THE ODOR STENCH* OF CIVIC CORRUPTION

January 5th, 2017

170101-roldo

Cui bono? It’s always been my question: Who benefits? Who pays?

I long ago concluded the answer. The nauseating growth of inequality proves the question and answer appropriate.

The trail of deception in Cleveland has been long and will get longer unless the public demands some accounting. Not likely.

The problem is two-fold. One, we forget what happened yesterday. Too busy living. Second, the people and institutions we depend upon to keep informed are so sensitive to power they don’t even report the carnage, certainly not with the openness required to penetrate the avalanche of bullshit that the media throw at us. The Plain Dealer has become a shell of itself but even in its better days it was fearful when we needed fearlessness. It genuflects to power.

So, I have to do it again and again.

I know it gets repetitious. But bear with me a bit as I go back to make the present seem more understandable. We cannot ignore our past.

“C’mon,” as President Obama says, meaning, “It’s too obvious. You have to know and see what’s happening.”

It’s quite disturbing how the people who hate government so vigorously use it so often to their benefit.

How many know that the Gunds put a $600,000 apartment into what was then the Gund Arena, utilizing their free loges. It was uncertain for a time whether they’d own up and pay the $600,000 cost. They were so used to getting so much free. They did pay because the Gateway chairman at that time, Craig Miller, was honest. What a rarity.

What right did the Gunds have to construct essentially a hotel room for themselves within a public building? It wasn’t in the arena plans. But who cared? They were denied so little, if anything. We still pay extra millions of dollars annually for their cost overruns.

How many know that the team executive office space built for Dick Jacobs a four story building—wasn’t in the stadium plan. It was built, according to then boss Tom Chema because it helped to hide an unsightly ramp from a street view, or at least that’s what he said. Trump-like. Was he only being sarcastic? The lease said the team’s offices would be IN the stadium, “as designated in the final plans.”

The four-story building cost $7-million. We added $900,000 worth of furnishings. At the time Jacobs owned what now is the Key Center. I figured that what he was charging his tenants—$38 a square foot of space—meant we gave Jacobs at the same rate, a gift of some $54 million over 25 years for 5,700 square foot of office space. No rent; no taxes, thank you.

And we are still giving it. Will the news media here ever go after this brand of corruption? You know the answer as well as I.

While people struggle with the everyday pressures of life others can sit back and enjoy what the politicians gift them. To hell with the high Cleveland poverty.

Take the dining and other freebies at Progressive field.

—Two lavish restaurants at Progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field cost $7,526,027. The Terrace Club—$5,155,893. Seats some 900 customers. It was rather exclusive but now it announces it is open to the public. Previously it was open only to $800 a year members on game days.

—At the Q the smaller, classier restaurant (Sammy’s when it began under a former board member) cost taxpayers $2,370,134 and $4.9 million with the bar added. Sin tax payers helped with furnishings of $178,750 and kitchen equipment of $350,000. Seats 323 people. Bon appétit! The Q website says, “We Create Extraordinary Experiences. All The Time. For Everyone.” If you can pay the entrance fees.

—The baseball original scoreboard: $10.3-million, then some $3 million over budget. The newer 13,000 square foot scoreboard TV cost $16-million. Bigger is always better, right? If you’re not paying.

—The Q original scoreboard: $4 million; the second $9.3 million. We always need bigger TVs, even if we’re AT the game. It helps keep the frenzy hype high.

—Locker area cost some $637,000 with $50,000 for each wood locker.

—The weight room cost $240,000; laundry facilities $90,000. You don’t think they take dirty stuff home to wash, do you?

—The Swimexo, allowing swimming against the water, $150,000. And, hair dryers, $20,000. We’re talking about original costs.

As I have mentioned these sports moguls got almost anything they wanted.

—Marble tables for loges. Dick Jacobs wanted them. They cost $2,500 each. Gateway provided at his request 132 at a cost of $330,000 each.

There was a problem.

