Judge: Review of spending by commission not needed

Chagrin Valley Times

June 21, 2019

by Joseph Koziol, Jr.

Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell is now questioning the county commissioners’ authority in approving some bills from the court.

While a dispute has waged between the court and the county auditor since last year over approval of the court’s bills, last month the court began questioning the commissioners’ authority to review any bills from the court other than those paid through the general fund.

In a May 22 email to commissioners, Kimberly Laurie, court administrator for Judge Grendell, stated that commissioners are failing to abide by the law in seeking review and approval of some of the court’s bills.

“Under the revised code sections I brought to your attention yesterday, the court and only the court has outright authority to approve the expenditures from non-GRF (general revenue fund) funds covered by those statutes. When a statute fails to mention county commissioners’ approval, not such approval exists and cannot be created by local precedent,” Ms. Laurie wrote.

But, Geauga County Administrator Gerald Morgan said commissioners will continue to follow the practice in place of reviewing and approving all bills submitted by the court. He said the court has claimed that commissioners have the authority to review bills that will be drawn from the general fund, but not those drawn from grants or court fees.

“I reviewed the ORC (Ohio Revised Code) sections that you sent me, and other than the Probate Court of Conduct of Business Fund, I did not see anything that precludes the county from following the process whereby the financials are processed through the board of county commissioners that has been set by the precedent of the previous approvals and payments of the juvenile court’s payment requests,” Mr. Morgan replied to the court.

But, Ms. Laurie responded that county commissioners cannot create a review that the law does not allow.

“Your conclusion that you did not see anything that precludes the county from continuing to follow some sort of erroneous ‘precedent’ process is simply erroneous as a matter of law, and as a matter of logic,” she wrote. “The county cannot revise or circumvent Ohio law based on a ‘precedent’ that did not and does not comply with Ohio law, regardless if the court previously volunteered to submit to that process. Simply put, the county commissioners have no legal right or authority to approve or disapprove the expenditures covered by statutes which provide sole approval authority to Ohio courts.”

Mr. Morgan said the matter has been referred to the county prosecutor’s office to determine who is right.

Ms. Laurie said the disagreements between the auditor and now commissioners could be costly if the court is forced to take the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court for resolution.

“If the auditor and commissioners continue to act outside the statutory confines on the commissioners’ authority, the matter will have to be submitted to the Ohio Supreme Court for resolution.

“The court hopes that Auditor (Charles E.) Walder will resolve his issues so that the county taxpayers will not have to incur what is currently preventable, unnecessary expense of litigation; and hopefully, the commissioners discontinue overstepping their authority (even when improperly requested to do so by the county auditor) so that your office does not unnecessarily find itself a party to such litigation, and cause further waste of county taxpayers’ dollars.”

The dispute between the court and the auditor has already resulted in one case before the Ohio Supreme Court with three of the court’s vendors seeking an order to be paid for services to the court.

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