on the state real estate commission under three governors. He ran for state treasurer in 1983 and finished third in the Democratic primary, which was won by Frances Jones Mills.

UPDATE: Democratic blogs have rushed to criticize Hollenbach for the move to let go Mary John Celletti. Tim Havrilek, a campaign strategist and publisher of the Underground Rooster blog, writes Tuesday that Hollenbach’s decision will underscore a perception that he is a “weak candidate” by eroding his political credibility. And Jake Payne at PageoneKentucky predicts it will be move Hollenbach will regret.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, said he was disappointed when Celletti notified him Tuesday evening she had been let go.

“She is very popular among a number of legislators, not just those in the Louisville area but a number of rural legislators as well,” Tilley said. “She was very capable and committed to her job. I’m really surprised.”

- Ryan Alessi


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