Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri has challenged Auditor Frank Gliha's compatibility to serve on the county Board of Revision, which hears taxpayers' complaints on property…
Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri has challenged Auditor Frank Gliha’s compatibility to serve on the county Board of Revision, which hears taxpayers’ complaints on property values.
Prior to Monday’s BOR hearings, Spidalieri presented Gliha with a copy of a letter raising several concerns about his ability to serve on the board because he is a member of the Geauga County Republican Party Central Committee.
“It was brought to my attention that, based on compatibility, through the attorney general’s office, that, if a party is sitting on the board of revision, they cannot sit on the central committee of a political party,” Spidalieri told Gliha.
He referenced a 1965 Ohio Attorney General opinion — which Spidalieri said Tuesday was placed anonymously in an envelope in his mailbox at the board of commissioners offices — stating a member of a county BOR cannot hold a position as a member or officer of any committee of a political party.
“I had that checked out with the prior prosecutor and you cannot sit on a central committee if you were hired by the auditor’s office or the board of revision,” Gliha told Spidalieri. “It doesn’t say anything about an elected official.”
But Spidalieri said the opinion holds it is incompatible for a county auditor, who also serves on a political party’s central committee, to serve on a county BOR.
“I’m not an attorney, I’m not a judge, I’m not a jury, nor will I ever say that I am, but there are some issues that I am concerned about and it affected even my office as commissioner, not once, but twice,” Spidalieri said.
The first time, in July 2012, Gliha voted to appoint then former Commissioner Mary Samide over Walter “Skip” Claypool to fill retiring Commissioner Bill Young’s seat, Spidalieri said. Samide defeated Claypool by one vote.
Then, in November 2013, Claypool again lost an appointment to the board of commissioners at a time when Gliha and Samide both served on the BOR. Claypool lost to current Commissioner Blake Rear by two votes, Spidalieri said.
“My whole thing is we have a duty to the people to be legal, to be correct and ethical, and right,” Spidalieri said. “If we can’t do that, we’ve got to make some changes and we’ve got to make some changes fast.”
He was going to ask Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz to opine on the issue.
Gliha interjected he would welcome the prosecutor’s office addressing the matter.
“I think the best thing we can do is ask the prosecutor to come back with an answer,” he said. “Like I said before, we obviously checked that out before I joined the central committee and we obviously checked that out before I even sat on the board of revision, and both times it was indicated to me that I was fine.”
If the prosecutor’s opinion comes back the positions are not compatible, Spidalieri suggested Gliha either cannot sit on the central committee or he cannot sit on the BOR.
“My whole thing, too, is where do we sit with all of the board of revision hearing that we’ve had, that you have been influential on?” he asked.
Gliha pointed out it is a three-member board and he does not make all of the motions.
“Everybody has made their share of motions on these recommendations that are brought to us,” he said. “Our job on the board of revision is really to help the elderly in this community who come before us all the time and ask us for some form of tax relief.
“That’s what we do, Ralph. We try to help those residents who are asking us for some relief. And we do that by taking their sales that they bring to us. We don’t chase sales.”
Gliha said it is incumbent on a person who buys a piece of property to ensure their tax bill is correct for what they paid for the property.
“If it’s wrong, that’s what this board of revision is all about,” he added.
Spidalieri told Gliha he is “uneasy” with some property valuations Gliha’s office has done.
“I have a situation, personally, that there was an appraisal done on my commercial building and I am not at the point with my political position to move forward to take it to the board of revisions, due to the fact that I don’t want to get accused of utilizing my official position to influence a decision,” he said. “But what it did do for me is it gave me an opportunity, on the other side of the perspective, to be placed in a position that our residents of this county are placed in many times.”
Spidalieri said the valuation done on his commercial property is going to cost him $8,000 per year more than he should be paying based on an incorrect appraisal.
“We need some sort of checks and balances because I can’t make a good decision, in good faith, based on information that we’re getting … when I personally know what I paid for my property, personally know what I invested into my property and personally know the abatement procedures with which Middlefield had put into place for me to do improvements, to take a building and make it create jobs in this county,” he told Gliha. “And, in turn, I got socked with about $400,000 of value that I don’t feel is right.”
While Spidalieri said he is not going to take his case before the BOR, he added he is uncomfortable with the process knowing people’s “livelihood and dollars” are potentially affected by flawed property valuations.
“I just feel that I can’t, in good faith, put my head on the pillow at night if there is a chance that there is something that is not being done accurately and correct, and people are getting charged for this,” he said.
In Spidalieri’s case, Gliha noted he had a “bank sale” he could have brought to the auditor’s office or board before he became a commissioner and it would have been reviewed and probably reduced his tax bill.
“But none of that happened,” he said.
Spidalieri said he understood, but believed there is a duty to look at all the facts, adding in his case, there was a bank sale, therefore, the auditor’s office should have considered that when arriving at a fair value.
“It is incumbent upon the owner to bring that information to our attention,” Gliha replied, reiterating his office does not chase property sales.
He also noted Spidalieri’s property value was lowered to $1.2 million, after which Spidalieri received abatement from Middlefield Village for $425,000 for the “benefit” he added onto his property.
“At that point in time, your property value went back to $1.6 (million),” he said. “That’s how that worked.”
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