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Robert Higgs
By Robert Higgs February 1, 2012

Pay slashed for 89 employees after audit of wages in fiscal office

Candidate Ed FitzGerald pledged that as the first Cuyahoga County executive, he would review county operations, with an eye toward rooting out corruption.

One area under review is pay to county employees, particularly in the county's fiscal office. In January, 89 employees learned their wages will be slashed this month, saving taxpayers about $735,000 annually.       

The reductions follow the findings of a North Carolina-based consultant, Archer Co., hired by the county last year to examine which workers do what and how much each should be paid.

Based on Archer's recommendations, 27 employees' wages will be reduced more than $10,000, County Human Resources Director Elise Hara said after notices were sent to the employees. Most of the rest of the reductions are in the thousands of dollars, she said, noting that the smallest pay cut is $214 per year. The largest cut was more than $29,000 a year.

Most facing the biggest reductions were employees who once worked for former County Auditor Frank Russo, who pleaded guilty to 21 corruption-related charges and is cooperating with prosecutors as a witness in the corruption and racketeering trial of former county Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

The rest facing cuts worked in the offices of former Recorder Lillian Greene and former Treasurer Jim Rokakis, neither of whom has been implicated in the corruption scandal.

The auditor's, recorder's and treasurer's offices were consolidated into a fiscal office last year after voters approved a new charter form of county government.

FitzGerald said in January that no one should be surprised by the pay cuts because he had been discussing them in meetings with workers and with the media for months.

"There had been gross distortions in pay raises. Some employees were making more than their supervisors,” he said then. "Some of these folks will have to take a good, long look at whether they want to work for the county.”

This is the second time we looked at progress on this promise. Last October, PolitiFact Ohio noted the hiring of an inspector general and efforts to rein in sick time abuse.

Just over a year into FitzGerald's term, it's too soon to rate this pledged fulfilled. But there clearly are efforts underway. For now we'll keep the Fitz-O-Meter set to In the Works.

Robert Higgs
By Robert Higgs September 28, 2011

Inspector general's investigation, sick day analysis, show FitzGerald's review in progress

A wave of outrage over corruption in Cuyahoga County government led to passage of a county charter with an elected county executive at the helm.

As a candidate, Ed FitzGerald pledged to review county operations, with an eye toward rooting out corruption.

"The parade of scandals and investigations must be brought to an end so we can focus on creating jobs and maintaining services," he said then.

In his first days as county executive, FitzGerald hired an inspector general charged with rooting out fraud, abuse and waste.

On Sept. 15, 2011, the county fired Mark Lime, chief of the criminal division of the county Clerk of Courts, after he was accused of stealing money from the office. An investigation by Inspector General Nailah Byrd"s office led to the firing.

"This is the first time that Inspector General Nailah Byrd has completed a report that led to a referral to the county prosecutor"s office,” FitzGerald spokesman John Kohlstrand said then.     "This is how the system is supposed to work. The inspector general is supposed to look into fraud and wrongdoing.”

Lime had been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 23 while the inspector general"s office and the county"s human-resources department investigated claims that Lime was stealing cash bond forfeiture payments.

FitzGerald also has implemented a system for reviewing operations in county offices that has yielded results. The system, called CountyStat, is intended to improve efficiency and cut costs by comparing departments" performances to national best practices and local goals.

The CountyStat program recently unveiled a study of sick days used by employees in recent years and the first six months of 2011. It found the typical Cuyahoga County worker took nearly 11 sick days in 2010  — more than twice as many as the average nonunion employee of the state.

Through June of this year, employees averaged 5.4 sick days, but supervisors said abuse of the leave policy is on the wane.

County managers have begun firing workers who continue to call in sick after running out of accrued leave. Other employees have been disciplined for abusing the leave. Employees earn 4.6 hours of sick time every two weeks.

"The word is kind of out that . . . things are changing and it"s not going to be tolerated as perhaps it was before,” said Jennifer Scofield, who heads the CountyStat program.

With just nine months of holding office, it"s too soon to rate this pledged fulfilled. But with these efforts we can set the Fitz-O-Meter to In the Works.

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