This Week in the CLE: Special Episode June 3, 2019

We did not realize it at the time, but a meeting we hosted at the offices of cleveland.com on Nov. 17, 2017, turned out to be remarkable for the insights it offers into the continuing criminal investigation of Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s administration.



Budish brought his top cabinet members to our offices to talk about recent items in the news, items that ultimately became part of the criminal investigation. But this meeting was more than two months before anyone in the Budish administration knew about any criminal probe.



We recorded the conversation, and we publish it today in its entirety, along with a transcript of much of it. We think the people who live in Cuyahoga County deserve to hear what their government leaders were thinking as they performed their jobs on the eve of a criminal investigation, before they had any inkling that they might have to defend themselves against potential felony charges.



To understand its importance, you have to consider the timing. County Auditor Cory Swaisgood recently had called out the Budish administration for paying $1.7 million in overtime to salaried county employees, something Swaisgood saw as illegal. They are called salaried workers for a reason. The Budish administration disagreed and came over, in part, to explain to us why. (Even though, it turns out, the administration was wrong and did not have the authority to pay the overtime, the County Council later adopted rules allowing it henceforth.)



You can hear in the recording that we clearly were not buying their explanations, but rather than summarize what they said here, we leave it to you to digest it and form your own conclusions.



With Budish were his then-chief of staff, Sharon Sobol Jordan, then-Law Director Robert Triozzi, then-director of Employee and Labor Relations Edgillo Morales, then-Chief Economic Growth and Opportunity Officer and current interim chief of staff Matt Carroll, Chief Communication Officer Eliza Wing, Director of Communications Mary Louise Madigan and Chief Talent Officer Douglas Dykes.



Dykes is one of the first people to be charged in the criminal investigation, and the recording we publish here could be central to his case. Prosecutors allege that Dykes broke the law – committed theft – by giving Jim Hay, a top executive whom Budish was recruiting, a $15,000 signing bonus. There’s no allegation that Dykes benefitted from what prosecutors say was a crime, and we cannot remember another instance of someone who did not take anything being charged with theft.



In the November 2017 meeting, Dykes sat next to Budish, Triozzi and Jordan – the top three officials in the county at the time – and heard them make vigorous arguments that everything they and Dykes did was legal according to both the county charter and state law. Consider that: The county’s top lawyer argued vehemently, with Dykes at the table, that the administration had full power to determine compensation. Dykes might want to play this recording for the jurors who ultimately consider his case.



The most enlightening part of the recording, however, is the audacity of Budish and his cabinet members as they argue that they are above parts of the law. We now know that they did not have the authority to provide the recruited executive with a signing bonus. (He’s paying it back.) We now know what we argued back then, that the administration is required to adhere to the personnel manual adopted by the County Council. But for a little over an hour in November 2017, one member of the Budish team after another made the case that they could make their own rules.



Another interesting moment comes when Morales argues that unlike in the private sector, salaried workers in the public sector have hourly rates of pay for a good reason. He said governments do this to be accountable to taxpayers, so that taxpayers can rest assured that all county workers are putting in the full hours for which they get paid. Morales says... For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy