Friday, May 29, 2009

MMPI's Chris Kennedy nears U.S. Senate run in Illinois -- will Med Mart be an issue?

Chris Kennedy, president of MMPI, is likely to announce a run for the U.S. Senate from Illinois next week -- and Cleveland's Medical Mart deal may become an issue in the race.

Kennedy's possible opponents are quietly questioning MMPI's deal with Cleveland, Greg Hinz writes on his Crain's Chicago Business blog. What they want to know about it isn't clear, though Hinz's post questions Kennedy and MMPI vice-president Mark Falanga about the public's financing of the Medical Mart.

"I almost pulled the plug on it a couple of times," Kennedy tells Hinz, explaining that it took four years of difficult negotiations to strike the deal.

Kennedy, one of Robert F. Kennedy's sons, may join the 2010 race for President Obama's former Senate seat, now held by the embarrassing Roland Burris.

Feagler's friend

I'll be on WVIZ's Feagler & Friends this weekend, talking about county reform, the recall campaign against Akron's mayor, and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Also, Dick Feagler interviews Dennis Kucinich, who's mad at President Obama about his auto task force's plan for GM and Chrysler.

It's on WVIZ tonight at 8:30 and Sunday morning at 11:30.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

U.S. Attorney: "Very, very little" connection between city, county corruption probes

Why hasn't the FBI investigation of Cleveland building inspectors gotten more attention? Because the Plain Dealer keeps treating it as a sideshow to the probe of Jimmy Dimora and other county officials. (Take this May 16 story, for instance.)

But check out what Bill Edwards, acting U.S. Attorney for northern Ohio, said after yesterday's press conference about the inspectors. A reporter I didn't recognize walked up to Edwards and asked him, "What information did you gather that’ll be helpful in the ongoing corruption probe in Cuyahoga County?"

"Very little from this investigation," said Edwards, the top federal prosecutor in Cleveland. "Very, very little."

That’s not what people are writing, I said.

"I know!" Edwards said. He pointed across the room at Peter Krouse, the PD's federal courts reporter. "The Cleveland Plain Dealer keeps making these connections which we have never made."

The paper's angle seems based on a tip it got last July, right after the FBI raided the county building. It reported that a breakthrough came in the county probe when Steve Pumper, a contractor said to have done work on Dimora's house, was caught trying to bribe a Cleveland building inspector.* I mentioned that to Edwards.

"I can’t get into anything involving the county probe," Edwards said. "What I said to [the other reporter was], 'very little connection.' Maybe some, but it’s very small.

"This is not one investigation, which the Plain Dealer would lead you to believe," Edwards said. "These are really two separate investigations."

A small point? I'm sure the PD would say so. Edwards didn't deny there's some connection. But his comments show a few things:

-The Plain Dealer's angles have a huge influence on how everyone in town thinks about the news. (The other day, someone asked me if buddies of Dimora's had just been indicted.)

-The paper doesn't know much about what the feds are thinking.**

-The lead graf in today's front-page story is misleading.

-The paper doesn't really know how the county probe started.**

-Its assumptions about how the FBI is collecting evidence against county officials are more thinly sourced and speculative than they seem.**

-The first indictments from the county investigation are still to come.*

*Update, 7/9/09: The tip about Pumper and the inspector got confirmed in the charges filed against him on July 8, lending credence to the Plain Dealer's theory of the case. (I posted about the Pumper charges here, though I focused on Pumper's alleged relationship with Dimora, not the inspector.) The first charges in the county investigation were filed June 12, and one of those charges suggested another possible connection between the city and county investigations. See my post, with second thoughts about the PD coverage, here.

**Update, 1/5/12: At last, we know more about how the county corruption investigation started, and the Plain Dealer's 2009 theory of the case holds up very well. A new court filing strongly suggests that Cleveland housing inspector Bobby Cuevas was one of the FBI's two best sources about Dimora in 2007. See my post here.

Zanotti: expect reform announcement next week

I just had a quick talk with Martin Zanotti, mayor of Parma Heights and a major player in the county reform effort. An announcement should come next week about whether the reforms will launch a petition drive this year.

