Cuyahoga County Inspector General Agency's Duties and Independence Up For Debate


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On Tuesday, Cuyahoga County Council voted 6-5 on a measure to maintain the inspector general agency as a permanent fixture in the county charter. Missing the eight-vote mark, the measure did not move on. 

At issue is the independent nature of the office. Amendment supporters believe that more protections will guarantee a more independent and effective operation — one overseen by Inspector General Nailah Byrd. Detractors say it's a slippery slope toward giving the office too much power and sway.

Councilman Michael Gallagher, chair of the Public Safety Committee, says he will request Byrd's presence at an upcoming committee meeting in order for her to elaborate on her office's duties, NEOMG's Andrew Tobias reports. The next Public Safety Committee meeting is slated for Aug. 19.

So what does the inspector general, an office created by Executive Ed FitzGerald soon after he took office in 2010, really do?

In late July, Byrd published her office's semiannual report, which details the 172 whistleblower complaints received from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2014. Most of these complaints came from the public, though 23 percent were sourced to current county employees. As it happens, many of the public complaints fell out of the inspector general's jurisdiction, but the majority of the applicable complaints targeted the Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Employment and Family Services and the Sheriff’s Department.

In sum, Byrd's office oversaw 77 investigations into various complaints so far this year, including misuse of county resources, theft, and time/attendance fraud.

Of the 77 cases, only 17 were closed. Eight were closed without a violation, five earned the employee(s) a management referral, two earned the employee(s) law enforcement referral. One person was sent a letter of admonition, and another case was consolidated into a larger investigation.

Let's take a look at the law enforcement referrals:

Cedric Freeman, a Jet Pac operation for the Department of Public Works, "solicit[ed] money, food and cigarettes from citizens and co-workers during his regular County work hours and attempt[ed] to sell prescription medication to his co-workers," according to the report. Freeman resigned during the investigation, and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office chose not to pursue charges.

Paige Penny, a social services worker in the Department of Children and Family Services, "ha[d] a personal and inappropriate relationship with a client in her caseload and us[ed] her County-issued cellphone for personal use." Similarly, Penny resigned during the investigation and the county prosecutor declined prosecution. The Cuyahoga County Law Director is still trying to get back $344.65 in cellphone-related account charges. 

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