Submitted by Jeff Buster on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 16:01.

fred nance cuyahoga county commissioners meeting tax

I attended the KennedyConCenter meeting this morning - held before the scheduled meeting of the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners.  


All the TV cameras and paper reporters were there.   Big news was afoot!


I rode up in the elevator with Jimmy Dimora who (like wee willie winkie all through the house)  was hollering up and down the hallway “We have a deal! We have a deal!”


So by the time the meeting was called to order by Mr. Lawson-Jones, the cat was out of the bag. 


NOW IT WAS SHOWTIME, every seat in the Commissioners’ Chamber was occupied, the TV crews had pulled the blinds to shut out the daylight, and the stage lights were making Tim Hagan sweat.


Fred the Fixer was welcomed to the podium – trademark three corned light blue hankie in his breast pocket - and then everyone complimented everyone else in the room  Round and Round the compliments flew.  At one point they had forgotten Joe Roman at the back of the room, but that slip up was corrected and Joe was complimented too. 


NOTHING IN WRITING AT THIS TIME, Mr. Nance announced.   But the deal is done, that is why we stayed up late last night working on it and why I had more telephone calls this morning with the Kennedy group. 


More Compliments – Jimmy Dimora complimented Mr. Hagan and Mr. Jones for having the foresight to let him (Jimmy) work the deal in secret with Fred the Fixer.  (Mr. Hagan pointed out, with a bit of a facetious twist, that the 3 county commissioners can’t meet together outside of a public meeting because two or more commissioners constitute a quorum and thus a meeting outside the public view violates the Sunshine Law).


Ed Hauser asked if there would be any public process in deciding on the location of the convention center.  Mr. Nance answered that Joe Roman and the Greater Cleveland Partnership would be involved. 


Ed repeated “ I asked about public process..”


Mr. Nance deflected and Mr. Hagan, in an irritated and irritating tone, went off about how this is a “representative government”, and that the voters (meaning Ed) had elected the Commissioners to make these secret 400 million dollar 40 year bond deals for us without any input.


Through the chair, Mr. Lawson-Jones, I asked Mr. Nance if there wasn’t a state statute which governed sales tax collection which was intended to fund a convention center. 




Mr. Nance said he “wouldn’t debate that here”.


More compliments.  


Susan Miller asked how much money had been collected to date.  The County lady who is apparently in the accounting department went to the mike and told us that “11.1 million had been collected through March”.


This is much less than what was projected to be collected weekly (tax started October 1, 2007) when the sales tax was imposed.   At that time (last summer) the .25% sales tax was projected to collect about 3.3 million monthly;  five months times 3.3 equal 16.5 million. 



I believe that the Commissioners are very arrogant to be secretly making half billion dollar deals for a sales tax supported  convention center without a public vote. 


Why a law firm in town doesn’t take this on as a class action I don’t know.  The class action would claim that the commissioners were collecting a sales tax hike (specifically earmarked for a convention center) into the county general fund in direct violation of the state statute which requires a public vote to collect sales tax for a convention center.  I would further add charges that this “dealing” with one vendor (Kennedy) for a 400 million dollar publicly paid for facility was a violation of the public bidding and public procurement laws which demand competitive bidding. 


I would further add racketeering charges, but that’s just me.


If the suit prevailed, the millions collected to date would be returned to the taxpayers with a third (the usual contingency distribution), or at least costs,  going to the law firm which pursued the suit in the public interest.


The Commissioners are knowingly and willfully evading the state convention center regulations by collecting a sales tax for a convention center and depositing it into the general fund.  They are intentionally doing it this way to avoid a public vote on the sales tax increase.  A vote the Commissioners, Fred Nance, Toby Cosgrove, and Joe Roman know will fail - the public doesn't want to spend their tax on a new concenter.


Mr. Nance and the other participants know that they are evading the state sales-tax-hike-for-convention-center public vote requirement.   The Commissioners’ counsel even announced this morning that the dissolution of the prior convention center authority was part of the plan to make an end run around this state convention center tax public vote requirement.   (not quite his words, he said the dissolution was necessary in order to collect the tax into the general fund – who can elaborate on this?)


So what I see is arrogance.  Arrogance on the part of public employees who think they know so much more than their constituents about what is good for their constituents that it is in the constituent’s interest to be denied the right to vote on their own sales tax increase.




Then more compliments…..


I predict there is still no deal and that this dog and pony parade is just more of a stall tactic. 







