ROLDO: Are Things as Bad as They Seem in Jackson’s City Hall

Are Things as Bad as They Seem in Jackson’s City Hall

By Roldo Bartimole

Is Mike White still pulling strings at Cleveland City Hall?

If you look at Mayor Frank Jackson’s war on Cleveland teachers the answer is YES. Oh, boy.

White always had a hard-on for the Cleveland teachers.

And Jackson’s move to ice out the teachers from his “reform” package is vintage White. Only Jackson is just not as nasty as the former mayor.

It’s hard for me to believe that Jackson and White haven’t had conversations about this new strategy. Or more likely, orders from White. Jackson’s top staff is loaded with former White executives.

Both run as Democrats but seem to govern as Republicans. Not good.

White pushed the same brand of privatization. Jackson now does similarly, adopting the Republican line of attack against teachers and all public employees.

If Cleveland and state unions don’t recognize this strategy, they are making a big mistake, undoing the victory earned by defeating Kasich’s Sen. Bill 5 last November.

Jackson doesn’t come off as viciously anti-teacher though his package comes from the same pocket as White’s did.

That’s why he’s an easy mark for Joe Roman and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. And why he’s so cozy with Gov. John Kasich. That’s subversion of workers.

Jackson’s desire for a Cleveland Transformational Alliance – a body that will operate privately and seemingly above the Board of Education – follows White’s advisory committee in the late 1990s. It was co-chaired by Dave Bergholz of the Gund Foundation and Steve Minter of the Cleveland Foundation. Same crew to expect now by Jackson.

If it smells like a skunk it probably is a skunk.

People as Sam Miller of Forest City and Nate Gray, now in jail, and Roman were members of White’s advisory board. Likely, similar people from the business/foundation community will sit on the Transformational Alliance. How the already non-elected Board of Education could allow for this power drain suggests it has no power. It’s a trinket of the mayor.

Of course, Brent Larkin – who never cried for Cleveland school children when tens of millions of dollars in tax gift were being shifted from schools to his buddies, like the late Dick Jacobs – was crying crocodile tears for them in Sunday’s column. He spent the column begging for help for Jackson and Kasich. No problem when scoundrels need a helping hand. There’s Larkin. Such a phony.

White tried to gut the Cleveland Teachers Union back in the mid-1990s. He labeled them overpaid and underworked. He went as far as calling Cleveland teachers – who have the toughest of jobs – “inmates running the asylum.” Not a very positive description of either teachers or their students. He then brought in some thuggish guys to counter teachers in a possible strike. The teachers didn’t take the bait and White’s war backfired.

White and the business/foundation community forced the mayoral takeover of the school governing in 1998 when the elected school board was abandoned for mayoral control of the schools.

If that has worked well I haven’t noticed it. Almost 15 years later, same big problems. Neither White nor Jackson brought real reform or stability to the Cleveland schools.

The mayor’s board of education is less crazy and much quieter than the previously elected board, I’ll grant that. But it’s difficult to see real advancement. You can’t blame the board any more than you can the teachers.

So the problem lies elsewhere.

But the strategy remains the same.

Teacher union head David Quolke told the Plain Dealer: “This is not a plan to educate children in Cleveland. Rather, this is a plan to blame unions and fire teachers.”

This whole approach mirrors what’s going on nationally with Republicans trying to turn the clock back on public service to the 19th Century.

We have problems no doubt but blaming teachers and workers isn’t the way out of the mess we’ve created ourselves. Time to think more creatively rather than just vengefully.

But don’t expect that from thoughtless politicians. Don’t expect much from Jackson either. He’s a very stubborn man. He seems to have chosen an attack strategy. It won’t work.

Jackson, tough on teachers, seems unable to punish others for outrageous actions. The fire department, for example. He’s been there six years. He hasn’t seen the problems! Get your eyes checked, Frank.

All evidence points to an appalling lack of management. Firefighters have been walking away with huge payoffs by rigging their work schedules. They have done it in a manner that rewards them with tens of thousands of unearned dollars. Jackson twiddles his thumbs.

Jackson gives no indication of being upset about this theft of city revenue.

Jackson’s fire chief Paul Stubbs, safety director Marty Flack and battalion chiefs seem dumbfounded as to how this all took place. It should have been apparent. But no one pays a price. You have to assume Jackson simply hopes this whole mess disappear. It won’t. At least it shouldn’t.

