Map the Mess: Using social network analysis to uncover hidden connections

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Fri, 08/01/2008 - 06:44.

Reading all the connections coming out in the coverage of the County investigation gets a mind-numbing after a little while.

A group of us are turning to social network software to draw maps of the relationships. The patterns become more clear with a network map. We can start to connect different people and projects". The Juvenile Justice Center, Ameritrust, Med Mart, to name a few.

Already reliable rumors are staring to illuminate the patterns.

  • The rumor (from an elected official) that Russo paid cash for his house in Gates Mills. Zillow estimates the value at about $330,000. 
  • The rumor (from a long time observer and participant in the convention center process) that the Convention Center decision making has come down to two people: Joe Roman and Fred Nance. They are having trouble making the decision to recommend Tower City because geometry and costs are getting in the way. (According to another source, the site is simply too small to handle the logistics of a convention center. If the convention center cannot meet national standards for logistics, it will be uncompetitive the day it opens. (The possibility that any decision will be closely examined by federal prosecutors cannot help matters.)

We can also bright to light smaller corruption patterns involving the administrative decision-making in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

Here's an example of how network maps can uncover covert networks.

You can help. Visit Map the Mess and contribute what you know. Add you voice to the Forums. If you would like to contribute as an author, just fill out the form, and I'll follow up with you. Or, just join the citizens interested in cleaning up the "civic space" we share in Cuyahoga County.

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Point of sale transfers

  Thanks Ed--Where do the submitted comments go?  Do they show up on a blog roll?  I submitted my major concern du jour--the transfer of lots in the City of Cleveland that have attached demolition liens.  There is no information forthcoming, yet, lot after lot transfer to a revolving door of LLCs and developers such as NRP, the recent recipient of the sweet heart deal at 2000 Denison.  How many more of these demolitions to suit the developer are being perpetrated throughout the City of Cleveland?  Have the demolition liens been paid off?  God only knows.

Reason I don't support County landbank

Yes Laura, the folks in charge of demolition will openly admit they demolish first and foremost where there are plans for new development, which would be from CDCs and private developers... probably some good and many bad. That is why I don't support moving the process to a higher, County landbank model where all the land may be corrupted by one or many corrupt politicians and their cronies, as well documented here, and in all NEO media. I'd rather take my chances having landbank decisions at the city council member level... at least if I am not satisfied I have one local person to go after and can vote that person out of office, or move to another neighborhood, without leaving the region. I prefer dealing with people at the local level... although you clearly are having problems with that in your neighborhood. Would yu prefer to deal with the county more, or less?

Disrupt IT

deciding on land use

I agree with you, Norm. Here's an example: In Cleveland an ordinance was passed to make it possible to rezone lots as community gardening land.

From the article linked above (Plain Press)
"The new Urban Garden District zoning ordinance makes it possible for a parcel of land to be designated as a community garden. Rezoning a garden, however, does not guarantee that it can never be lost. It simply makes replacing a garden a public process, giving neighbors a voice to protect it.

A community garden, as defined in the ordinance, is “an area of land managed and maintained by a group of individuals to grow and harvest food crops and/or non-food, ornamental crops, such as flowers, for personal or group use, consumption, or donation.”"

I’d suggest going even farther and placing conservation easements on urban greenspace with conditions – like no dumping – no chemicals… but even Metroparks cannot find a sustainable earth friendly policy, so there is little hope for a smart conservation rule here.

As far as I know, other communities don't have this ordinance, but could adopt a similar policy. Or it could be handed down by the county.

I was conversing with a friend yesterday about other ordinances that smaller municipalities could launch - we spoke about banning or taxing plastic bag use for example or downspout disconnection ordinances (more than rain garden, rain barrel ordinances). These policies and ordinance updates can be tried in smaller local communities and then can spread to neighboring communities as their benefits are proven.

Though I feel much more confident about the knowledge and capabilities of those in the Cuyahoga County Planning Department, I also note that they often remain silent on issues of importance. For example - they were not consulted on the County Administration Building issue or if they were, Lee Trotter indicated in a meeting with the Cleveland Planning Commission that they were not.

All the discussion about a county government - merging all the municipalities into one big mess does seem to take on a different shade in light of the recent FBI/IRS visit.

How submissions are handled

Here's how I'm handling submissions on Map the Mess.

1. I review the comments submitted from the Home Page and post these comments in the blog.

2. I categorize them as either rumor, game trails (relating to a specific investigation or project), or bread crumbs (information that is difficult to connect right now, but may emerge into a pattern).

3. In the forums, I set up a separate forum for each item. This enables readers to contribute in a logical fashion to each item (a rumor, a game trail, a bread crumb).

4. This structure will help us keep track of information. In addition, I use tags so researchers can sort and retrieve information later. The Near Time platform has powerful Knowledge Management tools which will enable us to keep track of information and generate new insights.

In your case, I have posted blog entry here. I have added a forum here. Please contribute to the forum (so, for example, you might ad the e-mail exchanges that you sent around this morning.)


It's some real estate shell game and the taxpayer is getting scammed.  While, I am impressed that Shaker is letting some properties revert to green space, I still wonder who pays off their demolition liens, too?  Are these liens being "forgiven" at the county or city level?  I am especially suspicious of any official begging for more federal dollars for demolitions, which seems to put the whole HUD scam into motion.  BTW, PD today printed a small retraction on their story of 26.6 million dollars of federal monies awarded for more demolitions ( permalink for the retraction!)

Word clouds

The more ANY one submits their comments, the more the mess becomes apparent.  See the word cloud on the lower right hand page of Map the Mess, which is a wiki for the technophiles out there.

Forums on Map the Mess

I'm continuing to build out the site.

I've added forums to keep track of individual threads in the investigation. I've also added an Archive section where I am capturing articles and tagging them.

Next up: a Join page (for people who want to contribute.)

too bad the press doesn't have richer archives online

It is unfortunate that we can no longer access the Scene article "King Cuyahoga". Does the CPL archive the stories of the weeklies? (Scene doesn't.) Didn't have time to check on that...

That is one thing I really appreciate about the NYTimes. I find articles from waaaay back right online. Sometimes they are pdfs of ancient articles replete with the old photos, but just as often they are text only articles from the recent past. However, you can find articles back to 1851.

Not so for the files of say, Northern Ohio Live. I hear they "threw out" much of their archival material when they moved their offices. Chronicling the cultural life of NEO - one month at a time and then, "that's all folks".

Does CPL archive Cleveland Magazine, the Plain Press, NOL, FreeTimes, Scene, others?

Sands of time

  The indexes are gone for ever.  Cleveland Public Library microfilms all of the titles you have mentioned (and has Roldo's Point of View archived, too).  I used to manage the microfilm section and the binding.  We tried at one point to save CoolCleveland, by printing it out, but I am sure that has stopped, because it became futile!  Sands in the hour glass :)