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Issue Date: March 2010

Seen and Heard

Erick Trickey

Old newspapermen never die. Maybe that’s why former Plain Dealer reporter Joe Wagner was still getting tips from county insiders after retiring from the paper late last year.

These days, Wagner is the spokesman for businessman Ken Lanci’s campaign for county executive. So when the veteran newshound heard auditor Frank Russo might give his employees civil-service protection, Wagner took the tip to his new boss, who mentioned it in his Jan. 13 campaign announcement. “My sources over at the county who still thought I was [at the PD], they called me on my cell phone,” Wagner says. “[They asked,] ‘Did you hear that?’ ‘Well, I hadn’t, but I guess I just did!’ ”

It’s true, Russo considered using civil-service rules to give his staff job security after Issue 6 passed, confirms Russo’s chief operating officer Destin Ramsey.

But after 11 years of assembling a patronage army in his office, allegedly pocketing $1.2 million in kickback cash and purportedly setting up a paid-off chump challenger in his last cakewalk re-election, Russo is showing restraint. He dropped the civil-service idea after figuring out it wouldn’t stop the new government from slashing payroll, Ramsey says.

Besides, his office is too busy responding to federal subpoenas and state audits. “In light of all our responsibilities, it wouldn’t be productive for us,” Ramsey adds.

Responsibility, productivity — it looks like Russo’s trying to prove there is honor among corruption probe targets after all.


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