Sunday, November 28, 2010

Frank Russo's campaign donors got big tax breaks

With Gabriel Baird and Mark Puente

Many of the people who contributed to former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo's election campaigns also went to his office in search of tax breaks -- and got them.

They received hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars off their tax bills thanks to reduced property valuations, a Plain Dealer analysis of campaign-finance reports and county records has found.

At least 359 of Russo's campaign donors received reductions, saving them or their business interests more than $1.8 million in property taxes, according to the findings.

Nearly half of Russo's most generous supporters, who contributed $1,000 or more between 2003 and 2009, have received discounts. Scores of other cases are still pending.
This contrasts with fewer than 10 percent of properties countywide that received reductions during that period.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Personnel moves peel away at former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo's patronage hires

With Gabriel Baird

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- By cleaning house Thursday, Cuyahoga County Auditor Dave Reines began peeling away at a payroll loaded with patronage hires.

Many of the political cronies of Frank Russo, Reines' disgraced predecessor, remain.

But at least half of the 22 positions that are being eliminated belonged to people with close ties to the corrupt former auditor or to other leaders in the Democratic machine he helped build.

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Cuyahoga County Executive-elect Ed FitzGerald announces shake-up at county auditor's office

With Gabriel Baird

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Executive-elect Ed FitzGerald announced a major shakeup Thursday at the scandal-plagued county Auditor's Office, including the elimination of nearly two dozen positions created by former Auditor Frank Russo.

FitzGerald also said he has asked for resignations from all members of the county's boards of revision, the panels that hear taxpayer challenges to property values. Board members who refuse to resign by Jan. 1 will be fired, he said at a morning meeting with Plain Dealer reporters and editors and at an afternoon news conference.

The announcements came after a months-long Plain Dealer investigation detailing how the boards routinely violated state law and county policies, raising questions about the legitimacy of decisions that erased hundreds of millions of dollars of property values.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis ignores new hiring guidelines with board of revision appointments

With Gabriel Baird

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis ignored new hiring guidelines for the county's beleaguered boards of revision this month by directly appointing two people, including a former political colleague, to $58,000-a-year jobs.

Helen K. Smith, who served with Rokakis on Cleveland City Council, and Steven Billington, who worked on the treasurer's foreclosure-prevention effort, started Nov. 1 as hearing officers.

Neither was screened by a county human resources department, which has the authority to review applicants for the positions under a plan Rokakis and others approved in September. Had the two been vetted, officials would have found that at least one did not meet a key qualification.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald wins historic race for Cuyahoga County executive

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald won the keys to Cuyahoga County's new government and preserved the local Democratic Party's stronghold Tuesday evening with a solid win over former State Rep. Matt Dolan.

With all 1,068 precincts reporting, FitzGerald beat Dolan, a Republican lawyer from Chagrin Falls, 45 percent to 31 percent in the race to be the first county executive.

The victory propels FitzGerald, an ambitious young mayor with a textbook knowledge of politics, into a job many believe will be second only to the governor in terms of power and constituency. It also revives Greater Cleveland's Democratic machine in a year many thought it would collapse under the weight of the largest public corruption scandal in county history.

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