Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden Got Audited, Then Beachwood Kicked the Beehive

"Our job is to find truth, based on evidence, and publish it," Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost posted to his Facebook page Wednesday morning. "There are many things I believe to be true that I cannot prove. Without proof it doesn't go into an audit report." 

Yost was likely responding to comments by the City of Beachwood's Law Director Brian Reali suggesting that Yost could not prove the facts in his 2013 audit of Beachwood, released yesterday.  

That audit found that Mayor Merle Gorden collected $900 in illegal wedding fees and received illegal travel reimbursements in 2013. (The only surprise here is that it took so long for an auditor to actually label Gorden's activities illegal, which they've long been). 

Beachwood officials pouted and cried foul, and Reali kicked the beehive when he said the audit wouldn't withstand a legal challenge. 

Yost disagreed: "When we publish a report, it means that we have the facts — and we're ready to defend it in court if we need to," he wrote.

Sensing which way the wind was blowing perhaps, Gorden decided to pay back the city $2,800 earlier this month, to cover portions of 2013's illegal activity. Reali hinted that Gorden was saving the city big money by not engaging in a costly legal battle with the state.

But the NEOMG's Mark Naymik says Gorden ought to pay back a lot more. Both Naymik and WKYC's Tom Meyer reported that Gorden's been collecting wedding fees totaling more than $9,000 since 2007. And in 2014, while Yost was working on the 2013 audit report, Gorden collected $1,725.  (Trivia tidbit: The city charged a $125 fee for weddings, but enforced a kind of surge pricing model: on weekends, the fee was doubled to $250).   

Beachwood City Council is meanwhile stressing the fact that the audit team has never brought up these issues before, so why should we believe them now?!! As recently as July, 2014, they point out, a team reviewed the facts and determined that there were no matters that required reporting.

"Suddenly, they retracted that position," Council President Fred Goodman wrote to the NEOMG in response to the wedding fee issue. 

County Prosecutor Tim McGinty's office confirmed to Scene that they were reviewing the auditor's report but said nothing more regarding next steps. They wouldn't tell Naymik, either, if the public-corruption team was on the case.  (We certainly hope so).  

Beachwood Law Director Brian Reali didn't immediately respond to a request for comment either, but it doesn't sound like he'll be eager to enforce Yost's ruling retroactively.

All this comes only days after the NEOMG published a salary survey of suburban mayors, highlighting once again the absurd decadence of Merle Gorden's tenure. Gorden's $240,000 in total compensation last year makes him far away the highest-paid public official in the state of Ohio.    
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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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