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Cleveland suspends and demotes a top Utilities Department official after she hired her son

November 20, 2018

Cleveland suspends and demotes a top Utilities Department official after she hired her son

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A top official in Cleveland’s Public Utilities Department who violated several city policies by hiring her son to work in a position she indirectly oversees has been suspended and demoted, the city said Tuesday.

Debra Mitchell, the department’s assistant director, has been suspended without pay for 15 days and demoted to an administration bureau manager, said Mayor Frank Jackson spokeswoman, Latoya Hunter.

The demotion will cost Mitchell $15,000 in annual pay. In her new position, Mitchell will be paid $99,444 per year, down from $114,444, and she will have no authority to recruit or hire people, Hunter said.

The discipline follows findings by the City’s Division of Internal Audit that Mitchell told a manager who directly reports to her to hire her son as an assistant administrator in fleet planning and operations.

“Based on the support documentation provided and interviews conducted, it has been determined that the assistant director used her position and influence to secure the hiring of an immediate family member as defined in the nepotism policy,” the investigation report states.

The report recommended that Mitchell be disciplined and that her son be reassigned to a position outside her supervision. Last week, when cleveland.com reported the audit findings, Jackson’s administration said it was still reviewing the findings and had not yet decided on what action to take against Mitchell.

The investigation was triggered by a complaint sent to City Hall in August alleging that Mitchell said she would not approve another qualified candidate for an open position if the fleet planning and operational manager did not hire her son. The investigation does not name Mitchell or her son, but identifies them by their titles.

Investigators concluded that Mitchell violated nepotism and ethics policies prohibiting any employee from using his or her authority to secure employment for a family member or to supervise a relative.

Three weeks ago, cleveland.com requested public records on a half-dozen employees in the Public Utilities Department to examine their possible relationship to top officials. The city has said it is still gathering the records.

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