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Metroparks golf executive who resigned over resume and travel was on ‘last chance’ agreement: Mark Naymik Reports

Though Sean McHugh was in trouble for misusing his vehicle, how much management scrutinized his logs remains a question, 3News finds

CLEVELAND — Metroparks golf executive Sean McHugh retired abruptly last month after 3News revealed he didn’t have the college degree and another key qualification he used to get the $142,000 a year job.

He also spent time away from the golf courses traveling in his work truck to the Cuyahoga County fairgrounds, where he was a paid member of the board that oversees the fair.

Though McHugh is gone, he left behind a paper trail that reveals he’d been in trouble before.

In 2013, he signed a last-chance employment agreement with the Metroparks, after he was caught using his large work truck to take a child to college in Athens, attend meetings at the fairgrounds, travel to Columbus and run other personal errands.  

That same year, the Ohio Auditor cautioned the Metroparks that unrestricted use of vehicles is ripe for abuse and urged the Metroparks to keep a closer eye on the taxpayer cars and trucks. (State audits routinely find the Metroparks books in excellent order, but the 2013 audit cover letter – known as a management letter – the auditor flagged an employee’s use of a vehicle, though it did not name the employee.)

McHugh’s last chance agreement required him to a keep a log of every trip and stop and that it was subject to review by management.

It’s unclear how often and how hard the Metroparks scrutinized McHugh’s log.

McHugh, in charge of the golf courses since at least 2013, enjoyed a close relationship with Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman, current and former employees say. The Metroparks golf operations – which includes eight courses, including Big Met, generated revenue for the park system, which relies largely on property tax money.

The Metroparks wouldn’t say in what form McHugh kept a detailed log or how often his mileage was verified.

And it did not provide copies of the logs for the two months in 2020 during which 3News showed McHugh spent some time elsewhere in the truck on non-Metroparks business.  

In an email statement, the Metroparks says McHugh certified his travel log annually and paid for personal miles, but acknowledged McHugh was forced before retiring to reimburse taxpayers for undocumented trips in 2020. (You can read the Metroparks full statement below.)

3News also has learned that McHugh was one of handful of top executives outside the police department who drives a vehicle with no Metroparks logos or branding. This makes the cars and trucks difficult for taxpayers to notice outside the park system.

The Metroparks says non-branded vehicles are necessary for “exploring confidential real estate acquisition opportunities and other general park business.”

The Metroparks did not respond to follow-up questions about what other park business necessitates the use of non-branded vehicles and about McHugh’s travel log and review of it.

This post will be updated if the Metroparks responds in more detail  or provides samples of McHugh’s travel logs per his last-chance agreement.

The Metroparks said last month that McHugh was free to come and go as long as he worked 40 hours a week and because he worked early hours at the golf courses. McHugh, however, submitted detailed timesheets – including an accounting of overtime and holiday hours. At times, his timesheets were at conflict with time he was at the county fairgrounds and elsewhere. The Metroparks said he was not paid overtime, but it never explained why his timesheets did not reflect his time more accurately.

Here is the Metroparks statement regarding McHugh’s last-chance agreement and logs.

[Sean McHugh] was provided a take-home, park-owned vehicle for commuting and extensive travel across Cleveland Metroparks eight golf courses seven days per week. Cleveland Metroparks recognizes that there may be a need to use take-home vehicles for personal use upon occasion since the employee does not have access to their personal vehicle. Cleveland Metroparks implemented a procedure requiring any employee assigned a take-home vehicle to track any personal use of the park vehicle and certify and reimburse Cleveland Metroparks at the applicable IRS mileage reimbursement rate on an annual basis. This process is in addition to the imputed income calculation related to commuting with an employer-provided vehicle per IRS requirements. In response to the 2013 Auditor’s management letter, annual certification/reimbursement process began December 1, 2013 and has continued each year after. Sean McHugh adhered to this process on an annual basis.  

 Cleveland Metroparks was recently informed that Sean McHugh utilized his vehicle for personal use in January 2020. Upon review, it was not reported on his 2020 annual certification and Sean was required to provide an additional reimbursement to Cleveland Metroparks prior to effectuating his retirement.

With the exception of police patrol vehicles, we have not historically had a policy that requires all Cleveland Metroparks vehicles to be branded. The majority of Cleveland Metroparks vehicles are branded. However, some are absent of branding based on the use of the vehicle, for example exploring confidential real estate acquisition opportunities and other general park business. 

 In regard to your second request of any complaints against McHugh, there are no responsive documents. Please find attached the 2013 Last Chance Agreement, which is the disciplinary action on file, as well as a portion of the response to the management letter. 

You can read McHugh's last chance agreement below:

Below is the 2013 state audit management letter:

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