May 1st, 2017

The really gross crime of Barbara Byrd Bennett wasn’t that she was brazenly stealing, even from school children, but the trail of supposedly high-standard people and institutions she dragged along with her. Or that accompanied her knowing what they were supporting. Indeed, subsidizing her and her games.

That’s not in the trial record.

And how often it happens in this town and so many others reveals our civic corruption. It’s really festering here.

Leeches, aided by the Presentable People and their Respected Institutions, abound here.

Our “leaders” knew the real quality of Barbara Byrd Bennett. They had to. But she was doing their bidding. Effectively.

Her specialness was hinted when she showed up here in 1998 and didn’t take the title of Superintendent of Schools. No, she was above that. Mayor Michael White knew what he had and she took the title CEO, a corporate title. Appropriately.

It fit what he and the corporate/foundation gang wanted.

They soon dismissed elected boards of education. Can anyone recite the names of the school board’s members now?

But BBB had confidence in their dishonesty. So much so that she apparently thought she could simply get away with what has now put her in jail for four-and-a-half years on corruption charges in Chicago for steering some $20-million to a former employee. She got away easy.

But the signs were always there that everything wasn’t on the up and up.

Again, let’s go back to the history book and what I wrote about BBB a long time ago. When she got petty cash funds from our leaders.

The real problem with the high spending from a special fund by Cleveland CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett wasn’t totally about what she extravagantly spent. More important was where she got the dough.

(Who pays usually rules. We can all understand that.)

Although distasteful, the fancy dinners and trips to London and Hawaii were peanuts in comparison with the cost incurred by Cleveland schoolchildren by Byrd Bennett’s co-opting by Cleveland’s Corporate Club. She’s been pampered (fed money to entertain herself and others) by the Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation and Cleveland Tomorrow (so discredited that it recently changed its name to Greater Cleveland Partnership).

They gave her dough to do this fancy stuff so that it wouldn’t come from public funds, thus likely to be revealed in a school system now run essentially as a private club for its hierarchy, including its mayoral-named school board.

Byrd Bennett, a $300,000 wonder, complains that she wasn’t cavorting on the taxpayer’s dime. Actually worse—the money she’s taking came from those who siphon off gobs of taxpayer’s money—particularly from Cleveland schools—every chance they get to pocket it. Tax abatements, exemptions and reductions on property taxes (that’s) their game. (Even BBB took a tax abatement of $127,000, meaning she didn’t even contribute to her $278,000 salary.)

The Biggies also rewarded her with a “sweet sinecure,” as I described it, at Cleveland State University after her CEO gave out. And her daughter got a slot at Squire, Sanders, which wrote the original state tax abatement law.

Good things come to people who are good to those who do so much “good.”

New York Times legendary columnist Walter Lippmann divided society into two sphere—so befitting Cleveland—the “responsible men” (the corporates) and the “bewildered herd,” the rest of us.

Others paid the cost of Mayor White’s choice of Barbara Byrd Bennett. White hated Cleveland teachers and maligned them with lies. He called them “lunatics,” and falsely charged they made so much money they drove “Lexuses.”

I found it amusing and predictable at that time that the Plain Dealer, as usual, went to the perpetrators of the crime for comment. David Abbott, head of the Gund Foundation, told the PD naturally that the private funding of Byrd Bennett’s activities would be more appropriately funded by him than the schools. (And Sam Miller, one of the top property tax fund raiders.)

Why should the PD go to the very people who plied her with money to ask if appropriate?

Wouldn’t the likely answer—the only answer—be she’s wonderful, a keeper?

And when she went to Chicago, the scene of her crime verdict, PD‘s Brent Larkin traveled to sing her praise.

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired her, according to Larkin, “She didn’t exactly jump at the chance.”

What, lose such a prize?

By Roldo Bartimole…

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