We saw similar personnel abuses at the Akron trial. People go to jail for that.

There’s more to worry about. One hears that Jackson won’t allow firings of incompetents – and likely worse – his building department.

The Water Department remains a mess. The city fired a reformer they brought in after a supposed big search, I’m told. He lasted five months in his $175,000 job.

The story I get is that he was too aggressive. But that’s not all that did him in. A city work crew was caught doing private work. The problem: it involved a relative of the Jackson’s top executive. The mayor’s office said the reason he got the heavy-ho: “Not the right fit,” they told the PD. Maybe but not the only reason.

Jackson still has many former White executives in key positions.

“Loyalty” to the boss overrides competence, one frustrated Council member tells me. Another just shakes his head and laughs. Disgustedly. Dejectedly.

Don’t expect much from Council. It’s bought and paid for.

You also do have to wonder what’s happening in the water department with this kind of management oversight. Some 1.5 million people depend upon the city for water. Wait until they see the water bills come this summer when rate raises are in effect.

We have some poor behavior at City Hall. But you’d never know it. The news media are acting similarly as they did for years at the County. You know what happened there don’t you?

I guess Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and the Cleveland Foundation no problems with much of this. But they do with teachers.

It’s time Jackson’s City Hall was examined critically. The stale signs I see aren’t good. In fact, they’re very bad. That’s what time served does to even good mayors.

They stay too long.


Roldo Bartimole celebrates 50 years of news reporting this year. He published and wrote Point of View, a newsletter about Cleveland, for 32 years. He worked for the Plain Dealer and Wall Street Journal in the 1960s.

He was a 2004 Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame recipient and won the national Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage in 1991. [Photo by Todd Bartimole.]

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15 Responses to “ROLDO: Are Things as Bad as They Seem in Jackson’s City Hall”

  1. Dick Peery

    Roldo, it wasn’t that the teachers wouldn’t take the bait when the state that controlled Cleveland schools in the 1990s tried to smash the district by forcing pay cuts, scouring the country to recruit untrained strike breakers to replace teachers and bringing paramilitary goons in as security guards. It didn’t work because Lou Stokes stepped up and told the state you can’t do this to black children. When one of the most powerful and highly respected members of Congress spoke, the state had to back down agree to a settlement that they earlier said was impossible.
    Who will step up now?

  2. Good writeup..hear wha saying,etc. FINALLY the City goes broke w/this ‘stuff’..LeGrandie Plane? THOSE *$*@ couldnt get anything done right soooo here are the keys have fun Columbus with it while trying to ‘rescue’ the Place.aka ‘us’…? Give U a dose of whutever…Wha saying…Frank J,etc.sayhing blank to Great Society or whutever…far as GCP or any of ‘THAT”…HOW viable,HOW far can THAT go…LOT of stuff OUT of hands of EVEN this crew…or BIGGEST banks …or…

  3. Welll biz crew HAS MMPI n all the rest of it….SAY GONNA find out…I have qualms n doubts BUT LEAST “THAT” MAKES LOT more sense,etc.THEN THE OTHER bohunkism….BUT THINK MedMart ALMOST to late in a sense..I SEE THAT crew making it to SOME sports games,casino,etc.but NOT this big huge push to other stuff…COULD be wrong….GOT stadiums to rest…Wellllll…ANY ‘championships”?…when the NGO crew IS BIGGER MORE PREVALENT and seems MORE $s THEN the actual biz crew SOMEHOW THAT TENDS to whutever the whole bowl of wax tooo……MAYBE FINALLY HAvE to go THAT route….THIS SURREAL bizarre lets create this MadHatter chase MAYBE WANNABE &/or transplant Yuppies w/semi funky ‘projects’ aping a Chicago or whutever AND PANTING,WANTING ANYTHING REMOTELY like the Silicon vally Dream teams……I READ lastgaspgrasp by WHUTEVER of all stripes at public or NGO $ via crosswalks,MANMADE BIRDWATCHER ISLANDS,and all the rest of that which carries OWN ‘stench of well….”….MAYBE SADDEST part..FRANK J is saying OWN ciitzens are *$*@…or NOT up to whutever…MAYBE partially right…IS a BIZARRE warped semi yesteryear surrealism to way things seem to ‘function’….

