January 7th, 2018

It was quite a show with thousands braving frigid Lake Erie weather to celebrate (berate?) (castigate?) (deflate?) their Cleveland Browns on a far below freezing Saturday.

To get that many people out under those circumstances certainly places Browns fans among the most fanatical, or hapless of sports fans.

They were (protesting, celebrating) you pick the word—a victory-less season with 16 losses.

What was laudatory was that the crowd—estimated about 3,000—used the opportunity not only to have fun but the collect a tidy sum that will go to help feed those in need.

I noticed another piece in the Pee Dee that said the Browns give millions in charity. I’d like to see proof of that because I think that’s promotion talk, not real dollars from the likes of cheating Jim Haslam.

I do know that Haslam escapes any property tax on the heavily publicly subsidized stadium from which he takes most if not all receipts.

The last time I looked (2014)—because the Pee Dee, protector of the privileged doesn’t—Haslam, whose company robbed common truck drivers of millions of dollars, was freed of paying $9.5 million in property taxes on a stadium worth some $275 million.

Even worse—and something that deserves a real SHAME PARADE—$5.8 million of that comes directly from the Cleveland school system.

That’s thanks to former Mayor Michael White and former County Commissioner Tim Hagan. They did the dirty work of lobbying for the tax gift after promising they wouldn’t when they pushed the sin tax, which has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from County residents.

You may notice in the below issue of a newsletter I wrote for 32 years the names of Diane Downing, stadium project director for White, and Fred Nance of Squires Sanders, White’s personal lawyer and his lawyer on the stadium deal.

Both later went to work for the Browns, after helping to heap million of dollars on their future employer. I guess our legal beagles were too busy checking Jimmy Dimora’s sexual adventures.

Please see the below from 1998 and think twice about a season ticket:


FROM Point Of Viəw—VOLUME 31 NO. 5—November 1998

While A1 Lerner and Carmen Policy continue their dog and pony show, taking bows before the obliging TV news cameras with every new hire, the indications are that the cost of the new lakefront stadium continues to rise far above the original $220 million price tag.

Mayor Michael White told us some time ago that he wanted to drive this sucker to an on time and on budget schedule. The on budget is now far from achievement and the on time—despite the almost perfect work weather on the lakefron—will be difficult to achieve and thus more and more costly to bring home.

The stadium started with promises of a $220 million construction cost.

By the time the 73,000 seat stadium got to the drawing boards the cost was $247 million.

The White administration now says the cost is at $279 million.

But information given to Council last week showed a financial cost of $315 million, if you take the White administration figures, $341 million if you take the figures provided by City Council s consultants, the Sunrise Group.

One of the differences in the two figures is some $20 million attributed to the new owner, Al Lerner.

In the agreement with the city, the White administration and Lerner have contracted in a supplemental agreement that provides a $3,850,000 contribution from Lerner for an enhanced scoreboard; another $5,152,500 for other enhancement costs as projected by the construction manager; another $6 million contribution to meet added construction costs; and another $5-million, a contingency that will be paid by Lerner if the construction cost goes over $283 million to $293 million.

The agreement lets Lerner and the National Football League (NFL) off the hook on any costs over $293 million. The city assumes, by the agreement, all costs over the $293 million figure.

But Lerner, the billionaire, isn’t cold hearted. He stipulates in the agreement that he will attempt to negotiate a loan from himself to the city. Council, despite its probing, couldn’t find out what the interest rate might be. Mike Polensek wondered aloud how he could go back to his neighborhood and explain why the city had to borrow money from a guy you just have the whole hog to?”

Fred Nance s response was that this city as a whole -Council and administration -obligated ourselves to pay whatever it takes to finish this stadium… He didn’t tell Council that he, as the chief negotiator, was also the chief obligator.

Council also was reminded again and again by White s legal consultant Fred Nance of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, that City Council had authorized the city, by its passage of the legislation authorizing the stadium, to make these additional arrangements.

You signed off through the legislation you approved in 1996. I could show you the specific provision if you would like…The answer is (ordinance) 303-96, specifically Section 12 B… Nance responded to Joe Zone s question whether Council had signed off on the Lerner deal.

In other words, Nance stuffed it right back into Council s face every time one of its members attempted to object to this added arrangement made by White with Lerner without the consultation of Council.

Council passed the legislation, Nance would say, citing Ordinance 303-96 in his best Gotcha tones.

The ordinance gives the administration the right to enter into agreements with the NFL, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Development Partnership (Cleveland Tomorrow), the Port Authority and other entities for financing and constructing the stadium. (The material suggested that the three taxes—8 percent on parking, $2 a transaction for car rental and 2 percent increase in city admission tax—brought in some $33 million thus far.

The stadium will be tax exempt also, an added government cost in perpetuity.)

In other words, Mike White can do what the hell he wants and Fred Nance will tell you so any time you want to hear about it. With a smile. Or is it a smirk?

Council had arranged the meeting, after a long lapse of scrutiny, to examine the finances of the stadium project. Although three committees -finance, public parks, recreation and properties and city planning—four members were at the table when the meeting began, a half-hour late. The four were Pat Britt, Jay Westbrook, Joe Zone and Craig Willis, chair of public parks, who chaired the joint session.

Throughout the meeting it was rare that more than four or five Council members were in attendance of the 16 members on the three committees. The apparent dislike of this Council to work for the $50,000 salary members earn is truly scandalous. Westbrook s political weakness has insured that he would put no pressure on any member who isn’t pulling his or her share of work.

