NEW INFORMATION was added to this ENDORSEMENT on 10.31.12
Cool Cleveland ENDORSEMENT:
VOTE NO on Issue #108 Cuyahoga County Port Tax Levy
It is difficult to imagine a greater waste of public resources than has been exhibited by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. The levy is an increase from 0.13 mills to 0.67, or $16.50 more a year on a $100,000 house. This 400% tax increase would raise $90 million over 5 years, half of which would be used to shore up bulkheads and the hillside at Irishtown Bend. A quarter of the money would be spent on a walkway from Mall C to the Lakefront near the Rock Hall. The rest goes towards disposing of sediment from dredging the Cuyahoga River.
And the timing of this levy request is difficult to understand, considering recent indictments and ongoing revelations of corruption. Even the Port Authority’s own board member Richard Knoth voted against asking the public for this tax levy. In 2010, former US Senator and former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich called for the Port to re-examine its past assumptions and put its priorities in order. Some have called for the dismantling of the Port entirely, as the newly structured Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland are better equipped to manage its priorities.
Because they are a governmental unit, the Port can float bonds, and the organization is accountable to no elected officials and with no oversight except their own board. They have abused that special privilege.
- VA Hospital Corruption: The Port issued $155 million in bonds to help pay for the unnecessary consolidation of the Brecksville and Wade Park Veterans Administration facilities, which will instead end up costing tax payers $500 million over 20 years. The money went to developer Michael Frolani, who was indicted along with former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora on bribery charges linked to the VA project. Forlani then bribed Cleveland City Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott to testify in favor of the ill-conceived VA project. Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Peto of accepting bribes and misusing his position as a board member of the Port Authority, receiving free home improvements, materials and entertainment from Michael Forlani.
- Cleveland Browns corruption: For up to a decade, over 200 people with connections to the Port Authority parked for free on port-owned lots during Cleveland Browns home football games. The US Attorney who is investigating the Jimmy Dimora county corruption scandal has subpoenaed the Port’s records dealing with Browns stadium parking.
- Mismanagement: The Port Authority board finally fired CEO & President Adam Wasserman from his $283K/yr. job, but not before offering him $330K in severance. This after a misguided effort to craft a $500 million relocation of the Port to E. 55th Street, eventually abandoned after wasting millions. Nearly $3 million has been spent on attorneys fees on just one politically-connected law firm, work that could have been done by internal lawyers much less expensively. The American Center for Economic Equality is calling for a “NO” vote on Issue 108 due to the “Port Authority’s continued decades of practicing racism, discrimination and exclusion of Black, Hispanic & Female Contractors and construction workers on our publicly tax financed construction projects.”
- Misdirection: The Port is claiming that dredged sediment from the Cuyahoga River will overflow their storage basins, but their own $350K study says there is no crisis if they dry mound the sediment. The Port has lost all credibility in its claims to need tax money for a project such as this. The Port has known for years that they would have to fix this problem, but they haven’t acted responsibly. Some may wonder why the Port is using tax money to dredge a channel used by the ArcelorMittal steel plant, owned by Laksmi Mittal, the 6th richest person in the world. He threw his daughter the most expensive wedding in recorded history, a $60 million week-long extravaganza that in itself cost far more than Cuyahoga County taxpayers are being asked to pay to dredge a channel for his ships.
- New Information (added 10/31/12): According to the Plain Dealer, federal prosecutors investigating Cuyahoga County corruption released “a 32-page charging document that details how a seat on the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority board allegedly was handed out like a party favor by a corrupt politician who cut back-door deals…” According to the report, the document “accuses contractor Michael Forlani, who pleaded guilty in August to bribery charges, of influencing convicted former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora to nominate [Bob] Peto for the board.” According to the article, Peto in turn allegedly steered $100 million in Port Authority bonds to contractor Michael Forlani for construction of the new VA Center. Peto finally resigned from the Port board in August, 2012, and on 10/31/12 plead guilty to six charges of soliciting and receiving bribes from Forlani, and could be sentenced up to 6 years in prison.
The Port Authority should be congratulated for making it possible to reclaim Dike 14 and turn it into the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, although it’s done little to publicize its existence. In the past, Port funding has been used for developments such as Scott Wolstein’s East Bank Flats project and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And it’s funding is helping the Cleveland Museum of Art complete its long-term renovation plan. Unfortunately, the Port can point to few such successes lately.
We can and should expect more from this critical organization entrusted with the power to spend the public’s money. Redevelopment of Port land on Lake Erie East of the Cuyahoga River, discussed for decades, has never progressed past the talking stage. The awesome potential of such lakefront development was painfully witnessed firsthand by visitors to this year’s Ingenuity Festival at Docks 30 & 32 on the Lake (photo above by Mary Breiner). To a person, everyone I spoke with at Ingenuity asked me, “Why aren’t we developing this lakefront?” That’s a very good question to ask the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.
The future of our river, our lakefront and major projects in the region hinge on the Port Authority’s ability to clean up its act and start acting in the public’s best interest, rather than that of its own board members.
Until it does so, or the Port is dissolved, we encourage you to vote “NO” on Issue 108.