"I believe we’re very close to being complete with our work," he says. "I would think that if we’re going to be in a position to move forward, we would know that next week." If they decide they're not prepared to make reform happen this year, they'll announce that too.

The goal is to produce a charter for Cuyahoga County, which would create a new government with expanded powers. Reformers have been talking about creating a county executive and county council and making several elected officials (recorder, treasurer, etc.) appointed positions instead.

"If we're successful, we hope to announce we're going forward with a comprehensive inclusive effort to get a petition drive moving immediately toward a November ballot issue," Zanotti says.

That would mean producing a proposed charter by next week. "We know what the rules are. If [we're] passing a petition, charter language [has] to go with it."

Then they'd have until July 13 to get 45,458 signatures.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

City Hall corruption scandal grows: feds charge more inspectors

No, it's not some little offshoot of the county investigation. Cleveland City Hall has its own corruption probe on its hands -- an FBI sting of the city's building and housing department, complete with lots of video and audio surveillance and an undercover agent posing as a New York businessman.

If the charges are true, these building inspectors deserve their own scandal.

Federal prosecutors, FBI agents, and Mayor Frank Jackson held a press conference today to reveal that two more Cleveland building inspectors face extortion charges. That's a total of six current or former inspectors busted, out of 75 total in the department.

"They've now forfeited their careers, their reputations, and possibly their freedom for amounts of money that each inspector would now tell you were simply not worth it," said Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI Cleveland division's agent in charge. (The alleged bribes ranged from $200 to about $1,500.)

The six men may not be the last. Today's new charges mark the end of the federal investigation of Building and Housing, said Bill Edwards, acting U.S. Attorney for northern Ohio -- but the FBI is giving the Cleveland police more information that may lead to state charges or disciplinary action against more city employees. Figliuzzi also asked anyone "victimized by a building inspector demanding bribes" to call the FBI at (216) 522-1400.

The two men charged today, Juan Alejandro and James McCullough (pictured), have been suspended without pay, the mayor said. They're accused of manipulating violation notices to lower the prices of homes. (See today's press release here, as a pdf.)

I wonder how many businesses the six alleged extortionists chased out of Cleveland. So strong was the city building department's reputation for obstructing construction projects that (if you believe the feds) some of the accused inspectors seem to have played off of it to extort bribes. Edwards said they took cash for "speeding things up, making things easier, getting things done quicker."

That suggests the norm was slow and difficult! So the city's inefficiency created an opportunity for corruption: efficiency was rare, but buyable with cash.

Cleveland so badly needs new businesses and new homes. But if the feds are right -- and they spent three years investigating these cases, collecting what Edwards called "a lot" of audio and video surveillance -- then some of the accused inspectors shook down the contractors working on new businesses, including (how's this for heartless?) Sweethearts Ice Cream on Payne Avenue. If they did so, they not only risked their own reputations, but the city's; they undermined Cleveland's rebirth.

"I'm disturbed, as I know you are, by any dishonest behavior or wrongdoing by any public employee," Jackson said. "The violation of public trust is something we cannot tolerate."

The mayor said the police would investigate and the administration would look for structural changes in building and housing to make it more difficult for inspectors to abuse their power. He also said he planned to issue a new city-wide policy clearing up any "grey areas" and making it "very clear to people what is proper behavior and what is not proper behavior."

One reporter aggressively asked the mayor and Edwards why taxpayers should trust City Hall, since the scandal happened on Jackson's watch. But Jackson said the FBI kept him and the police informed of the investigation, and the city backed off to let the feds take the lead. At one point, Edwards told the reporter he believed the Jackson administration would take whatever steps it had to now.

Reform deadline: July 13

July 13 is the deadline for reformers to petition for a new county government, the Board of Elections tells me. That's only 6 1/2 weeks to write a charter, circulate petitions with the proposed charter attached, and get 45,458 Cuyahoga County residents to sign.

