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DeWine reassigns chief of staff, shuffles leadership team

May 21, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine shuffled his senior leadership team on Thursday, moving a chief-of-staff who played a key role in the appointment of a former top utility regulator now under federal scrutiny into a new advisory role.

In her new job, counselor to the governor, Laurel Dawson will continue to advise DeWine while pushing administrative initiatives around the state in collaboration with local organizations, businesses and government offices, the governor’s office said in a release. Policy director Michael Hall becomes the new chief of staff.

“Laurel Dawson has been a trusted advisor of mine since I first ran for the U.S. House of Representatives,” DeWine said in a statement. “She has served my administration exceedingly well as Chief of Staff, and I am grateful that she will be taking on this role.”

Republican insiders delivered a dossier to Dawson in early 2019 warning of close ties between the Akron-based energy giant FirstEnergy and Sam Randazzo and urged DeWine not to name him chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, The Associated Press reported in December. DeWine appointed Randazzo anyway and has continued to defend the decision.

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Randazzo served in the position until last November, when he resigned under a cloud. The FBI had searched his Columbus townhome earlier that week and FirstEnergy — by then at the center of a $61 million federal bribery investigation — had reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that former executives had improperly directed a $4 million payment to the consulting firm of an official fitting Randazzo’s description.

DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said Dawson’s change in position was unrelated to Randazzo’s appointment.

The FBI charged former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and four others in July in connection with a scheme they allege Householder orchestrated to funnel FirstEnergy money into the passage of $1 billion nuclear plant bailout legislation and the thwarting of a ballot effort to repeal the bill once it passed. The agency’s probe is ongoing. Randazzo has not been charged and Householder has pleaded not guilty.

Hall has been DeWine’s policy director since 2019. He previously served as policy director to DeWine’s gubernatorial campaign and as a partner with Ice Miller in the law firm’s government affairs practice group. He also worked for DeWine when he was Ohio attorney general and U.S. senator.

Ann O’Donnell remains in her current role as chief adviser to the governor.