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representative democracy

One thing I thought was misleading was the comment that this deal goes back to Toby Cosgrove. I had heard, back in the summer, (when the BOCC did their obligatory hearings on this MedMart deal) that this deal actually goes back to Floyd Loop. I was told by a former Cleveland Clinic employee that this deal was considered in the previous administration under Loop who paid for a study by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). The PWC study, according to my source, told Loop that there was no market for a Medical Mart and that it would be a bust. I do wonder if this study sat in the file drawer in the CEO's office, was stumbled upon by Cosgrove and hauled out with a new plan. This might be a bust, but it could also be a way for Cleveland to get its long wished for, money losing convention center. CCF would have known from the previous study that it is not something they wanted to risk, but risking the taxpayer's money is so much easier. So I have to wonder, if MMPI will put in $20 million and the taxpayers will put in $400 million, what will CCF and UH sow and what will they reap? It seems more likely that we'll sow and they'll reap.

In the meeting, I asked Fred Nance -- "Since this is such a groundbreaking, first time risk, I'm sure MMPI and the county did a cost benefit analysis - so would you please share the details with us of what it is we stand to gain by this deal?" He gave me the answer we have heard all along, and I wanted to apologize to all gathered to have asked the question that gave him the opportunity to make that speech again - the speech that tells us that convention centers lose money, that servers, bell hops and skycaps will benefit. But, oh well, I wasn't going to be rude and wave him off, and he certainly wasn't going to stop once he was in midstream with this speech which we might all have spoken verbatim along with him. About that time, I was really expecting that someone would roll in one of those sugary sweet yellow cakes with waaaay too much frosting. The speech went on, and I imagined that a call girl a la Eliot Spitzer would jump out of the cake and give Hagan a big frosting laden lick. The whole thing was beginning to feel very sordid at that point. But then the fact that I was thinking of the celebratory cake helped me to realize that we citizens are treated not like intelligent constituents, we are much more akin to the children in a "Father Knows Best" TV drama. If this is the way our elected officials view us, they must feel like the parents of perpetual toddlers who never stop asking "why". If you have experienced this "why" period with a child, you know that at one point, as a parent, you finally go to "just trust me" or "because I say so" to end the discussion. The problem with this is that unlike toddlers, there are in fact educated thinking individuals in these adult discussions of how our tax dollars are spent. So it is belittling and demeaning to one's constituents to treat them like toddlers, placating them with a celebratory cake (full of empty calories) when they have elected you and are lending you their trust and backing it up with cash. I wonder, if a guy on the street said, “trust me and give me your money because I think I know best how to use it to improve your lot”, would you? Hell no you wouldn't. You'd tell that guy to take a hike.

I could tell, sitting there, that BOCC's diet contains far too many empty calories. Hagan made some remark about the "health of the community" and I thought, "Dude, model the behavior - take a walk". Not exactly an example of John Kennedy era fitness.

They seem to be modeling the health of the community, car-driving, sitting far too many hours in a day, consuming far too many empty calories and not “healthy” in appearance - maybe it is worry or stress. Is this the picture of bloated government? And then, what about the “food” they are consuming? Is it fresh? Is it locally grown? Does it lead to sharp minds and days that boast 8 hours or more of productivity? I sort of doubt it. Stationed in front of the Chair, Peter Lawson Jones, was his midmorning drink – a can of V8. I couldn’t help but think that Tim and Jimmy might do well by checking into rehab – surely with all this health talk they might benefit from a consult. They might have a renewed outlook on life. As Nance was going on and on in his "convention centers lose money, bell hops will benefit" speech, I had the opportunity to have a look at what Hagan would soon refer to as “representative democracy”.


Ed Hauser took the floor and asked about a “public process” and Hagan snapped back, cutting him off in mid sentence – “Ed, this is a representative democracy”. You elected us and you have to trust that we have the health of the community foremost in our minds and actions (or some such – I am paraphrasing). Wow, I thought, this is the representation of the health of our community…


The other choice moment came when Hagan recused himself from a vote on agenda item 19 because he had divorced a Carney; then there followed some inside jokes about Carney marriages – Peter Lawson Jones saying he had married her next and Hagan asking if he got any money and Lawson Jones responding no that there was none left after Hagan was finished. I thought again, boy, this is a sordid affair in the guise of “representative democracy”.


I will hold further musings until the document is produced. There wasn’t much to report in this meeting because as the 80’s commercial asked, so did the press – “Where’s the beef?” I would ask, “Where are the vegetables?”, but that’s just me…