If they can do it, they'll get the proposed charter on the November 3 ballot. Otherwise, they'll have to wait until next year.

Forty-seven days is not much time at all. Martin Zanotti, Marcia Fudge, Bill Mason, and everyone else involved need to make some decisions fast, or aim for a vote in 2010.

Their other option is to get Sen. Tim Grendell or another interested legislator to put their proposal into a bill and pass it before the legislature's summer break. Then they wouldn't need petition signatures, just support in the House and Senate. But they only have about a month to do that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reform is still alive, but the clock is ticking

We still might get to vote on creating a new Cuyahoga County government this year. But time is running short.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge convened a meeting last Monday to talk about how to reform county government, the Plain Dealer reports. She's joined forces with Parma Heights Mayor Martin Zanotti and other suburban mayors who've been talking about the idea for months. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is also involved in the talks, and prosecutor Bill Mason seems to be too.

If the group can agree on a new form of government, they'll draft a charter for the county. If they want to put their proposal on the November 3 ballot, they have until July to get 46,000 petition signatures.

This new coalition solves the reform effort's biggest problem. To put it bluntly, the leading reformers were all white, and they hadn't tried to get black support. (They had talked about the need to reach out to black voters and political leaders, but they hadn't actually done it.) Fudge called them out on that this spring.

Now, they have a new problem: time. A month or two is not a lot when you have to draft a charter, organize a petition drive, and get 46,000 people to sign.

I cannot figure out the exact deadline. A petition for a county charter has to be certified by the board of elections 95 days before the vote, according to the Ohio Constitution. That's July 31. But how long does it take to certify a petition that big? The board of elections hasn't dealt with a county charter proposal before. They're getting back to me on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dimora wants to move county offices for Med Mart

Scene writer Dan Harkins sat in on the county commissioners' testimony to Cleveland City Council on Monday, and he plucked out the biggest news from the friendly questioning and unanimous vote for the convention center site sale.

Jimmy Dimora wants to move the county offices to make room for the Medical Mart.

“The best way to go,” asserted Dimora, “is to locate the [new convention center] entranceway where the county administration building is and let the [landowner of adjoining property, who’s holding out for a better deal] negotiate with potential hotel developers in the future. And then we could actually take up one of your other empty buildings in town to locate our 1,500 or 1,600 employees and consolidate and hopefully save some money.”

I wrote about this possibility earlier this month, here and here. "Hopefully" save some money is right. On one hand, taxpayers shouldn't want the county to pay super-high prices for the land on St. Clair Avenue, the first-choice site for the Medical Mart and the convention center entrance. On the other hand, they also need to watch carefully to see whether the county's move would really save money.

The commissioners embarked on their ill-fated plan to move to the Ameritrust Tower site on the mistaken belief it would pay for itself. My June 2008 story, "Tower Play," showed it actually would've added millions of dollars a year to the cost of government.

This new move, if it happens, should be cheaper than the Ameritrust plan. By leasing new offices, the county might be able to break even on annual office expenses. (See this Plain Dealer story for how.) But it might end up paying more. I doubt the county would save money by moving. To do that, it would have to lease office space for 1,500 people for less than $5 million a year.

Also, if Dimora and Hagan are still on the commission when this move comes, I'll want to know if they're even willing to lease. If they still want to buy and own the county's new offices, as they did in 2005, that might cost more.

Also, the one-time cost of moving expenses would be in the millions. The county may be better off waiting to move until Cleveland sees whether the Medical Mart prospers.

The cost of corruption: "City Hall is like a Bermuda Triangle for builders"

Sometimes one article gives you the news and another explains why it matters.

The Plain Dealer reported Saturday that three more inspectors for Cleveland's building and housing department have been indicted on federal corruption charges. That's on top of a fourth guy indicted earlier. They're accused of shaking down business owners.

Now, in this week's issue of Cool Cleveland, Mansfield Frazier reminds us of the building and housing department's reputation: Impossible to deal with.