The laziness may not have mattered anyway. Ed Rybka, one of the more serious legislators, admitted later that he didn’t know what questions to ask about this serious matter. There had been no previous briefing of the material by the city s consultants.

The Council, despite high-cost consultants, appears to be mostly in the dark about the stadium project.

Indeed, Fannie Lewis brought the session—three hours later—to a gavel-banging conclusion. She didn’t have the gavel but Chairman Willis objected to her charges. Lewis, who often can waste a lot of committee time, asked why the Council didn’t use its consultants but rather allowed the meeting to be conducted by administration officials, with the consultants simply responding to their analysis.

Lewis asked Willis why he was carrying the bath water for Mayor White. Willis objected, cautioning her to observe the rules of decorum toward colleagues. Lewis instead wanted to know if Willis wanted her to explain why he was carrying the bath water. She d tell him.
Maybe if the mayor did for me what he did for you (a legal opinion on his two residences that allowed Willis to continue in office), I d carry the water too, she said.

As the two barked at each other, with the administration representatives welcoming the relief they were enjoying, Willis gaveled the meeting to an end.

I believe there were all of three members at the table by that time, including the combative two.

The administration continued to claim that the stadium s cost was at $279.9 million, just below the $280 million they had proclaimed to be the total several months before.

But they curiously have entered an agreement with Lerner that could take the cost to $293 million and even talk of a loan from Lerner for amounts beyond that figure.

The reason for the agreement evolves from the continued promise of Mayor White s that he would never violate the general fund, a politically dangerous action. Well, of course, if you continue to borrow money it somehow has to be paid off. One presumes that some other mayor some years from now will go to another City Council and tell it that we must get rid of this debt. We didn t do this but it has come time to settle up. Here s what the stadium budgeting looks like:

Sources of funds:

  • Certificates of participation (bonds) $133,324,046
  • Non-tax revenue notes (loan) $19,168,380
  • City equity (taxes) 33,043,046
  • Cleveland Development participation $10,000,000
  • Investment income $8,649,332
  • NFL contribution (most repaid by owner) $63,000,000
  • Site improvements: RTA $3,000,000
  • City Water—Pollution Control Div. $500,000
  • Division of Water $2,000,000
  • Cleveland Public Power $3,500,000
  • N.E Sewer District $2,246,760
  • State of Ohio $36,790,000
  • TOTALS (CURRENT BY WHITE ADM.) $315,221,928

    Council s consultants total was $341,266,048, primarily with the addition of costs via A1 Lerner s enhancements and the potential additional cost to a construction total of $293 million. Those additions would add some $20 million.

    Construction costs alone were estimated by the administration at $279,953,657 with $27,814,995 soft costs and $252,138,662 in hard costs. The Council consultants estimated the total at $290,056,157 with $27,814,995 in soft costs and $262,241,162 in hard costs.

    No one knows what the final cost will be. No attempt was made to determine that in the meeting. No probing took place about the possibility of extra costs for change orders. Some contractors are working the weekends now. That means overtime. One doesn’t know whether that will trigger demands for costs above bids because the demands are being made to get the work done. Construction was 60 to 65 percent completed at this point.

    One can expect also that the many changes made in design will result in extra costs or lawsuits because actions were demanded by the administration during the course of construction.

    Diane Downing, project director, was her usual open, expansive self.

    She informed the committee that the city was tracking to a $280 million budget.

    We re not here to speculate. We re here to tell you where we are right now and hat framework we re operating in, she said in her usual terse and uninformative manner.

    It’s déjà vu all over again

    Are you getting as sick of viewing AI Lerner s and Carmen Policy s mugs on TV and staring off the pages of the Pee Dee?

    Is that what the billionaire Lerner paid $530 million for, to get his ego kicks?

    When Art Modell left town I wrote that it shouldn’t have surprised any POV readers that his saga would end badly in tragedy. Don’t you get the same feel from this show of self-importance?

    They re always building these selfish people into heroes and civic leaders …when they are more likely the opposite. Art Modell has been made a model citizen by the very same news media that now decries his character for moving the Browns to Baltimore.

    Didn’t they see the character flaws through 35 years?

    Couldn’t they tell the guy who chiseled the public year after year couldn’t stop even if it means leaving the city that kept him?

    The media are starting the exact same way with Lerner who soon will be sitting up in the luxury (more luxurious) loge, paid for by the public, as Modell did, hosting the Governor, other politicians and business people to gain some other advantage of public subsidy to further enrich himself.

    No less an egomaniac than Yankee owner George Steinbrenner told a reporter recently: Everybody has an ego. There s no owner who isn’t in it because of the ego. I, at least, will admit that.

    Now we can watch a different sort of game that will be played out.

    Let s see, Dick Jacobs is now the old guy of patronage, having lost George Forbes. Sam Miller is a perennial sat least until his surrogate son leaves office. Lerner will be the new guy on the block for a time.

    Watch the rich guys vie for attention, for the next batch of subsidies to flow from our political leaders on the local, county and state level. And for the endearing love of the fans and taxpayers coaxed on by our wonderful–corps of objective reporters. Go Browns!

    By Roldo Bartimole…


    1. To be fair the Haslam 3 Foundation did contribute $1 million to a private school system -Breakthrough Schools – in the Cleveland area. None of that money, however, goes to the Cleveland public school system. As such the real purpose of supporting non-public schools is to cripple, if not destroy, public school systems, a tactic of right-wing Republicans who want to destroy public investments and programs.

      The Browns Charities did give the public schools $75,000 in 2015. That hardly makes up for the millions of dollars annually the Browns & Haslams escape property taxes, which would go to the schools at about 60 percent of the Cuyahoga County tax take.

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