The day before the public learned on Aug. 23 that Ray Kest was using taxpayer dollars to fund his college expenses at Cleveland State University, the Lucas County treasurer wrote out a $100 check to pay for an unspecified number of personal calls on his county-issued cellular telephone, according to records obtained yesterday by The Blade.
Records show the county received that check from Mr. Kest on Aug. 22, the day before The Blade ran a front-page story about how Mr. Kest was using a fund dedicated to the collection of delinquent property taxes to pay for many of his Cleveland State expenses.
The following Monday, Aug. 25, the county received checks totaling $200 from Mr. Kest and his employees for “phone calls made in the Lucas County treasurer's office.” Half of that $200 came from Mr. Kest. The other $100 included $50 from John Irish, deputy treasurer; $25 from Domenic Montalto, tax collector; and $25 from Greg Shank, internal auditor, records show.
Mr. Kest did not return messages left on his cellular telephone yesterday seeking comment.
His attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, said he had not talked to Mr. Kest about the reimbursements and could only assume the checks cover what has been owed the county for personal phone calls.
The attorney said it would be a stretch to view the timing of the payments as anything other than coincidental.
The payments may have been the first in nearly 21/2 years. Records show the county received $370 for phone calls on March 14, 2001, from people affiliated with Mr. Kest. The breakdown for those payments included $200 from Mr. Kest's mayoral campaign, $75 from Mr. Irish, $40 from Mr. Shank, $25 from Cathleen Tillman, and $20 from Mr. Montalto. It was not immediately known if other payments have been made since that date.
A review of Mr. Kest's monthly cellular telephone records show numerous out-of-state calls, mostly to Florida, since 2001. Numerous bills were in the $100 to $200 range, depending largely on roaming charges outside the Toledo area. A few were between $250 and $400.
Multiple calls were placed to Cleveland, Sandusky, Dayton, Franklin, Ohio, and other Ohio cities. Mr. Wittenberg said he did not know how many of those, as well as how many of Mr. Kest's local calls, were personal and how many related to county business.
He also said he did not know details of his client's roaming charges. Cities in which roaming charges were incurred by Mr. Kest's cell phone account since 2001 include New York; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; San Diego; Columbus; Atlanta; Nassau the Bahamas; Jersey City, N.J.; Cleveland; and Akron. Calls to Florida include the cities of Fort Myers, Sebring, Tampa, Miami, and Naples. Also, included were the Michigan cities of Lansing, Traverse City, Three Rivers, and Ithaca.
Ed Ciecka, county administrator, said Mr. Kest and other directors can establish their own county office policies for personal calls.
Reimbursements are essentially done on the honor system, according to Mr. Ciecka, who said he is not aware of any county office that has a hard-and-fast rule for making the payments by a certain date.
County phones are intended strictly for county use. Occasional, incidental use of a cell or office phone for personal use - such as calling a spouse when running late - is usually considered acceptable.
Some officials believe that establishing a formal program for reimbursements would cause personal use of county phones to increase, not decline. “If you set up a reimbursement system, you're telling employees it's OK to use the phones for personal business,” Mr. Ciecka said.