"Most local contractors would rather get beat with a two-by-four with a rusty nail in it than go down to B & H," Frazier writes. "The 5th floor of City Hall is like a Bermuda Triangle for builders."

Past stories about this department have always made it sound like a red-tape problem. Now the feds say it was corruption.

Think about how desperately Cleveland needs new commerce, how badly its 80-year-old neighborhoods need inspections. Then read these two stories and get mad. There's no way of measuring how many businesses have walked away from the city over the years because of practices like these.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Medical Mart could have competitor in Nashville

Cleveland's Medical Mart could face competition in Nashville, with developer MMPI, Cuyahoga County's partner, racing against its rival, Market Center Management Company, to be the first to open.

The Dallas company says it might open its medical mart as early as next year. It hopes to beat MMPI, which plans to get its first Cleveland trade shows and exhibits up in Public Hall by the end of 2010. (The Medical Mart and convention center should be completed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.)

MedCity News says the MMPI vs. MCMC battle is as fierce as the Browns-Steelers rivalry. MMPI VP Mark Falanga accuses the Dallas company of a "cut-and-paste job," stealing its concept from MMPI's website. The Nashville plan has no funding, Falanga says. MMPI has vacancies in its properties, the Dallas guy snaps back.

Bedford school board member "sent to his room... crying uncontrollably," say police

I can't add a thing to Mike McIntyre's Tipoff item about Andrew Mizsak's spectacular self-inflicted career-ending injury. Or The Professor's reaction. You've just got to read them. And the police report.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Professor's "Sexiest Politician" contest returns

The Professor, the anonymous blogger at Political Science 216, has opened up the voting for his Sexiest Politician in Greater Cleveland contest. He encourages readers to "vote every single day between now and May 31!" State auditor Mary Taylor will defend her 2007 title against several challengers, including Judge Joan Synenberg, who seems to be an early favorite.

What about the guys? Looks like the Professor (or maybe his readers) lost interest in 2007 and never declared a male winner. This year's field of seven includes U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan -- who was one of Cleveland Magazine's Sexy Singles this year -- and Jeff Johnson, who's running to return to city council.

Just in case you'd like to judge their political talents as well as their photos, we've written about some of the candidates in the past. Here's my 2007 profile of Sherrod Brown, Colleen Mytnick's Joan Synenberg profile from 2006, our "singles profile" of Tim Ryan from this February, my coverage of Mary Taylor's audit smackdown of how Pat O'Malley ran his office, and a recent blog post of mine about Jeff Johnson, which leads to our 1999 profile of him and a 2007 update.

Who is The Professor, anyway? Here's my attempt to find out, from the fall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mansfield Frazier & Scene on Cleveland's domestic partnership rally

Mansfield Frazier writes in the new CoolCleveland about speaking at last week's domestic partnership rally at City Hall. It's a great piece about his moment of conscience. He walks past two friends who assume he's not going to the rally and are taken aback when he is. In his speech, Frazier talks about Bayard Rustin, a strategist for the civil-rights movement who had to work behind the scenes because he was gay. Also, Frazier cleverly quotes Bob Dylan for the second time in two weeks.

Dan Harkins of Scene covered the rally and collected some great quotes. Zack Reed, a domestic-partner registry opponent, offers an elliptical comment about why he invited the ministers to City Hall on the same day. Joe Cimperman channels Harvey Milk and demands that intolerance, not gays, be cast into the closet. Peter Lawson Jones happens by and lends support.

(Mansfield Frazier photo from

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is the county wasting our money?

Is Cuyahoga County government inefficient? Is it spending too much taxpayer money?

The Plain Dealer's three-day series says it is. See its stories about the auditor's office, the treasurer's office, and social services.

Ed Morrison at Brewed Fresh Daily agrees. But Bill Callahan at Callahan's Cleveland Diary, a talented number-cruncher, calls the series shallow and says our county government is cheaper than Ohio's other urban counties.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Will the county move?

Some possible good news for taxpayers in a new article on tonight. The story asks, will the county move its offices because of the convention center and Medical Mart project?

