CLEVELAND, Ohio – Three years into this first term, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish had awarded so many six-figure salaries, some with controversial signing bonuses or other private-sector-style perks, that cleveland.com asked about the escalating cost of his administration.
At a 2018 meeting with the editorial board, Budish’s $177,000-a-year chief of staff at the time, Sharon Sobol Jordan, defended the salaries and perks, contending they were the only way the administration could attract the top talent needed to effectively run the government.
“A lot of things cannot happen unless the county ups its game and gets the right people and right systems in place,” she said. “Those things cost money.”
Today, much of that talent is gone, including Sobol Jordan. In fact, by our reckoning, only seven of 21 top administrators hired by Budish during his first term will remain on the job as of next month, after the departures of communications chief Eliza Wing and economic development chief Ted Carter.
Even some of the people hired as replacements – or hired as replacements for replacements – are now gone. Not counting interim appointments, Budish is on his third chief of staff, third sheriff, third health and human services director and fourth public safety director.
Here is a rundown of who has stayed and who has left:
Chief of Staff
Sobol Jordan served as Budish’s first chief of staff, with a starting salary of $170,000. She held the job for about three years, during which time Budish allowed her to pursue an MBA at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
In a September 2016 letter of recommendation to the college, Budish stated that the county would pay for Sobol Jordan’s travel to and from Columbus and would treat as county work time all regular activities involved with her degree program.
In February, 2018, Sobol Jordan left the county to run tech start-up, Unify Project.
Budish replaced her with Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken at a salary of $152,000. Leiken quit after nine months, citing health reasons.
Matt Carroll, who has held variety of top-level positions over the years, was interim chief of staff until Budish tapped former county Prosecutor Bill Mason for the job in mid-2019. Mason was hired at a salary of $225,000. His 2021 salary is $234,000.
Bob Triozzi was hired as Budish’s first law director in 2015, at a salary of $165,000. He quit in January 2019 without offering a reason, but said he would seek a role in higher education related to bail reform. His 2019 salary was $175,000.
Triozzi now works for Cleveland State’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, according to the CSU website.
Greg Huth, a former economic development official, replaced Triozzi as law director in May 2019. Huth’s 2021 salary is $158,000.
Human resources chief
Douglas Dykes was hired in early 2016, at a salary of $166,000. He quit in January 2020, when his salary was $176,500.
Dykes spent his last year at the county under felony indictment, accused of illegally converting a $13,500 moving expense for an IT official in 2017 into a $15,000 signing bonus. He resigned days after cleveland.com learned he had surreptitiously repaid more than $10,000 he was accused of stealing, and later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors.
Dykes now works as an HR associate vice president at Cleveland State University.
Budish replaced him in June 2020 with Jesse Drucker, a former HR official at CSU. Drucker’s 2021 salary is $178,500.
Public safety chief
Budish created the position of public safety chief in his first month in office in 2015. He promoted then-Sheriff Frank Bova into the job, at an initial salary of $130,000. Bova was making $135,000-a-year in September 2017, when he quit to take a higher-paying job as MetroHealth’s police chief.
Budish filled the vacancy in June 2018 with Brandy Carney, then-director of the Public Safety and Justice Services Department. After 18 months in the role, Budish in late 2019 moved Carney to another newly created chief position.
The vacancy was filled in February 2020 with Bob Coury — a software company executive who previously served as then-Prosecutor Bill Mason’s first assistant. Coury’s 2021 salary is $127,500.
Information technology chief
Budish also created a new top position for the IT department in 2016: chief information and transformation officer. He hired Scot Rourke for the job, at an annual salary of $204,000.
Two years later, Rourke was named in criminal subpoenas in a contract-steering investigation into IT lawyer Emily McNeeley. As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors dropped felony charges against McNeeley and she pleaded guilty to obstructing official business and dereliction of duty.
Rourke was never charged, but Budish placed him on leave in February 2018, and never allowed him to return to work. Rourke was fired nearly two years later, after council members raised questions about his job status. Rourke later sued and the county settled with him last month for $245,000. Rourke’s LinkedIn profile says he now works for a consulting business in Chagrin Falls.
Rourke’s vacancy has never been filled; lower-ranking IT officials received pay bumps to cover his job duties.
Budish last year began testing a new IT management structure in which two lower-ranking officials — neither subject to council confirmation — run the department, rather than an IT chief, or chief information officer, positions that would require confirmation.
Economic opportunity and growth chief
Budish retained Matt Carroll (former County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s chief of staff) once he took office in 2015 — first as a “special assistant” and later in the newly-created position of chief of economic opportunity and growth. Carroll also served as interim chief of staff and interim health and human services director.
Carroll’s 2015 salary was $148,000. His 2021 salary is $160,800.
Budish tapped Eliza Wing for another newly created job of communications chief in August 2015.
Her last day at the county is expected to be April 15. Going forward, she’ll serve as an advisor for the public relations firm Dix & Eaton.
Wing’s salary grew from $140,000 in 2015 to $158,000 in 2021.
The county is currently searching for a replacement.
Chief innovation officer
After a national search, Budish hired Daro Mott for another newly created job of chief innovation officer in December 2015 at a salary of $140,000.
Mott quit 11 months later, in November 2016, to return to Louisville-Jefferson County metro government, where he worked before he was recruited to Cuyahoga County.
