From The Plain Dealer Beachwood officials improperly destroyed records showing which municipal workers and City Council members received free pool passes, according to Ohio Auditor Dave Yost's office.
In a Wednesday letter to the city and a resident who had complained about Beachwood's records retention policy, Melissa Crocker, Yost's assistant legal counsel, said the office will examine the city's records retention schedule and the disposal of pool pass logs as part of its next audit.
Read the entire letter below.
Beachwood Law Director Brian Reali said the auditor's ruling simply states the city should review its retention schedule and perhaps clarify some definitions. He said the city already routinely reviews the schedule.
"We respect the opinion of the auditor's office and will study closely his recommendations," Reali told Northeast Ohio Media Group in an email. "As you know, this opinion is just that – an opinion. There is no judgment, award or penalty here."
In July, Reali said council members had been allowed free pool passes as a fringe benefit under a 2000 ordinance, and Mayor Merle Gorden said he occasionally handed out free pool passes to council members who asked for them.
Yet six council members told NEOMG they've never asked for or accepted a free pass to the Beachwood Aquatic Center, at least not for themselves, family members or friends. Some said they gave free pool passes to families facing hardships, businesses or prospective residents. The seventh councilman, Mark Mintz, refused comment.
When NEOMG asked for copies of pool pass logs last month, the city said the records were "transient" and "no longer available."
But Crocker said the city's records retention schedule – a state-approved list of various records and how long the city should keep them – is "deficient" because it fails to mention pool pass records specifically.
The city's schedule defines transient records as telephone messages, calendars, drafts "and other limited documents which serve to convey information of temporary importance in lieu of oral communication." The state defines a transient record as one "whose value is temporary."
Crocker said the pool pass logs "contained information which is greater than transient value, justifying a longer period of retention." The city should revise its records retention schedule "and clearly and comprehensively itemize and define" records with "specific, appropriate retention periods."
Mike Burkons, the Beachwood resident who filed the complaint, told NEOMG he was pleased with the auditor's ruling.
"It was obvious," Burkons said. "You just can't destroy records you don't want the public to have and call them transient."
Burkons said the city had also scrapped records relating to Mayor Merle Gorden's practice of cashing in unused vacation time, a practice council ended earlier this year.
Crocker, in her letter, said Burkons can sue the city for up to $10,000, plus attorney fees, due to the destruction of the records.
Burkons said an attorney has offered to represent him but added that he probably won't sue.
"I've never been in this for financial gain," Burkons said. "I've only done this to change things and they way city officials behave."