The answer is, it probably will -- either to make room for the Medical Mart itself, if property owners nearby won't sell, or after the Medical Mart opens, to make room for a convention-center hotel. But that's not the good news. The good news is that the county is looking at leasing offices downtown, which could make moving a lot more affordable.

Finding a new home for the county is a touchy question. The commissioners' original plan, building on the Ameritrust Tower site, turned out to be so expensive, the county had to halt the project.

When I wrote my story "Tower Play" about the aborted project last year, I found there were two main reasons the price went so high. One was Tim Hagan's strong feeling that the county should own its offices, not rent them. “I don’t believe the government should be subservient to a landlord,” he told me. The second reason was Hagan and Jimmy Dimora's insistence on tearing down the Ameritrust Tower, instead of renovating it, and building new offices on the site.

But Dimora and Hagan are no longer likely to make the decision about where the county moves. If the county can buy land on St. Clair Ave. for the Medical Mart, it won't have to move for years. A new convention center hotel won't be built until there's demand for it -- that is, if and when the Medical Mart proves to be a success. Dimora's term expires at the end of 2010, Hagan's at the end of 2012, and both have said they aren't running for re-election.

Plain Dealer reporter Joe Guillen's story ends this way:

Hagan tries to distance himself from any decision about the county's future home. ... "My judgment is it won't happen in my term," he said.

This week, when Hagan told me the county building was the backup Medical Mart site, I wrote that I didn't think the county can afford to move right now. Guillen's story shows how a move might be affordable.

When a future lineup of county commissioners decides where to move, the cost savings from leasing will probably look very attractive to them. Guillen floats a figure of $5 million a year to lease new space. That's lower than the lease offers the county got in 2004. But it appears from the story that the county has cut back on how many offices it would relocate and how much space it would need. It may also be a reflection of the fact that a lot of downtown office space is coming on the market soon.

The story picks up on my favorite idea for where the county could move: The Huntington Building, at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue. It's my favorite for aesthetic reasons, not financial. Stately on the outside, with a gorgeous, soaring lobby, it already has the classic grandeur of a classic government building. Huntington Bank is moving to the BP building at the end of 2011. (A bit of historic trivia: Eliot Ness kept an office in the Huntington Building in the early 1950s.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cleveland's domestic partnership registry opens

Cleveland's new registry for domestic partners opens this morning at Cleveland City Hall. About 300 couples are expected to register today, receiving official acknowledgement of their relationships.

Supporters of the registry will rally in front of City Hall from noon to 2 pm today. Meanwhile, several ministers who opposed the registry will meet this morning in city council's chambers for the National Day of Prayer, then head to Public Square around noon for a gathering there. That means they'll probably pass right by the pro-registry rally. Awkward!

The Plain Dealer profiles four couples who plan to make their relationships official today. WKYC has a good story online about the big event. The Gay People's Chronicle reports that 12 of the city councilpeople who voted for the registry will be co-grand-marshals of the Cleveland Pride parade on June 12.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hagan on convention center deal

I talked to Tim Hagan yesterday about the county's deal to buy the convention center and what's next.

On the deal: "I think the mayor was a tough bargainer," Hagan said. "He did have something of value to add to the project: that is Public Hall." (MMPI hopes to book trade shows into Public Hall by 2011, and it says the historic auditorium will help the new convention center compete against cookie-cutter centers elsewhere.)

I took Hagan's comment as his diplomatic way of saying Cleveland asked for too much money. The city seemed focused on the land's historic and future value during negotiations, while the county focused on how little money it's generating now. Later in our conversation, Hagan hinted that he found it ironic that the mayor took such a tough stance at a time when the city only has nine conventions booked.

What's next: The county will try to buy the three private properties on the corner of St. Clair and Ontario, including the Sportsman's Deli and the Justice Center parking garage. That's where the Medical Mart building and convention center entrance will likely go.

"We’re in a quandary," Hagan said. "We don’t want to be held up." That is, the county doesn't want the private landowners to hold up the project by demanding a super-high price now that they know how much the county wants the land.

