Court OKs Rob Frost's request for citizen review panel to check Cuyahoga County contracts

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Sat, 06/20/2009 - 01:07.

Court OKs Rob Frost's request for citizen review panel to check Cuyahoga County contracts

Posted by jcaniglia [at] plaind [dot] com June 19, 2009 20:42PM

Marvin Fong/The Plain DealerRob Frost filed the request after Thursday's meeting. Frost hopes a three-person panel will ensure the proper use of public tax dollars.

A Cuyahoga County judge approved forming a citizen review panel Friday to examine the books of Auditor Frank Russo's office amid a federal investigation over public contracts.

Also Friday, county Commissioner Tim Hagan said he and the two other commissioners, Jimmy Dimora and Peter Lawson Jones, will not vote on any contract that is part of the probe.

His words came a day after the commissioners voted on change orders for the new $172 million juvenile justice center, but he stressed the orders are not part of the investigation.

"We talked about it [Friday]," Hagan said. "We need to protect the integrity of the system."

 

County Republican Party chief Rob Frost hopes a three-person panel will ensure the public's tax dollars are being used properly. Frost filed the request after he went to the board's public meeting Thursday and asked Dimora, the Democratic Party chief, to step down or at least stop voting on public contracts.

Citing a 1953 state law, Frost and a group of 31 people asked the court to appoint a three-member committee of residents to review the contracts.

Common Pleas Judge Eileen A. Gallagher, a Democrat, approved the request. She said that after the examination, the committee would write a report of its findings. The law, rarely used, was meant to allow residents a chance to oversee the books of county auditors or treasurers. At least 20 people are needed to file the request.

Frost said he hopes to begin the process next week. He wants an accountant, a lawyer and a person with a background in public administration to study the documents, which include computer files, microfilm and any digital copies or recordings. The committee would likely look at a year or two worth of documents and then decide whether to go back further.

The three people would be paid by the county $3 a day, according to state law, so the work would have to be done for free.

Hagan said the state auditor's office already reviews contracts yearly using the accounting firm of Deloitte Touche. In most cases, such audits by accounting firms take several months to complete at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Democrats suggested state Auditor Mary Taylor, who is a Republican, already is aware of the county's problems. If there was a greater need for review, Taylor's office could do a special audit.

Russo and Dimora are the focus of an investigation that is looking at whether public officials steered contracts in exchange for personal favors.

The charges, filed in federal court last week, allege that two high-ranking county officials accepted gambling trips, meals and other favors for contracts.

Though the officials are not named, it is clear from public records that they are Dimora and Russo. They have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Four men were charged with public corruption, bribery and tax charges. They are J. Kevin Kelley, Daniel Gallagher, Kevin Payne and Brian Schuman.

"We cannot reform our county until we clear the corrupt officials from the scene," Frost said in a statement. "That job of cleaning house and then rebuilding our county government cannot truly get under way until and unless we know the extent, not only of their crimes, but also of the financial damage that has been done."

He set no deadlines for when the committee would finish its work. The 31 people pushing for the review include three certified public accountants. If Judge Gallagher wants help naming three members to the committee, Frost said, he is prepared to fill the three positions.

Destin Ramsey, the county auditor's chief of operations, said Russo welcomes the review.

"We're definitely not concerned about this," Ramsey said. "Frank would love it -- to show taxpayers how good a job we do."

 

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