The company handling the purchase of marble from Lucca, Italy, informed Gateway the marble wasn’t appropriate for coffee tables. The company advised, “… for its specifically physical characteristics, this marble presents some problems.”

It was suggested use of “… a stronger type stone.” We want marble!

So Jacobs wanted marble. Jacobs got marble. To rectify the breakage of marble that providers warned would happen, it cost Gateway an estimated extra $260,000.

When you’re not paying, why worry about a little thing like cost.

For instance, I wrote of Jacobs demand for a special conference room table:

”It includes a custom made 18-foot long, five foot wide, boat shaped ash veneer conference table that would cost, according to a custom wood product maker, as much as $10,000.

Jacobs wasn’t interested in any old conference table. His had to be boat-shaped with inlaid strips of wood to appear as baseball stitching. Not finished he wanted the odious team’s Chief Wahoo inlaid metal logo set in the wood table. He got what he wanted. Why not?

The Gunds had six conference tables. No basketball inlays as far as I know.

Jacobs also ordered via Gateway 13 leather Arpeggio lounge chairs that listed at just under $1,500. What the hell, he wasn’t paying.

And, of course, they couldn’t forget the suck-up Cleveland media—$121,050 for special food accommodation space for the press.

Sometimes I think today’s sport fans go to games to eat and/or to be seen. The actual game is secondary. Or just the excuse to be seen.

Who does this to us?

Pussy cat politicians sit by, vote “yes” to accommodate the elites. They offer no help to RTA to lower transportation costs for ordinary people. In fact, Cleveland closes Superior at Public Square, a costly move to the regional transportation system. But who needs public transit. Let them walk!

We have a weak City Council and a weak County Council.

That’s why they continue the tradition. Dan Gilbert wants new space at $140 million, not counting interest again. And both representative bodies will give it to him.

What will he use it to do? Maybe enlarge space for extra events that will take from other businesses that have to pay their own full freight. And property taxes.

Council President Kevin Kelley takes orders from the mayor on issue after issue. He provides none of what constitutes balanced government—an executive and a legislative division.

We get this sickly political brand here. Since there is no community outcry it will be what we always get. Community institutions sit back, hands under their buttocks. Why should legislators or the mayor worry?

It reminds me of the County Commissioner meeting of May, 1992, when Commissioners Tim Hagan, Bill Petro and Mary Boyle took all of 30 second to pass bond legislation indebting residents $75 million for Gateway. Into the meeting room they came, read the heading of the legislation as normal. Voted. They adjourned immediately. Leaving the few residents open-mouthed. No need for them.

We still are paying on that debt with interest. Indeed, this Jan. 15th the County will make a payment of $8 or $9 million, most from its general fund, on the $75 million in bonds. No public input. No public vote. To this day, little media attention or rebuke. The PD reported the payments once, at my behest.

So much slides by watchdogs.

At another County meeting (on Christmas Eve morning at that!), after two hours of gabbing by Gateway honchos, Boyle tried to cut off further discussion. Maybe we could schedule another meeting; she told the few citizens who made the holiday trip downtown. That any of the public came on this day apparently didn’t move the Commissioners.

“Let’s do this. Let’s take 20 minutes… that’s as far as we go today,” she said, and come back in two weeks. Such is the treatment by our most liberal politicians.

How Democratic! With the capital D.

Even the Pee Dee took note of this 30 second farce. Local TV news is so pathetic you couldn’t find the critical words to describe its competence.

Why did they do it? Because they could. They walked in, voted quickly, and closed the meeting just as abruptly.

This up-your-ass attitude toward the public certainly helped encourage less intelligent officials as Jimmy Dimora or Frank Russo to think they could get away with anything. Anything goes seemed to be the era’s motto in Cleveland.

This is what community decay is all about.

It was a pattern of anything goes, much as the civic attitude is today among the intelligentsia.

