The mayor says Judge Bernard just doesn't like what he's hearing from the state auditor.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- Judge Michael Bernard wants the state auditor's office to eliminate his court from the city's performance audit report.
The audit, released Thursday, recommends the court reduce its staff the equivalent of 41/2 employees from 16 and calls attention to high operating costs per case.
The judge questions the validity of the audit and the methods used to come to its conclusions regarding the court.
Judge Bernard calls attention to a Jan. 28 letter to Nathan J. Mortimer, assistant senior deputy auditor, in which he calls for the court be excluded from the audit.
At the time he wrote the letter, the judge had a draft copy of the audit, which makes about 40 recommendations to get the debt-ridden city out of the fiscal emergency imposed in August by state Auditor Jim Petro.
What was recommended: The audit recommends that 41/2 employees, including two part-time bailiffs assigned to security, be laid off by the court.
Each case costs $34 to process, compared with similar communities, such as $29 in Circleville and $21 in Defiance.
Kim Norris, Petro's spokeswoman, said the audit contains recommendations only.
Judge's points: In his letter to Mortimer, Judge Bernard contends the audit was not a performance audit, but rather Mayor James Melfi's fiscal recovery plan. The mayor has been calling on the judge to reduce staff and operating costs.
The judge wrote that as such it's designed to justify laying off court employees and not measuring their performance.
"The criteria should be based upon productivity and efficiency," the judge wrote.
The mayor has not submitted his fiscal recovery plan to city council and the state oversight commission appointed to watch spending has given him two additional months to complete it.
"An understaffed court cannot enforce its orders and therefore cannot collect its fines and costs," Judge Bernard wrote.
Melfi characterized the judge's letter as being completed by "independent professionals."
"It said things he [the judge] didn't want to hear," Melfi said of the audit. "That's a problem for him."
Kathleen O'Connell Sauline, D-2nd, chairwoman of council's finance committee, said that if the judge doesn't want to institute the audit recommendations, he can offer an alternative plan to reduce costs.
Melfi said his plan will parallel what the performance audit recommends.