Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden Scrutinized for Spending
Beachwood suddenly became the center of controversy this summer as Mayor Merle Gorden was criticized for questionable spending, causing BHS students and Beachwood residents to take sides. The publicity started June 6th, when Plain Dealer columnist Mark Naymik criticized Gorden for wasteful spending.
Gorden’s meal expenses were one of the greatest points of contention. Since December 2010, Gorden and local business leaders, city council members and others he dines with have spent $18,000 of taxpayer money, Naymik reported.
“If you look at the expenses, the meals become a very insignificant portion of what we’re doing for the return on the business community that we have here,” Gorden said in an interview with The Beachcomber.
“We have over 2,500 businesses in the City of Beachwood. In the past four to five years, we’ve attracted over 3,000 new employees into Beachwood,” he said.
He added that these meals were only breakfasts and lunches, and dinner or other evening expenses were never charged to the city.
Gorden’s annual base pay of just under $200,000, as reported by Naymik, is also stirring up debate. He also collects retirement payments, pushing his salary over $350,000, according to Plain Dealer reports.
Naymik and those who agree with him see Gorden’s salary – more than any other mayor in Ohio and Gov. John Kasich – as excessive.
Gorden emphasized that city council sets the pay for the mayor, regardless of who fills the position.
“I am not involved at all. I don’t speak to council. They don’t interview me. They don’t ask my opinion of what the salary should be,” Gorden said.
Another point of controversy is the mayor’s practice of cashing out his unused vacation time, which Naymik reported could contribute around $17,000 to his base salary, causing it to reach the near $200,000 mark.
“We’re no different than many governments and many businesses… it’s a benefit, it’s a perk, and whether you use it or not, you receive the buy-out for it.”
Gorden sees the controversy as casting the Beachwood community in a negative light.
“If Beachwood is not considered a premier community, we don’t know what the snowball effect of that will be,” Gorden said.
“The stability of the government, the operation of what we do here, has a direct impact on property values, the school system, and the relationship this government has maintained,” he said.
Gorden urged community members to “speak out” to remedy this image.
Gorden and city council have already taken steps to remedy this image themselves.
Next term, whomever is elected mayor has limits to the amount of vacation time they can cash out, and will get no pay increase from the salary Gorden currently receives.
These measures were passed by city council, upon Gorden’s recommendation.
Gorden told the Cleveland Jewish News additional changes he would make to correct practices perceived as unethical including increasing transparency and giving council more power to review expenses.
Ultimately, voters will determine the outcome of Gorden’s actions this November, when Gorden runs against Brian Linick, currently a city council member.