Bill Mason has been selected as Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s new chief of staff, Budish’s fourth chief in five years in office. His first official day will be July 15 and he is scheduled to make $225,000 annually, a record salary for the county’s chief of staff.
Mason was the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor beginning in 1999 and was re-elected in 2004 and 2008. After leaving office in 2012, he became a partner at Bricker & Eckler, assisting public sector clients and running the firm’s Cleveland office.
Budish said he selected Mason, a Parma resident, for the job for “many reasons,” including that Mason was involved in the drafting of the county’s charter, which came following the 2008 corruption scandal, with former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and others sentenced to prison time and an overhaul of the county government. The FBI, not Mason’s county prosecutor’s office, investigated the corruption in Cuyahoga County during that scandal.
“Bill understands county government, he’s worked in county government, he has run a large government organization when he was prosecutor,” Budish said. “By all accounts, by the way the office was well run, it was efficient, it was effective and had good morale. That’s a big reason. He was integrally involved – he was one of the key people - in the creation of this county government.
“He worked on the charter, creating the new charter. He certainly understands the way the government is supposed to work. Some of our major priorities right now are right up his alley. He certainly understands the jails, he has worked years in the justice center, which we are looking at what to do with it going forward. He worked with the judges when he was a prosecutor to reduce the number of inmates in the county jail. He was involved in justice reform issues. In terms of economic development and sustainability of our primary areas, Bill also has been very involved. ... He is well-prepared to come in and hit the ground running.”
The county jail will likely be a key focus for Mason; the jail is under investigation by the FBI due to alleged civil rights abuses and a separate state probe has led to indictments against 10 jail employees. Nine inmates have died at the county jail since the beginning of 2018 and Gov. Mike DeWine ordered June 6 that the jail be inspected every 30 days, instead of once every year.
“In terms of the jail, he knows the jail,” Budish said. “He’s been very involved with all kinds of criminal justice issues in the past. He worked well with the judges to reduce the number of inmates in jail, the number of people who were sentenced to the county jail. Which is a key part of our issues at the jail – the overcrowding.”
Mason replaces Matt Carroll, who remains in his role as chief economic growth and opportunity officer at the county. Carroll had been serving as Budish’s interim chief of staff since Earl Leiken, former Shaker Heights mayor, stepped down from the position at the end of 2018 due to a health condition. Leiken himself replaced Sharon Sobol Jordan, who announced Feb. 9, 2018, that she would leave the position to take a job with startup the Unify Project. Sobol Jordan announced she was leaving on the same day the county executive’s office received a subpoena requesting her personnel file and other information. Sobol Jordan has not been charged with any crime, however, three other staff members of the Cuyahoga County Executive’s Office were indicted by the county prosecutor’s office for their roles in a corruption scandal in January. Budish’s office was raided by the FBI in February, though it is not clear if the raid, the subpoenas related to Sobol Jordon or the indictments against staff members are related.
Mason will be paid more than $48,000 more than Sobol Jordan earned as Budish’s chief of staff in 2017, when she earned $176,862, which was more than Budish himself makes at $175,000, a salary decided by the county charter. Budish confirmed Mason’s salary and noted he would not be the highest-paid employee in the county, which is Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson, who earned $238,784 in 2017.
“It’s not strictly who’s worth more, it’s a matter of what it takes to get the person to come to the county government,” Budish said of Mason’s salary. “Bill Mason, in his position, I believe was making substantially more than what I’m paying him. ... I think he’ll be excellent or I wouldn’t have hired him. He was very excited about working for the county. It’s because he is very committed to public service.”