News

Commissioner tells judge, auditor feud must stop

Chagrin Valley Times

Joseph Koziol, Jr.

July 12, 2019

Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said he’s had enough of the ongoing dispute between the Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court and county auditor and has an easy solution.

As the standoff between the two county offices continued this week with a sheriff’s deputy stationed at the auditor’s office and a ban on certain court staff allowed in the auditor’s office, Mr. Spidalieri said he can no longer just stand by.

“I can’t say it any simpler – they all need to grow up,” Mr. Spidalieri said.

The dispute came to a head two weeks ago as Chardon police were called in to referee what the auditor’s office has called a theft of the auditor office’s official records that ended with a reported confrontation on the street between Probate and Juvenile Judge Timothy Grendell and a Chardon police officer.

Mr. Spidalieri said the feud has gone too far and now involves prosecutors and police.

He said the commissioners’ office has been transparent with the public in all its dealings as have most county offices. But, some are not getting with the program.

He said the auditor serves the purpose of being a check on the expending of public funds and there has to be that check and balance system for government to work. “There is no way to have a check and balance when they have no ability to check and balance,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

He said both offices need to remember they are working for the best interests of the public.

But, he said, the feud has shoved the best interests of the public to the side at a cost.

“Let’s start adding up what it’s costing,” he said.” If the taxpayers started adding it up, they’d be furious about it. I hope they pay attention to this at election time.”

He pointed to an incident last week at the commissioners’ meeting where court administrator Kimberly Laurie appeared. He said Ms. Laurie spent two hours there, socializing with visitors, but not appearing to conduct any official business.

“She’s making close to $50 an hour,” Mr. Spidalieri said. “What was the purpose of that?”

He said the situation is a matter of “games people are trying to play and ego trips going on.”

Ms. Laurie said she had appeared at the commissioners’ office in response to a letter to commissioners by Auditor Charles Walder following the June 27 incident at the auditor’s office that involved Chardon police. Mr. Walder recounted that day’s interactions between the two offices and asked for additional security.

“Given the request made by Auditor Walder to the commissioners, the court determined it would be in the best interest for a representative to be present at the commissioners’ meeting in case the commissioners had any questions,” Ms. Laurie wrote.

“In the past, the commissioners have complained when a court-related question arose at their meeting and no court representative was present,” Ms. Laurie continued. “Now, Commissioner Spidalieri is complaining when a representative of the court attends the commissioners’ meeting to be available if the commissioners had a court-related question, as anticipated by the court. The commissioners can’t have it both ways. Certainly, Commissioner Spidalieri does not think that attending a commissioners meeting is a waste of time.”

She added that the court agrees that “the auditor’s games are a waste of taxpayer money and resources” and “would like the games to stop.”

While Mr. Spidalieri is hoping the matter comes to a quick resolution and the job of government will continue in an orderly manner, the divide between the two sides does not appear closer to resolving the situation.

In a July 2 email to the auditor’s office, Ms. Laurie denied the charges of theft and disruptive behavior.

“Your claims of ‘disruptive behavior’ and ‘theft’ are a false narrative,” Ms. Laurie wrote. “Just because you say it doesn’t make it true.”

She argued that the auditor’s office’s new policy of handling payroll checks by email rather than in person is unworkable.

“Interoffice mail is unacceptable for payroll documents because it creates an undue delay in processing compensation for court staff,” Ms. Laurie wrote.

She also included a threat, stating such actions may interfere or impede the court’s staff ability to perform their official duties, adding that the court has issued two orders to allow its staff to interact in any public office.

The auditor’s office said they understand the orders to apply only to court staff and operations, not other county officials.

Ms. Laurie wrote that the auditor’s continued policies of banning certain court officials could “invite” a criminal complaint.

“Your (auditor’s office) two emails today, after the court issued administrative orders 2019-83 and 2019-183 invite a criminal complaint and civil action under R.C. 2921.03 and R.C. 2921.05,” Ms. Laurie wrote.

Her email followed one from Kate Jacob, chief compliance officer with the auditor that stated, “Due to court staff’s disruptive behavior in our office – including the theft of our office’s official records – please be advised that all payroll documents will be provided to the court either by email or interoffice mail rather than available at the office for pickup.”

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