Mark Puente, The Plain Dealer


Cuyahoga County officials Thursday ousted the top administrator of the office that hears taxpayer appeals of property assessments, saying they are angry about the poor work habits of workers in the office.

In addition to reassigning Robert Chambers, the $65,000-a-year administrator of the county boards of revision, to a job in the county auditor’s appraisal unit, the officials sent Chamber’s office manager and a clerk to other county jobs. All three workers will maintain their salaries.

Also Thursday, Sheriff Bob Reid announced the expansion of his criminal probe of the work habits of two board of revision members and will now look at all 12 members of the county’s four boards. Reid said he decided to expand the probe because of stories in The Plain Dealer showing that some board members did not appear to be in the office full-time.

One board member admitted to the Plain Dealer last week that he had worked a part-time job on county time for years. He resigned Monday.

Thursday’s changes were announced by county commissioners, Auditor Frank Russo and a representative of Treasurer Jim Rokakis, who gathered to consider how to reform the boards of revision. The boards serve a vital government function: considering challenges to the assessed values of homes, businesses and other property by people seeking to lower their taxes. Board decisions can save taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Rather than replace Chambers with another full-time administrator, the commissioners, auditor and treasurer appointed a three-member committee to share supervision of the boards of revision. One of the first goals of the three appointees will be creating office policies that remove potential for abuse or fraud and ensure that staff members work the hours for which they are paid.

Another goal is to eliminate a backlog of thousands of taxpayers appeals, said Marty Murphy, the commissioners’ representative in the trio.

“We’re going to be living in there,” he said.

Taxpayers have flooded the board with appeals over the past few years, a reaction to the collapse in housing values in Northeast Ohio. Because of the backlog, taxpayers can wait as long as a year for hearings on their appeals.

The boards of revision scandal comes amid a corruption investigation by federal officials that has shaken the faith of Northeast Ohio residents in county government. The probe became public a little over two years ago with raids on the homes and offices of Russo and Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Neither man has been charged, and both have denied wrongdoing.

Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones seemed agitated Thursday that additional county workers are drawing scrutiny.

“But that’s par for the course for the last two years here,” he said.

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