Written by: An Average Citizen
This is our second article dealing with the squabble between the Lake County Judges and the Lake County Clerk of Courts. This is a very important case that may impact the entire State of Ohio. Should the Clerk of Courts be an elected official as a counterbalance to the County Judges and Prosecutor, or should the Clerk of Courts merely be an administrative position, subservient to the whims and edicts of the most powerful positions in the County?
We have been trying to get a better understanding of the Commissioners’ role in running Lake County. In the last primary election, Mr. Morris Beverage III, stated in his campaign literature that being a commissioner is merely a part time job. We do not share that view if the Commissioner is to perform in the best interests of the taxpayers.
Section 303.37 of the Ohio Revised Code provides the powers and duties of an Ohio County Commissioner.
Generally, County commissioners are the general administrative body for county government. They are the county government taxing, budgeting, appropriating, and purchasing authority. A major responsibility is the reviewing, approving, and executing of all County contracts.
Lobbyists for Citizens made several records requests of the Prosecutor, the Commissioners, and Clerk of Courts to try to get to the bottom of how much money has been, and continues to be, spent on the eFiling software systems and aiSmartbench that was referenced in the pleadings filed in the case being considered by the Ohio Supreme Court. Also included in the pleadings is Judge Lucci’s demand that Clerk Andrews reserve $3,000,000 of Title Surplus for a brand-new eFiling system in a couple years!
What we found when the records started to come in was hard to believe. What we found most concerning is what was missing from the records. What did we uncover?
The General Division judges and the former Clerk did go out for bids for the eFiling software system:
The bid opening was scheduled to take place on March 6, 2013.
On July 11, 2013, the General Division judges and the former Clerk cancelled the bidding process:
LFC’s, Brian Massie, asked for clarification on the $ amount threshold for signing contracts for Lake County.
Jim Walsh, the former Court IT Director, attended the July 11, 2013 Commissioners’ Meeting to explain to the Commissioners why the General Division judges and the former Clerk were asking to cancel the bidding process. Mr. Walsh told the Commissioners and the citizens of Lake County that the bids came in higher than anticipated, there would be a slight change in direction, and there should not need to be any new legislation (Resolution) because the “bids” would fall below the required dollar amount threshold requiring a Commissioners’ resolution.
What threshold is Jim Walsh talking about? Let’s take a look at ORC Section 307.86. This section of code comes from Title 3 of the ORC governing Counties and how they function under the law. As we mentioned previously, the Commissioners are the highest level of government at the County level, so they have the signing authority for all contracts regardless of amount. Any contract for goods or services in excess of $50,000 must go out for bid, unless the cost is less than $100,000 AND the commissioners unanimously pass legislation (Resolution) in a public meeting. Still, anything below $50K must be approved by the commissioners, but it does not have to go out for bid.
We concluded from deductive reasoning that ultimately, a contract was signed with Courtview Justice Solutions to purchase the eFiling system because the eFiling system is currently being used by the Clerk of Courts is Courtview. We asked the Commissioners, through an official records, request to provide us with a copy of the contract they signed with Courtview Justice Solutions. Unfortunately, they have been unable to locate that contract. We then sent an official records request to Clerk Andrews. Clerk Andrews was able to provide us with a copy of the signed contract. She mentioned in her email response to us that the contract was missing from her files until she requested and received a copy from the vendor in March 2022. She asked the vendor (Courtview Justice Solutions) for a copy of the contract and this is what they sent to the Clerk of Courts.
At the August 4, 2022 Commissioners meeting this contract was discussed and debated by Prosecutor Coulson. Here is a video presenting Prosecutor Coulson’s viewpoint.
Why wasn’t the Courtview contract in the Commissioners’ files? Why wasn’t the Courtview contract in the Clerk’s files? The reason the Courtview Justice Solutions contract is not in the files is because the nearly $78,000 contract was signed by Jim Walsh on October 15, 2013, almost 3 months to the day that the General Division judges and the former Clerk were requesting cancellation of the bidding process. The cost of the Courtview Justice Solutions contract for eFiling is $28,000 OVER the threshold to require either competitive bidding or, at the very least, a unanimous Resolution from the Commissioners in a public meeting approving the contract with Courtview Justice Solutions. This did not happen.
Did the former Clerk of Courts, Maureen Kelly, who is now running against Mayor Regovich to be a Lake County Commissioner, and the General Division judges know that Jim Walsh signed a contract with Courtview Justice Solutions for nearly $78,000 that he did not have the authority to sign? Jim Walsh says that both the former Clerk and at least one judge knew everything.
In an email dated January 19, 2021 to Clerk Andrews and Chief Deputy, Karen Jividen, with a copy to Clerk Andrews’ brand new Chief of Staff, Colin Connors, Jim Walsh wrote the following p.s., “For what it is worth, all of the original agreements were done with the full participation not only of the Clerk, but also with Judge Lucci’s assistance and involvement.”
Let’s just say, giving them the benefit of the doubt, that the General Division judges did not know. Is ignorance a defense?
Lobbyists for Citizens has found several questionable antics occurring in Lake County government, and we will continue to “pull back to curtain” so that Lake County citizens and our other “friends” can be aware pf these problems.
1. Breach of Contract
What about the breach of the Lake County credit card contract that Clerk Andrews discovered when she came into office that was mentioned in her Annual Report (See https://lobbyistsforcitizens.com/2022/05/18/clerk-faith-andrews-first-year/)? That breach of contract put the County in serious jeopardy from a litigation standpoint.
Clerk Andrews prevented a multi-million-dollar lawsuit from happening…a lawsuit where liability was absolute.
2. Holding Back Taxpayers’ Overpayment of Property Taxes
Lobbyists for Citizens discovered that there were over $5.3 million in taxpayers’ funds held by the Lake County Treasurer’s Office since the 1980’s. The funds were overpayment of property taxes and Ms. Fende and other elected officials, including many Commissioners, either knew or should have known about the funds. Nothing was said by any elected official about the taxpayers’ overpayments because the interest on the funds were deposited in the Lake County General Fund and spent by the Commissioners!
As of August 8, 2022, Treasurer Mike Zuren stated that $393,313.16 (7.4%)have been refunded to the taxpayers. Another $566,040.17 (10.6%) has been identified as not being assignable to any taxpayer and should be given to the General Fund. However, Prosecutor Coulson said that no funds can be given to the General Fund until the entire $5.3 million has been adjudicated.
4. Extracting Excessive Property Taxes from the Lake County Taxpayers
We have made the Lake County Budget Commission aware of, in our opinion, excessive property taxes being collected by the Lake County Crime Lab, and they will meet on August 22nd at 10:00 am to discuss this matter. We are asking for $1million per year be returned to the taxpayers.
Is there a two-tier system of justice in Lake County? Are our elected officials concerned about the average Lake County citizen? You be the Judge!
Stay tuned for our next article about the breach of contract.