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Issue Date: July 2008


Rage Machine


by Michael D. Roberts
The birds were singing their first spring rhapsody when County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora blew up. Two young Plain Dealer reporters asked him publicly why a woman who was on the county payroll did not appear to have a job and was paid $48,000 annually. Shouting, out of control, Dimora ordered the reporters ejected from a public meeting. The Plain Dealer, in the interest of posterity, retaliated by publishing a transcript of the outburst.

The Dimora dialogues reveal more about him, the state of our political leadership and our town’s bleak future than any interview could. Dimora was lucky the reporters did not bring a list of dozens of county employees and ask why and how each was feeding at the public trough. He might have had a heart attack. Instead, the list was printed a few days later, causing politicians to whine how unfair it was to expose family and friends as cronies.

The newspaper promises more revelations and has called for major reforms in county government. The lesson here is that throwing reporters out of a public meeting is the journalistic equivalent of shooting at a policeman. All cars respond.

Dimora himself, in his moment of discontent, accused the newspaper of being the reason no one wants to run for public office. He stated that he himself was “getting the hell out of this business.” This was an uplifting proclamation, filled with promise and hope.

As for the newspaper, it was about time that it stopped giving “go free” cards to the morass that passes for government here.

Dimora’s heated remarks offered insight into his character and the insecurities that drive him. They showed why, in recent years, our government has failed us at almost every turn. The county commissioners preside over a virtually unaccountable government with little regard for public input or scrutiny. They have been as arrogant in decline as their counterparts in ancient Rome.

“If you want to call me an idiot, a jerk, a dummy,” Dimora raged on, “I really don’t care. No, I didn’t go to college, but I had personal reasons for not going to college. For your fancy editorial people.”

It is unlikely that The Plain Dealer would ever call Dimora an idiot, jerk or dummy, but they were able to publish the description because Jimmy articulated it so well. His telling insecurity over his education (which the reporters hadn’t brought up) gave credence to critics who question the logic behind the Ameritrust Tower deal, the economics of the convention center project and the manipulation of the port’s relocation.

Dimora lost his cool because the quiet sinecure he has grown so prominent in is under siege. The city and the county are falling apart. While Dimora and fellow commissioner Tim Hagan speak of their mandate from voters, the citizens they serve are abandoning the city and suburbs.

For nearly two centuries, the county commissioners here have labored in obscurity, administering the needs of citizens, collecting taxes, keeping records and serving the poor through welfare programs.

Then, recently, the city of Cleveland lost its role as the area’s political focal point because of corruption, inept leadership and a city council that acts more like Animal House than a legislative body. Political power and responsibility then shifted to the county commissioners, who hold part-time jobs but are full time into patronage.

Accompanying the Dimora transcript in the PD was a sanctimonious letter written by Hagan and James Rokakis, the county treasurer, accusing the reporters — Henry Gomez and Mark Puente — of acting inappropriately and disrupting a public meeting. Actually, I thought the incident was a lot like Batman and Robin trying to take Gotham City back from the Joker.

Dimora’s dialogue of outrage also revealed the stress he’s under because of failures such as the acquisition and sale of the Ameritrust complex — purchased as the site for a new county administration building that the commissioners then discovered they could not afford, costing the public millions. Dimora’s lack of ability is also reflected in the incredible expense and dysfunctional plans to build a convention center and relocate the port.

My favorite part of the dialogue was when Dimora raged: “That isn’t my M.O. I’m not a stool pigeon or a snitch. Find somebody else to do that dirty work.”

This sounded like grand jury testimony rather than remarks of a public servant. Only here, Dimora is referring to The Plain Dealer’s probe into patronage. He is saying he’s not going to snitch on the membership of the bloated payroll.

Why should he? He’s an elected public official and, as he points out in the dialogue, he represents 1.3 million people, many of whom draw a county paycheck.

It has gotten so bad that Hagan, ever the opportunist, has called for reform in county government, abandoning his fellow Democratic officeholders to the lifeboats. His plan cuts the jobs of the recorder, auditor and treasurer and replaces them with an assessor, while making the coroner, engineer, sheriff and clerk of courts appointed positions. But it retains the three county commissioners.

This is the kind of reform you see in a Third World nation when three colonels come into power and pledge to help the people by helping themselves. It’s a repackaging of more patronage for the commissioners. They are really the problem in county government. Making an assessor an appointee of the commissioners would assure that another part of government can be concealed from the public.

Nearly three weeks later, Dimora, in another angry bellow, accused The Plain Dealer and the Republican Party of conspiring to use government reform to destroy the Democratic Party — an act that Dimora appears to be working on himself. Long ago, he made it the party for developers rather than democrats. The outburst earned Jimmy Duh more headlines, a fiery editorial and further establishment as the symbol of Cuyahoga County’s decline.

Hagan, meanwhile, is the wrong man to lead reform because he is so much a part of the tawdry political fabric here. He lacks spirit, energy and dedication. He stood by while his former brother-in-law, John Carney, real estate developer and then-chairman of the port authority, orchestrated the passage of a port-relocation project that could easily cost a half billion dollars or more, thereby bypassing the public and abusing its trust.

Not long ago a law firm hired me to research the genesis of the port authority’s relocation plans. The research suggested the plan was approved behind the public’s back. For instance, the port authority’s relocation study was not released to the public until months after the authority voted on a relocation plan. Moving the port could position Carney or his business partner, Bob Stark, to develop prime land on the waterfront. Carney, whom Hagan voted to reappoint to the port authority board last year, was clearly conflicted in his role, and still is.

We have become consumed by political manipulation designed to mislead us. There are 4,000 names on the war memorial fountain on the Mall, Clevelanders who gave their lives to ensure freedom and the right to know. I wonder, if you called their roll, what they would think of John Carney and Jimmy Dimora.

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