Cuyahoga County Pays $550,000 to Settle Lawsuit From Fired Budget Director Who Raised Concerns About Jail Safety

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click to enlarge Maggie Keenan speaking at county council - Design by Vince Grzegorek and Sam Allard
Design by Vince Grzegorek and Sam Allard
Maggie Keenan speaking at county council

Cuyahoga County council last night approved a $550,000 settlement in the whistleblower lawsuit filed last year by Maggie Keenan, the former county budget director who was fired in December 2019 by Armond Budish after she raised concerns across a number of departments.

According to the lawsuit, and public records obtained by Scene, Keenan was essentially shunned and retaliated against by Budish and other leaders at the county for doing nothing more than her job.

As we wrote in 2020:

To read the 2019 interactions between Maggie Keenan, Cuyahoga County's terminated director of the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), and the office of Human Resources is to witness the recurring perils competent women face when they work for crabby, substandard men.

Keenan warned county executive Armond Budish and other top leaders about a critical nursing shortage at the jail before the first of eight deaths there in 2018. She was also sharply critical of inexperienced IT leaders, including the subpoenaed director Scot Rouke, who was fired in October after 19 months of unpaid leave. Through 2018, Keenan repeatedly expressed concern that top IT personnel were botching a costly overhaul of the county's IT systems and doing so via a dazzling array of illegal maneuvers.

And she was right.

After both she and former jail nursing director Gary Brack, who was also fired and received a settlement after filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, alerted officials to the inhumane and dangerous conditions at the county jail, nine inmates died. A scathing U.S. Marshals report followed along with a string of lawsuits that has cost the county, so far, $2.36 million. And former jail director Ken Mills was convicted at trial for his role in mismanaging the jail.

Previous IT leaders have either been fired or left, and the enormous, long-delayed, long-problematic overhaul of the county's IT systems is now more than $11 million over budget and behind on seven deadlines.

And Douglas Dykes, the former HR director who Keenan believed had broken the law, resigned amid the county corruption probe before taking a plea on misdemeanor charges.

Roundly respected by her staff, Keenan took her role as budget director seriously.

"It is my responsibility to ensure that agencies, departments and projects are operating within budget," she wrote in a memo to HR during her tenure.

That responsibility and her willingness to serve the public by speaking out when she saw things going awry wasn't smiled upon by Budish.

"This administration doesn't like whistleblowers," Keenan said the day she was fired.

The jail deaths and corruption investigation have been the two marquee headlines of Budish's disastrous two terms in office, an embattled stretch which he announced last month that he will not seek to continue. Unfortunately, with many more lawsuits still ongoing, Cuyahoga County will be dealing with and paying for his legacy long after he's gone.
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