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Audit says RTA board member and Mayor Frank Jackson aide Valarie McCall should not have received $57,200 in compensation

A draft of a forthcoming auditor says payments were illegal and should be recovered

CLEVELAND — Ohio Auditor Keith Faber’s office says in a forthcoming audit that the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority should recover $57,200 it paid to longtime board member Valarie McCall, 3News has learned.

Last week, the auditor’s office shared a draft of its 2019 audit of the agency with RTA board members. The audit was discussed in executive session during last week's board meeting, according to the meeting agenda.

McCall, who is Jackson chief of communications and government affairs, is a longtime board member and influential leader, who sits on many community boards, including the tourism bureau (Destination Cleveland) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has also been a past chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and a past president of the board of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). She currently serves as Treasurer of the NOACA board, according to her biography posted on RTA's website.

The draft of the audit says McCall was not entitled to the $400 monthly stipend some board members receive.

Mayor Jackson appointed McCall to the board in 2006 and told RTA at the time in a letter that McCall should not receive any compensation for her duties. The draft audit cites that letter as one of reason for a finding of recovery “issued against” McCall.

McCall, who is paid more than $130,000 a year working for the mayor, didn’t initially take the stipend. But in 2014 she asked then-board President George Dixon and then- RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese for the stipend and back pay.

When her payments become publicly known in 2018, McCall insisted that the RTA told her she needed to take the stipend to be in line with other board members, something RTA officials disputed. Last year, RTA stopped paying her the stipend and referred the matter for investigation.

Dixon resigned in 2018 and later pleaded guilty to theft in office for not paying more than $100,000 in healthcare premiums. Calabrese stepped down and later consulted for RTA. But the draft audit says they and others could be held liable for the repayment since they signed off on McCall’s request.

The transit agency, which has a $286 million budget, is facing a severe loss of revenue. It gets most of its money from a Cuyahoga County sales tax. It also gets income from fares. Both are down because of the covid shutdown. RTA has put some employees on furlough and is considering cutting out raises.

RTA declined to respond to numerous questions about the draft audit and plans to recover the money. McCall also did not respond. But her attorney, Jon Pinney, sent 3News an email on her behalf.

“You are in possession of a preliminary finding stamped “DRAFT” and “CONFIDENTIAL” for a reason,” he said. “Ms. McCall just provided her documents and information to the auditor this week and we look forward to resolving this matter. We have no further comment at this time. Thank you.“

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