Budish filled the vacancy in December 2017 with Catherine Tkachyk, whose 2021 salary is $151,500.
Dennis Kennedy was hired as fiscal officer in March 2015, at a salary of $130,000. His salary had risen to $158,000 by the time he quit in October 2019 to be finance director for the city of University Heights. His move came with a $48,000 pay cut.
Michael Chambers, previously of the Public Works Department, served as interim director after Kennedy left. Chambers’ appointment was made permanent in February 2020; his 2021 salary is $156,000.
Budish tapped Cliff Pinkney to be sheriff in April 2015 after promoting then-Sheriff Bova to safety chief. Pinkney retired in August 2019, amid fallout from inmate deaths at the jail and a related criminal investigation.
Pinkney’s 2015 salary was $112,000; his 2019 salary was $127,700.
Budish replaced him with interim Sheriff David Schilling, who served in the role for 15 months before retiring in December. Sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Greiner served as another interim sheriff, and was replaced earlier this month permanent Sheriff Chris Viland, whose salary is $129,000.
Health and human services director
This was the last top-level position to be filled after Budish took office. Thomas Pristow was confirmed by County Council in April 2016, overseeing key county departments of Children and Family Services, Job and Family Services, and Senior and Adult Services.
Pristow’s 2016 salary was $149,000; his 2017 salary was $155,000. He quit after 18 months to become deputy commissioner for New Hampshire’s Health and Human Services Department.
Walter Parfejewiec, the long-time county health and human services financial officer, was later confirmed as Pristow’s replacement, but he only served in the role for about 18 months before he was named budget director.
David Merriman, another HHS official, was confirmed as director in mid-2020; his 2021 salary is $140,500.
Public safety and justice services director
In his second month in office, Budish moved Ken Mills, public safety director under FitzGerald, into a newly-created position of jail director at a salary of $117,00. Mills resigned in 2018, and was later charged with dereliction of duty and other offenses related to his oversight of the jail.
Budish initially filled the vacancy with George Taylor, who served in the role for about 15 months, at a salary of about $121,000. Taylor later served as deputy chief of the Sheriff’s Department and interim jail director before retiring in early 2018.
Budish replaced Taylor in 2016 with Brandy Carney, who filled the job for about two years until she was promoted to safety chief in June 2018. (Carney’s 2017 salary for the director job was about $112,000.)
Alex Pellom took over in November 2018; his 2021 salary is $112,500.
Special operations chief
Budish moved then-public safety chief Carney into this newly created position in late 2019.
As special operations chief, Carney was given oversight of the Public Safety Department, money the county received in settlements with opioid manufacturers, and the creation of a diversion center, where mentally ill or addicted crime suspects can be treated rather than jailed.
Carney retained her $130,500-a-year salary when Budish switched her position. Her 2021 salary is $136,000.
Regional collaboration director
Eddy Kraus was Budish’s regionalism director from early 2015 through November 2017, when he was elected mayor of Solon. His 2015 salary was $124,000; his 2017 salary was $130,000.
Michele Pomerantz, whose 2021 salary is $122,000, filled the vacancy in July 2018.
Economic development chief
Ted Carter, whose last day at the county is April 1, started as economic development chief in January 2016, after a year-long national search to fill the position. His salary was $194,000 in 2016, and $214,000 in 2021. He is leaving the job next month to be the city of Baltimore’s deputy mayor for economic development.
Chris Murray was confirmed in April 2015, at an annual salary of $116,000. His 2021 salary is $130,800.
Public Works director
Mike Dever was confirmed in April 2015, at an annual salary of $121,000. His 2021 salary is $145,700.
Thomas Gilson, medical examiner under FitzGerald, continued in the role once Budish took office. His 2015 salary was $238,000. His 2021 salary is $286,000.
Clerk of courts
Nailah Byrd, inspector general under FitzGerald, was named clerk of courts by Budish in February 2015, at a salary of $145,000. Her 2021 salary is $163,000.
Special initiatives director
Nathan Kelly, deputy chief of staff under FitzGerald, served as interim development director for the first year of Budish’s administration. Once Carter was hired, Kelly was named director of special initiatives, a job he held through the end of 2017, when he left to work for real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. His 2017 salary was $124,000.
Sustainability director and consumer affairs directors
Mike Foley was confirmed as sustainability director in March 2015, at a salary of $86,000. His 2021 salary is $97,000.
Sheryl Harris was confirmed as consumer affairs director in September 2015, at a salary of $85,000. Her 2021 salary is $96,000.
Who did we include?
We considered positions that required confirmation by County Council, were formerly-elected positions, or are positions that report to the chief of staff. (Jobs such as budget director, procurement director and division heads in the Department of Health and Human Services, were not included because they did not meet that bar.)
The sustainability and consumer affairs departments are small, but we included the directors because they required County Council confirmation. Excluding these two jobs, only five of Budish’s original top leaders will remain employed by the county as of next month.
The total salary costs, from 2015 through 2021, for Budish’s top-tier officials will be roughly $19.1 million, assuming no replacements for Wing or Carter are hired.
The Budish administration did not respond to a request for comment about this story.
Note: Salary information, dates, job titles and other information obtained through county employment records, council legislation, cleveland.com reporting, and, in a few cases, other news outlets. Most salary increases were due to standard, annual 2% raises, though some top leaders have received additional raises beyond that.
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