William B. Schatz served for 29 years as legal counsel for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, playing a lead role at an agency that has spent nearly $2 billion of your money, affects how clean your drinking water is and helps determine where Clevelanders settle in the suburbs.
On Wednesday, The Plain Dealer asked Schatz about several possible conflicts involving contractors, board members, a former labor leader and a sewer district easement that runs through a landfill owned by one of his private clients.In his private practice, court records show that Schatz has represented:
- At least four contractors who have done business with the sewer district.
- A sewer board member in between terms of serving as Schatz's boss at the sewer district.
- A former labor organizer who represented security guards who protect the sewer district headquarters.
- all sitting sewer board members at the time.
Schatz reports only to the sewer district's seven-member board of trustees, which represents more than 1 million people in Cleveland and 59 suburbs in Cuyahoga and Summit counties.He was appointed by the board in 1978 with no contract. More....
William Schatz, who as legal counsel for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, was one of the area's least known -- but most powerful -- public officials, abruptly announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.
His decision came just two days after after The Plain Dealer raised questions about possible conflicts of interest between Schatz' $160,000-a-year tax-payer funded job with the sewer district and his private legal work.On Wednesday, The Plain Dealer had asked Schatz about a several possible conflicts involving contractors, board members and a sewer district easement that runs through a Cuyahoga Heights landfill owned by one of his private clients.
Schatz said he didn't learn of the easement until late last year when a landslide at the landfill crushed an 80-year-old sewer pipe. Repairs could cost $6 million, sewer officials have said.
But sewer district board member Gary Starr, mayor of Middleburg Heights, confronted Schatz during a board meeting, showing him a copy of an easement renewal approved by Schatz's office in 2005. The easement, a limited right to use another's property, runs right through the landfill of the property owner who Schatz had represented in a civil matter at the time.
"It's a clear violation of the public's trust," Starr said. "You cannot serve two masters."The sewer district paid Schatz's client $51,000 for the easement renewal.
"I never foresaw the conflict" Schatz said Wednesday. "I still don't see a conflict."Schatz refused to discuss the matter in the public meeting and the board adjourned to a closed-door session where Schatz suddenly announced his retirement, according to Starr and Trustee Thomas Longo, mayor of Garfield Heights.