The other alternative is for the county to move to make way for the Med Mart, Hagan said. "We can knock down the county administration building and it’d be cheaper."

What he means is, it'd be cheaper for the county to demolish its building and hand the land to MMPI than to buy the three properties. But it's not cheaper to build, buy or lease a new county building. I hope this idea is a feint, a negotiating ploy. I think the lesson of the cancelled Ameritrust Tower project is that the county can't afford a new home right now.

What about eminent domain?: Can't the county just seize the three properties if the owners ask too much? No, Hagan said, because the land is being turned over to MMPI to build on. Recent court cases have limited government's use of eminent domain when a corporation receives the land, he said.

The future of Positively Cleveland: "They have a role to play in town, a significant role," says Hagan, sounding more measured on the subject than he did a couple of weeks ago.

Hagan says the county still may cut the convention and visitor's bureau budget, because some of its responsibilities will overlap with MMPI's. (The bureau would say there isn't much overlap.) But Hagan also said raising the hotel tax to fund both the Medical Mart and Positively Cleveland is also a possibility. Also, he hopes the hotel tax will generate more revenue once the convention center opens, as more visitors come to town.

Hagan says the county has to figure out where it can get "the biggest bang for the buck" with the hotel tax money. "I’m not suggesting we cut their funding, but just to look at that."

Wearable satire: McFaul pin, O'Malley and Mason T-shirts now on sale

In this economy, unemployed journalists have to hustle. Former Scene/Free Times staff writer James Renner, in a fine display of local entrepreneurial spirit, has come out with a clothing and memorabilia line satirizing some of Cleveland's favorite politicians.

Choose from a Gerald McFaul clambake button, a "Free O'Malley!" T-shirt, or a bumper sticker proclaiming "I was subpoenaed to testify against Jimmy Dimora" (or Frank Russo)!

The "Mason's Mean Machine" T-shirt is named after this story about prosecutor Bill Mason, which Renner worked on this fall with Charu Gupta. (The joke about racial disparities on the front is probably best explained by my blog post here. There are other T-shirts I won't try to explain.)

A few of Renner's products refer to his love of unsolved crimes. "Run, Ted Conrad, Run!" is a reference to his fascinating story about a Cleveland bank robber who got away. "It Was the Bushy-Haired Man" is the perfect Father's Day gift for any dad who's convinced Sam Sheppard didn't kill his wife.

Politics headlines: McFaul, Fudge, Harris and Coats

Behind that King James front page, today's Plain Dealer has lots of good politics stories:

Gerald McFaul faces down Mark Puente for the first time since the reporter's many exposés knocked McFaul out of the sheriff's office. "I have nothing to say," McFaul said to Puente. "You got it all wrong." McFaul also had nothing to say yesterday in testimony in a lawsuit filed by two deputies. He repeatedly took the Fifth.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge got together with Mayor Frank Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, and about 20 local elected officials to say that would-be county reformers need to create their reform plans in public instead of closed-door meetings. The subtext of her speech: the reformers all talk about the need to reach out to black political leaders to make reform happen -- but they haven't actually done that.

Mark Naymik rips Fudge for not working harder for Clayton Harris in the sheriff's race. Naymik noticed what I noticed about the Democrats' Saturday vote to name a new sheriff: it went mostly along racial lines. Naymik, taking the power of racial solidarity in Cleveland politics for granted, focuses on the low turnout at the Democratic party's vote and asks why Fudge and other black politicians didn't have a better get-out-the-vote effort for Harris. "The county's black leaders proved to be the real losers," Naymik wrote. (Update: took a while to post Naymik's column, but it's up now.)

Phillip Morris gives Roosevelt Coats the boot in his column today. He seconds the motion of Powell Caesar, editorial writer for Don King's Call and Post, that the ex-city councilman not be allowed to switch seats with Eugene Miller and go to the state legislature. "Councilman Coats needs to go quietly into the good night," read the Call & Post headline. (The editorial isn't online. Too bad!) "Clean, ineffectual incompetence can only take you so far," says Morris. This can't be what Coats had in mind when he asked in his farewell statement, "How do you measure the work of 21 years?" Henry Gomez, who covers Coats' departure on his City Hall blog, is also not overwhelmed.

