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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2004

The easy way for Kest

THE essential facts of Ray Kest's misuse of taxpayer funds have been known for more than a year. Now state Auditor Betty Montgomery has added her official stamp with a finding for recovery against the Lucas County treasurer for $16,886.

That's the amount of public money Mr. Kest spent on his personal quest for a doctoral degree at Cleveland State University, a story The Blade broke in August, 2003. It includes more than $14,000 for tuition, books, and hotel rooms for himself, and more than $2,500 he was reimbursed for mileage driving to and from classes in Cleveland.

The exclamation point in the investigation should be coming soon from Mark Mulligan, the special prosecutor assigned to look into possible criminal charges. Mr. Mulligan is talking to Mr. Kest's lawyer about a deal that could include the treasurer's resignation and repayment of the improperly spent funds, leveraged by the threat of a grand jury indictment.

Mr. Kest, who has less than a year remaining on his term, should take the relatively easy way out: Pay back the money and resign. Either that, or the veteran Democratic officeholder might be adding an inmate number to his resume.

Resignation would allow the winner of the Nov. 2 election to assume office quickly and start the process of restoring integrity to a county operation that, aside from Mr. Kest's well-documented personal and public failings, has been run reasonably well.

The problem is that Ray Kest seldom does anything the easy way. Instead of admitting he misspent public money from a fund earmarked for collection of delinquent taxes, as the state auditor has now affirmed, he has continued to insist he did nothing wrong.

The latest example of the delusion that has overtaken Mr. Kest is the recent radio commercial in which he defends the illegal spending as important to local economic development. Another is the fact that Ray Kest, CPA is now Ray Kest, MIA. He never seems to be around.

When employees of the state auditor's office wanted to ask Mr. Kest his side of the tuition story for official purposes, they couldn't get hold of him. We suspect that he is spending more and more time in Florida, where he apparently runs a mortgage broker's business.

If that is the case, he is drawing his $65,000 salary as county treasurer under false pretenses.

Mr. Kest's misuse of tax money is no mere difference of opinion between him and the state auditor. It's a matter of ethics as well as law. Only someone with a peculiarly devious mind could have come up with such an audacious way to abuse the public trust.

Mr. Kest's term does not expire until next September, but the public would be best served if he vacated his office now, or as soon as results from the Nov. 2 election are known, to give the new treasurer a head start on cleaning up a sorry situation.

Go ahead, Ray, do it the easy way for once.



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