There was another similar meeting about Gateway. The meeting had been stacked with construction workers, who, of course, favor building anything. Even a guillotine or two would be okay for many of them.

As soon as it came time for the few public attendees to speak, Hagan, pompous as always, arose and called out to the workers, C’mon, let’s have coffee in my office, and pied piper-like led them out with an intended thumb of the nose to the public.

The sports teams have always been treated too well. I wish that LeBron James (three year Cavs contact—$100 million) could be as truthful and disapproving about where his and other sports stars money comes from as he is on other unfair issues. James also makes tens of millions on endorsements. He needs an arena for that. He didn’t build it. We did. Not his money. Ours.

In the same issue of Point Of Viəw that I recorded the 30 second meeting I reported what Art Modell paid for renting the old stadium: $703,000 and received more than $7 million in income.

Today, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam pays a flat $250,000, never to increase over the 30-year length of the lease. The Indians in 1991—25 years ago—paid Modell to use the old stadium and facilities $628,000, which was high and a reason the team owner wanted his own stadium. We gave it to new owner Dick Jacobs. In today’s dollars, he would have paid more than $1 million.

Advertising in that old stadium that year brought in $1,389,000. Can you imagine what the teams take in from the three sports facilities today? Not a cent of it is reported to the public. Nor shared with the paying taxpayer.

Or the substantial TV money. The NBA pulls in $24 billion a year. But poor Cleveland and Cuyahoga tax payers have to further fund Gilbert and his arena.

Can someone tell me why? Can someone explain the public silence?

It’s so pathetic no sane person would believe it could happen.

That’s how in the dark we are and why the debt we pay is so high.

Now, of course, they want tens of millions more. Why? Because they can extort t it and two elected councils—one in the city, one in the county—will gladly give them your tax money.

However, even the PD senior water carrier for the elites, Brent Larkin, took a solid swipe at Gilbert, saying he should pay the entire $140 million revenue. Even Crain’s Cleveland editorially questioned the deal.

That kind of media mind change doesn’t come out of thin air.

At the same time RTA’s board shoved the $14-million give-back I mentioned in the last post right into Mayor Frank Jackson’s lap. Jackson appoints four members of the board, including Chairman George Dixon and Valarie McCall, his chief of government affairs. Jackson has four appointees, while no other entity has more than three on the 10-member board.

I’d say something unusual is going on here and not beneficial to Jackson.

The RTA board took an unusual step on its own. It goes beyond the normal cautious behavior of our local politics. Why is the question to be answered.

Happy New Year! You know that won’t happen this 2017.

By Roldo Bartimole…

*Roldo wrote the headline as The Odor Of Civic Corruption. I thought that Stench works better, JH

3 Responses to “THE ODOR STENCH* OF CIVIC CORRUPTION”

  1. Richard DeColibus says:

    What seems particularly sad is the lack of up-and-coming leadership at any level of local government. Your comments are both accurate and timely but, like you say, nobody seems to care, and I don’t understand that. I now live in Lorain County so much of this financial nonsense doesn’t affect me. However, bad government anywhere affects everyone eventually because it demonstrates a model of what can be done without consequences.

    RD

  2. MFiala says:

    ‘Cui bono?”Who benefits’ is also the fundamental question that opens and closes (as well animates) Dan Kerr’s book, Derelict Paradise, Homelessness And Urban Development in Cleveland Ohio.

    He details the major groups that benefit from ‘homelessness,’ as bizarre as that sounds.
    How can that be? The city and Cleveland and all its minions .. How they be benefitting?
    That alone should strike people …

    Also, one MUST listen to Dan’s presentation at Columbia university on how (the method) he used in his research. It’s equal to the content he presents.

    (Herein lies where the uprising/movement for change will come from.)

    And, one MUST listen to the WCPN broadcast as well (especially Mitsi’s phone call asking & stating .. ‘I never imagined this could be!!!!)

    And, Finally, one MUST ACT on this. There is the ground of a movement …. I hear it …. and see it.

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