Subpoena power for Cuyahoga County Inspector General proposed as charter amendment

May 17, 2018

Subpoena power for Cuyahoga County Inspector General proposed as charter amendment

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and others are pushing for a Cuyahoga County charter amendment that would give the county’s inspector general subpoena powers.

If approved by voters, the amendment also would cement the inspector general’s authority in the charter. The inspector general’s office now derives its authority from an ordinance approved by County Council.

But County Executive Armond Budish, speaking before a Wednesday hearing of the Cuyahoga County Charter Review Commission, said he does not think the proposed amendment is needed.

Discussion of the amendment coincides with a county corruption investigation that Budish has said was triggered in part by the current inspector general, Mark Griffin. Eleven subpoenas naming several top county administrators had been served on the county as of Monday.

The charter review panel is in its final weeks of considering possible charter amendments. The commission must submit proposed charter amendments to County Council by July 1. All amendments would be subject to voter approval.

The inspector general currently has no authority to issue subpoenas. Griffin told commission members on Wednesday that having the ability to subpoena is a critical component of his work — and he was surprised that he lacked that ability when he first took over the job.

“I do believe that an inspector general who is in the building and has his hears open picks up on things, and on his order alone, should be able to snoop,” said Linda Mayer with the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland. 

County Council has subpoena power and can issue one for the inspector general. But that process means that the inspector general would have to disclose sensitive investigative details to council members, who will likely want to know why they are being asked to issue a subpoena, Griffin said.

Councilman Dale Miller said there are three reasons why the amendment is needed:

• It would give the Office of Inspector General more permanence and stability than the office derives from a county ordinance that could at any time be changed by County Council.

“Commitment to high ethical standards remains high and has been reinforced by the current investigation, but it is possible that over time, memory of the scandal that ended the prior government could fade and a future Council could decide that the Inspector General is no longer needed,” he wrote in his proposal to the committee.

• It would make a statement about the county’s commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards.

• It would, with the right language, ensure the inspector general has the powers to do his work effectively.

Budish, however, said the inspector general’s office is working well under the powers granted by the ordinance. He said he believed public outcry would make it impossible for future executives or council members to eliminate or significantly reduce the office’s power.

If council sees fit to grant the inspector general subpoena power, Budish said, that could be done through an ordinance rather than a charter amendment. And, he argued that the county has voluntarily complied with the inspector general’s requests for information thus far.

“The inspector general has, on occasion, expressed to me concern about the timeliness of getting documents (from the county),” Budish said. “I have made sure the documents are available as promptly as humanly possible.”