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Cuyahoga County voters will decide whether to grant subpoena power to inspector general

July 24, 2018

Cuyahoga County voters will decide whether to grant subpoena power to inspector general

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County Council agreed Tuesday to let voters decide on three proposed charter amendments, including one that would give subpoena powers to the county inspector general.

The amendment relating to the inspector general is the most contentious of the three, being opposed by County Executive Armond Budish and supported by County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.

But council chose to accept only one of five changes that O’Malley recommended last week, that being to require that the inspector general hold a law degree.

If approved by voters in November, the amendment would cement the inspector general’s authority in the charter. The inspector general’s office now derives its authority from an ordinance approved by County Council.

A second proposed amendment going to the November ballot would grant county auditors the ability to bill departments as they audit them. The third would more clearly delineate the responsibilities of county agencies handling personnel matters.

The inspector general amendment was initially sponsored by all 11 county council members, a move that Council President Dan Brady has said was impressive given that the body includes both Democrats and Republicans. The final version was sponsored by six council members, Democrats Yvonne Conwell, Dale Miller, Sunny Simon and Scott Tuma, and Republicans Michael Gallagher and Jack Schron.

Miller, who proposed the initiative to the Charter Review Commission, said including the Office of the Inspector General in the charter would grant the office more permanence and stability, as well as make a statement about the county’s commitment to maintaining high ethical standards.

The eight-member charter commission concluded that codifying the inspector general’s office in the county charter would insulate it from future “political whims of the very officeholders that IG’s office might find itself investigating” and make clear that the inspector general is the chief ethics officer of the county, according to a commission report.

Budish told the charter commission in May that the amendment is not needed, however. He argued that the inspector general works well under the powers granted by ordinance, and said council could grant subpoena power through ordinance if it saw fit to do so.

The discussion around the amendment coincides with an ongoing corruption investigation by O’Malley’s office. The investigation, according to Budish, was triggered in part by the work of current Inspector General Mark Griffin, who has said he supports adding subpoena power to his authority.

Among other things, investigators have sought emails and other records related to Emily McNeeley, general counsel of the county’s IT department, and her boss, IT Director Scot Rourke. 

O’Malley told council last week that he supported adding the inspector general authority to the county charter as opposed to keeping it under the powers granted to it by ordinance.

But he asked council to consider several changes, including a requirement that the inspector general hold a law degree. He also suggested that:

* a neutral party rather than the county executive appoint the inspector general and internal auditor to ensure both offices are are free of any undue influence.

* the inspector general not be allowed to issue ethical advisory opinions. Similar opinions issued by the Ohio Ethics Commission allow for immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suits and the inspector general’s opinions do not, so employees could be confused about whether they could be prosecuted.

* the amendment include two directives contained in the ordinance that governs the inspector general. One requires the inspector general to suspend all investigative activities if they interfere with criminal, administrative, or civil investigations or prosecutions. The other requires appropriate law enforcement agencies to be notified if the inspector general believes a crime or policy violation has occurred.

O’Malley also noted that a court might take issue with allowing the inspector general the authority to issue subpoenas outside the county.

A fourth proposed charter amendment that would have allowed council to regulate campaign financing was not approved for the ballot on Tuesday. The measure seemed to garner little support from council members after they were told that they already had the authority to regulate campaign financing and did not need an amendment to do so.

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