  4. ME…NO idea HOW CMSD functions..past,present or whutever…KNOWN clevelanders…LUCK,pluck n well..HEY…AND TIMING…and if connected ENOUGH and a OPENING occurs…I HATE saying THIS BUT DOES feel like got FORTY or FIFTY yr olds running around w/14 yr ol mindsets doing *$*@..maybe feel NO other way soooooo WHY not BUT….HAS feeling of caught between GipperLand aka ‘1980’ and well HEY….Yeahhhh….LEAST WE AGREE on ONE thing Mr.ROLDO…W*F is THAT *$*@ IDEA of PUBLIC SQUARE ANTHILL U GOT to be kidding me….I READ ANY n all into that…wha diversion OF attention FROM or other…THIS tabloid sheet whutever….I TRY n be openminded,etc.BUT….U WOULD THINK THAT would be Sooo LOL …HATE naming Names,etc. PUT THIS in perspective…CWRU..THEIR prototype A&M R&D ‘school’ size wise IS SMALLER by HALF or 1/4 of MMPI…wha DOES THAT say…if IF trying THAT wundrous medico,robotic n other techie worlds….FLINGING UP MORE dead concrete or bizzaro OTHER stuff SOMEHOW doesnt seem to cut it..least not for me..maybe Im wrong…

  5. It’s so true Roldo, the prevalence of ex-White officials is killing the morale in a lot of departments. Its very very sad and frustrating.

  6. snorky

    Cleveland 2012 , a sad little Detroit , Michigan or a jumbo version of Youngstown , Ohio.

    Take your pick , The casino opening has so much negative social impacts to barely be effectively measured .

    The medical mart and con – vention center tax negatives and more corporate welfare.

    Cleveland City Schools , what can one say that has not been said before ?

    From a nation’s model in 1950 to a National disgrace sixty years on.

    Roldo , please do not even invoke the evil spirit of white michael.

    Better he remain doing his thing from the backside of an alpaca a few counties south of here , a true Napoleon in his own little Ohio version of Corsica!

  7. All well and good to expose the puppet strings Roldo, but aren’t you leaving out the ties to the real estate and property taxes (not paid) — Sam Miller and Forest City have been able to exploit two politicians who suffer from the Napoleon complex. Mike White and Jim Rokakis…you need to expose Rokakis, Roldo. Get REAL.

  8. Real estate schemes and demos for developers…

  9. Exclusive sale of tax liens and whole sale clearing out of strategic areas staged for “redevelopment” –including closing sixteen schools on Cleveland’s East side–it’s criminal and some one should be looking at a major civil rights case against Cuyahoga County.

  10. Roldo Bartimole

    McShane: I know you have a particular vendetta against Rokakis but
    not many people seem agree with you. I’ve smacked Rokakis when I thought he required
    it but you need to give body to your ire before others would join you. Otherwise, it’s just
    sour grapes, sourly stated.

    And if anyone has written more about Sam Miller and tax reductions of his properties,
    along with many other criticisms, I don’t know who that might be.

  11. Roldo Bartimole

    Good question Dick. I have no answer though.

  12. Roldo: I have always admired your journalistic integrity, but I take umbrage with your claim that I have a “vendetta” and that my right to free speech amounts to “sour grapes.” I may not always be fair in my characterization of Jim Rokakis (who I have never met), and I get “testy”, too, in my description of Rokakis, but I try not to use overtly sexual terms as you did in describing “White always had a hard-on for the Cleveland teachers.”
    I certainly do not think that is a fair characterization of Mike White. Emotion aside–I didn’t make up the reality that Rokakis did a miserable, possibly criminal, job of collecting taxes. NewsNet5 ran the story on the Dirty Dozen Tax Scofflaws that included Lou Frangos, brother of Gus Frangos. Gus Frangos, too, owes thousands, if not millions, in delinquent taxes. Tax monies that support public institutions like our schools.

  13. Roldo Bartimole

    Yeah, you’re probably right, McShane, I should have used another word but it felt so aptly descriptive of the former mayor and his attitude toward teachers that I overcame my reluctance.

    You may think Rokakis did a “miserable, possibly criminal” job but I notice no such record in all the investigations of the county operations or the treasurer’s office in all the FBI, federal and news media, which have been considerable in the past few years. I covered him at City Hall from 1979 to the time left and while we disagreed on some issues, especially strongly on Gateway, I never found him to be corrupt, as you seem to suggest.

  14. We all have our blind sides…

  15. And FTR–I am at HOME.

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