Tuesday, December 30, 2008

O'Malley wasted $1m a year

Pat O'Malley infamously used the Cuyahoga County recorder's office as a patronage machine. Now the state auditor has figured out how much taxpayer money he wasted doing that: $1 million a year.

OK, the words "waste" and "patronage" do not appear in auditor Mary Taylor's press release today. But read her report along with the "Recorded Deeds" section of my October profile of O'Malley, or the Plain Dealer's April exposé of his employees' political connections, and that's the obvious conclusion.

The report says O'Malley personally chose who to hire, what job to give them, and what to pay them. That made his employees totally dependent on him and very likely loyal.

He hired too many people and paid them too much. He larded the staff with more than eight people who simply went to meetings to talk about what the recorder does -- serious overkill for an office that records deeds, but it surely helped his name recognition at election time. In all, $1 million of his $7 million annual budget was unnecessary spending.

Total control made it easy to reward political allies with jobs and get employees to campaign for him. It also made it easy to do what Cathy Luks, former North Royalton mayor and recent Republican candidate for recorder, says he did: Attempt to bribe her with one of those public outreach jobs if she quit running against him.

Taylor's press release and report put it more politely. Highlights:

-Cuyahoga County recorder's employees have a light workload. They process 2,522 documents per employee per year, compared to 3,912 and 4,688 in Franklin and Hamilton counties.

-They're overpaid. Top aides make 48 percent more than their peers in similar counties. The average employee makes more than $43,400, compared to $36,300 among their peers.

-The office should get rid of most or all of its 8.4 public outreach employees, who attend "community libraries, meetings and other events to increase awareness of services provided by the Recorder's Office." Other large Ohio counties have either 2 outreach employees or none. Cutting seven would save $365,000.

-The recorder should cut 17 other employees, saving $700,000.

-The office has no formal hiring process, evaulating process, or job descriptions. "The previous Recorder determined the need for a position, the person selected for the position, and the salary provided to that employee. ... [The office] determines initial salaries without regard to skills required and/or minimum qualifications at the time of hire."

The audit did praise the recorder's office for performing all its required duties and using new technology to make it easier for citizens to file deeds. The new recorder, Lillian Greene, says she's already started reducing the staff. She also claims the comparisons with other counties aren't fair because the others outsource some work.

My favorite tidbits from the Plain Dealer's story this morning:

-"O'Malley could not be reached Monday for comment." Yeah, because he's in federal prison, serving a 15-month sentence for downloading obscenity.

-Yet another argument for reforming county government: "Cuyahoga's elected officials, such as the recorder, have the authority to outspend their budgets and occasionally do so."

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