And of course, the PD covers Tim Hagan and Frank Jackson's announcement of the convention center deal. Hagan told the press conference that Positively Cleveland, the convention and visitor's bureau, will survive and remain "positively important." However, he didn't guarantee its budget would remain intact. There's been some talk that some of its taxpayer funding would be used as a second stream of revenue for the Medical Mart.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who will like the city-county deal, who won't

After reading the city and county's $20 million deal for the convention center and Public Auditorium, here's who I think will like the deal and who won't:

Activists and bloggers who hate tax abatements won't like this deal one bit. The city pledges to support any county requests for tax abatements for the project. (The county has already promised to cover any taxes imposed on MMPI.) Also, the city promises to make up the tax revenue the Cleveland schools will lose if, as planned, the county buys three private properties at St. Clair and Ontario for the site of the Medical Mart building.

Film industry supporters will be sad to lose the old convention center as a potential soundstage. But Nehst Creations, the film company that signed a lease to move into the center, will be able to stay at least a year.

Fans of the downtown Mall will be nervous, but maybe also hopeful. The deal acknowledges that the Mall will have to be raised a few feet higher to give the new convention center the ceiling height that convention planners want. But the county says MMPI will pledge to create a new park there that's at least as good as the current one. MMPI's Mark Falanga has told me the company wants the Mall to be an attractive gathering place for Clevelanders, like Millennium Park in Chicago.

Minority-hiring activists should be pretty happy. The deal requires MMPI to require the contractor who builds the new convention center and Medical Mart to "utilize good faith efforts" to do two things:
-subcontract 25% of the job to county-certified small businesses
-hire a workforce made up of 40% county residents, including 20% Cleveland residents

The county will monitor the project to see if the contractor is meeting those goals.

The word "minority" never appears in the agreement, because the county can't require private contractors to meet racial hiring quotas. But about 60 percent of Clevelanders are black and Hispanic, and the county's small-business program for subcontractors includes a lot of minority-owned and female-owned businesses. MMPI will also work with the Cleveland schools to establish construction training programs that will lead to jobs on the project for the trainees.

Norman Edwards, the mercurial activist who shows up at nearly every county meeting to argue for more minority hiring on county projects (and who now faces a ban from the meetings for abusive behavior), may not be satisfied with this, but it seems to go about as far as the law allows.

Those who want to bring non-medical conventions back to Cleveland will be moderately happy. The deal includes language about booking non-medical events that benefit Cleveland's economic development, even if they aren't profitable to MMPI(!). If a scheduling conflict arises between two possible events, MMPI still gets to make the final decision, but the county says MMPI will consult with Positively Cleveland before deciding what to book.

Supporters of Positively Cleveland will still be uneasy. The city got the county to agree that the convention and visitor's bureau "provides significant assistance to the entire region," and to give it a role in resolving scheduling conflicts. But the city backed off and acknowledged that "The amount of county bed tax that goes to fund Positively Cleveland in the future will be determined solely by the county."

City sells convention center to county for $20m

The city and county have a deal. The county will pay Cleveland $20 million for the current convention center site and Public Hall, Mayor Frank Jackson and commissioner Tim Hagan announced this afternoon.

The deal removes the last main hurdle to building the Medical Mart and a new convention center. MMPI will now start marketing the new project to prospective tenants and shows, while working out financing and other details with the county.

Jackson extracted several changes to the Med Mart deal from the county. The county agreed to a new protocol for deciding which non-medical conventions should be booked into the new center. It includes a role for Positively Cleveland. The deal also spelled out more details about the benchmarks MMPI will be held to as it develops and runs the project. The city will share in the profits if the county sells the naming rights to the center. The county also agreed to more specific requirements for hiring local workers and small businesses on the project.

The county "urges" the city to spend $2.5 million of the payment for the land on renovating Perk Park on E. 12th St.

