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City of Beachwood Audit Released
Columbus – Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden received improper travel reimbursements and vacation payouts, and also was illegally paid to perform weddings, according to an audit of the city released today by Auditor of State Dave Yost.
“The first rule for public officials is: No financial benefits except your salary,” Auditor Yost said. “In this case, the mayor used weddings as a side business and brought in extra cash through improper vacation payouts and travel reimbursements.”
Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden attended the February 6, 2013 Ohio Municipal League meeting and luncheon in Columbus, which occurred from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. According to the mayor’s calendar, he attended no other events and was reimbursed a total of $509.18 for a two-night hotel stay and three per diems for meals (two half days and one full). City code requires council approval for any trips exceeding $500, and no approval from council was sought nor given.
In March, Mayor Gorden traveled to Columbus for a meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which was scheduled from 1:00-2:00 p.m. He stayed one night in Columbus for this meeting and was reimbursed $270 for the hotel and one full per diem for meals.
Based on the facts, the mayor should have only been reimbursed for at most one night’s stay on February 5, along a half day per diem on the 5th, and a full per diem on the 6th, minus $13 for lunch at the Ohio Municipal League meeting for which the city had already paid. For the February trip, only $269 was allowable, and only the half day per diem of $28 for the March trip was allowable.
A finding for recovery in the amount of $482 was issued against Gorden. He repaid the full amount on March 10, 2015.
For the Ohio Municipal League meeting and luncheon on February 5, 2013, Mayor Gorden traveled to Columbus on February 5, spent the night on the 5th and 6th, and traveled home on the 7th. According to the mayor’s calendar and an Auditor of State request for additional documentation, he conducted no other official city business on February 7. Thus, it appears he was on vacation that day and should have used eight hours of vacation time.
When the mayor traveled to Columbus for his March 13 meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation, his calendar and other information obtained by the Auditor of State’s office shows he spent all day on March 14 driving back to Beachwood from Columbus. He conducted no other official city business and it appears the mayor was on vacation that day and should have used eight hours of vacation time.
The mayor did not use vacation time for February 7 or March 14 and was subsequently paid $1,350 (16 hours at $84.43 per hour) at the end of the year for vacation leave he should have used. A finding for recovery was issued against Mayor Gorden in the amount of $1,350. He repaid the full amount on March 10, 2015.
Mayor Gorden performed nine marriages during the 2013 fiscal year and was compensated a total of $995. On seven occasions, he was paid $125 for each ceremony, and for the remaining two he was paid $0 and $120. Beachwood City Code permits the mayor to receive “gratuities” for performing marriage ceremonies; however, city documentation indicates a “fee” was required to schedule a wedding. The mayor’s office also indicated over the phone that the $125 charge was a “fee” and not a gratuity.
This pattern was consistent over multiple years, as examined by the Auditor of State’s office – further evidence of a “fee,” and not a voluntary gift or gratuity.
The payments of these funds to the mayor were therefore illegal and a finding for recovery was issued against Mayor Gorden in the amount of $995 for the period of the audit. Mayor Gorden repaid the 2013 wedding fees to the City of Beachwood on March 10, 2015.
A full copy of this audit may be accessed online.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,800 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.