I-Team uncovers questions about the cost to taxpayers for Cleveland police reform

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CLEVELAND - The Fox 8 I-Team has found new questions about the cost to taxpayers of a federal monitoring group overseeing reforms in the Cleveland Police Department.

Group members earn $250 per hour monitoring changes in the police department as part of a federal consent decree.

For months, Cleveland Councilman Brian Kazy has been analyzing expenses and billing from group members. And now, he’s singling out the records for group leader Matthew Barge.

Kazy says Barge has submitted “billable hours” for work done as part of the monitoring group for every day but two between October and March. That includes Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Day and more.

“A little hard to believe that somebody has spent every single day since October first, since he received the contract, working on the Cleveland consent decree,” the councilman said.

The billing records show work such as “communicate via email and telephone,” “review documents,” “participate in conference call" and more.

“Who’s he talking to? Who’s he communicating with? What are they talking about?”

Previously the I-Team has put a spotlight on inconsistencies in how members of the group bill for their hours. We even saw a bill for $43 sandwiches although Matthew Barge says a private firm paid that tab, not taxpayers.

Barge told the I-Team Friday, he was in Cleveland, but too busy for an on-camera interview.

By phone, he says around the holidays he dealt with a decision in the case of the police shooting of Tamir Rice. No charges against officers. Barge said, “Conversations needed to be had.” He also said, “The police department has serious problems, there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done.”

Barge said that in December, he put in 207 hours, but is only taking pay for 8 hours. He called the rest of the work pro bono or free.

Meantime, Kazy has more questions about the work listed as done for free by all members of the group.

In the end, all of the group’s expenses must be approved by a federal judge. The I-Team called his office, but we have not heard back. Barge says all expenses, so far, have been approved.

Kazy says the group’s work, to this point, has cost taxpayers more than a half-million dollars. Barge says there is a cap the spending cannot go over as this process plays out.

Barge adds the group is getting close to finishing up work on a new police use-of-force policy.