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Investigator: Beachwood mayor addresses ethics complaints

5:07 PM, Jul 8, 2013   |    comments
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Earlier this week, a "concerned citizens" group asked State Auditor Dave Yost to investigate Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden's use of taxpayer money.

But it wasn't the first time this year some taxpayers have raised questions about Gorden, who is in his fourth term as Beachwood mayor.

His annual pay, for being the city's mayor and safety director, is  $198,521.

The letter to the auditor follows two complaints filed in the first half of this year with the Ohio Ethics Commission, which allege that Gorden filed "false and/or misleading" financial disclosure statements.

As an elected official, Gorden is required to make those filings with the commission each year.

Complaints to the Ohio Ethics Commission are not public, nor can the commission acknowledge whether it is investigating a public official, said Paul Nick, executive director of the OEC.

Only when a public official is found guilty of ethics violations is that information released, as in the case earlier this year of Mayfield Heights Mayor Gregory Costabile.

Costabile pleaded guilty in January for failing to disclose money he received from companies that had done business with his city.

Costabile ended up resigning as mayor and left office in February. He also was required to pay $15,000 to the ethics commission, which was the amount of money he had failed to report on his disclosure forms.

Channel 3 has received copies of two ethics complaints filed against Gorden, which were sent to Julie Korte, the chief investigative attorney for the ethics commission. The letters are unsigned.

The first complaint, dated Feb. 20, raises questions about the following areas on Gorden's forms from 2009 to 2011:

  • Gorden listed no corporation with which he has a fiduciary relationship, but according to the Secretary of State's office, he is the statutory agent of  "Dodero-Gorden Family, LLC," which was registered in 2005.
  • He listed no investments or creditors (though he had in some previous years), besides a single IRA with State Street Bank & Trust.
  • In 2011, he did not list any food or beverage reimbursements of more than $100, though credit card receipts filed with the city of Beachwood show reimbursements higher than that amount.
  • In 2010 and 2011, he did not list any immediate family members, though he was married and living with his wife, Harriet Gorden. She was mentioned as a family member on the 2009 form.

In an interview Monday, Gorden says that the Ohio Ethics Commission sent him a letter on April 24, which noted that the agency "has received information that is inconsistent" with the information Gorden provided on the financial disclosure forms he filed in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Because of those inconsistencies, the commission was asking him for more information.

Gorden said he had not yet responded to that letter, which contained no deadline, but was working on doing that.

"I am reviewing everything that is on the reports," he said. "I want to do it correctly. They will get it."

What was missing "was pretty basic," Gorden said, including the omission of his wife's name during some years. He also said he would be letting the commission know that the Dodero-Gorden LLC was a trust that he and his sister, whose last name is Dodero, formed when their mother was ill and in long-term care in 2005.

After his mother's death, the trust was inactive, Gorden said, and he forgot about it.

Gorden also addressed the fact that he has only one investment listed, an IRA. It's common for public officials to list a variety of investments and holdings, including real estate and stocks.

"I don't have diverse investments," Gorden said. "I don't play the stock market, I don't invest in companies."

He said the ethics commission letter to him did not ask about food and beverage reimbursements.

Gorden said he was unaware that another ethics complaint letter was filed with the commission on May 21.

It states that the mayor may have filed "false and/or misleading" financial disclosure statements for 2012 because he did not disclose travel expenses for which he was reimbursed by the city.

In the box on the ethics form, he marked an "X" for "I have no sources of travel expenses that I am required to list."

According to minutes from City Council meetings, and the mayor's reports Gorden gave at those meetings, the mayor traveled to Orlando, Fla. and Denver, Colo., on city business. 

The letter to Korte notes that the commission has "the authority and duty to investigate public officials who have filed false or incomplete Financial Disclosure statements. Your prompt attention to this violation is warranted."


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