I'll post more later today.

For now, here is a link to the agreement in pdf form. It's 12 pages. (The other 37 pages of the pdf are the rules for the county's small business program, which the county agreed to get MMPI to follow.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dems pick Bedford's Bob Reid as new sheriff

Democrats chose Bob Reid, Bedford's city manager and safety director, as the new Cuyahoga County sheriff this morning.

Reid (pictured), who was Bedford police chief for 10 years, beat Clayton Harris, police chief and police academy commander at Cuyahoga Community College, by a 280-206 vote. Jimmy Dimora, party chairman and county commissioner, said Reid will likely take over from interim sheriff Frank Bova on Wednesday.

"Professional law enforcement will always be first," Reid promised the county Democrats' central committee members, gathered at downtown's Music Hall, before the vote. "If appointed this morning, I can assure you that the residents of Cuyahoga County will be extremely proud of the Cuyahoga County sheriff's department." Reid also promised diversity in hiring at the sheriff's office. He said he supported the efforts to process county jail prisoners faster, including early release for defendants accused of non-violent felonies.

Reid also said he would listen to his staff and value their input -- which sounds like an everyday promise unless you read today's Plain Dealer story about life under ex-sheriff Gerald McFaul. "Talented people work best when they know their opinion counts," Reid said.

Reid joined the Bedford police in 1975 and worked his way up to police chief, then switched to the civilian side of Bedford City Hall to manage the town for the mayor and city council.

Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald, a Reid supporter, told me he likes Reid's combination of law-enforcement and city management experience. The sheriff's office is "crying out for professional management," FitzGerald said. "He's a good fit."

Dimora presided over the meeting, but FitzGerald told me the party chair had kept a low profile in the race. Though Dimora is reportedly a friend of Reid's, FitzGerald says he did not know of Dimora making any calls to lobby for Reid.

Reid's support came mostly from suburban mayors and councilpeople, while Harris had the backing of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge.

Most suburbs went for Reid, while most Cleveland wards went for Harris. Lots of East Side wards gave all their votes to Harris, and he won a majority in only five suburbs: Cleveland Heights, Fairview Park, East Cleveland, Shaker Heights, and Warrensville Heights. Reid racked up totals such as 30-0 in Strongsville and 11-0 in Middleburg Heights, and also won in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn, Detroit-Shoreway and West Park neighborhoods. Applause broke out when Fairview Park and Cleveland's West Side wards 18 and 19 went for Harris -- which struck me as a sign that Harris supporters were surprised and excited when a community's votes didn't follow racial lines.

Music Hall, the city's beautiful and under-used 1910s theater behind Public Auditorium, looked great in a rare public moment. Stone comedy and tragedy masks smiled and frowned at the crowd from far above the blue stage curtains. The city may sell Music Hall and Public Auditorium to the county this week as part of the convention center deal. Mayor Jackson, who was greeting Democrats on the Mall after the vote, confirmed to me that he hopes to nail down a deal on Monday.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Deal near on convention center

The city and county are nearing a deal on the convention center. "I have not finalized an agreement with the County; however, significant progress has been made," Mayor Frank Jackson said in a statement about an hour ago.

The county commissioners gave Jackson until today to accept their "final offer" of $17.5 million for the current convention center and Public Hall. Jackson wants a higher price, and also wants to protect Positively Cleveland and non-medical conventions. (See my coverage of that issue here and here.)

"The price will be higher than the “ultimatum”; and, just as importantly, my concerns surrounding agreement details that protect the public's interest are also being addressed," Jackson said in a statement released to (and now to me too). “I look forward to moving ahead with this very important project."

Update, Sat. a.m.: The Plain Dealer and MedCity News report that a final deal may come Monday. Jones says the purchase price will be $20 million, but Hagan disputed that, saying the mayor is reviewing a possible deal over the weekend.

Update: Sat. 1 p.m.: This morning, Mayor Frank Jackson confirmed to me that he hopes to finalize the deal on Monday.