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A Fiscal Reconnaissance of Cuyahoga County Veterans Aid Commission


By The Plain Dealer Editorial Board The Plain Dealer

What a positive difference a change in government can make.

Cuyahoga County voters, who overwhelmingly supported the creation of a charter government, should be heartened by the tough stance their new County Council is taking with taxpayer-funded agencies that have until recently operated with little accountability or oversight.

The grilling last week of Daniel Weist, one of five commissioners who are paid $1,000 a month to govern the Veterans Service Commission, was a perfect example.

When asked by Councilman Dave Greenspan how many veterans the agency served, Weist didn't know.

Council members also want to know more about administrative costs that appear to consume more than 50 percent of the commission's $7.5 million budget.

Executive Director Bob Schloendorn, who pulls down $132,000 a year, disputes that figure, and promises to provide council with information that addresses budget concerns as well as the number of veterans assisted -- 7,743 last year.

Council members were troubled to learn that the commission, which exists to help down-on-their-luck veterans with everything from bus tickets to burials, will return about $1.3 million to the county from its 2010 budget. It returns money every year -- a phenomenon almost as unusual, in these financially tight times, as the 8.6 percent raises proposed for commission employees this year.

This is an agency that was excoriated in a 2002 state audit for mismanagement, poor service and a larded staff. Although it receives a set percentage of county property tax revenue each year, and council must approve its budget, the commission is beyond the county's fiscal control. State law guarantees its budget. As Weist pointed out: Council members may question whether the commission is spending its money appropriately, "but they can't change it."

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Administrative and Presiding Judge Nancy Fuerst can. She oversees the appointment of the commissioners.

If the commission is not forthright in addressing council's legitimate concerns, Fuerst needs to demand the accountability, transparency and oversight taxpayers and veterans deserve.

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