Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Shame on You, City & County

In the wake of the arrest of Cleveland Works' executive director David Roth on drug charges, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have suspended their contracts with the once-heralded welfare-to-work organization, leaving its future in jeopardy. That is a shame. But the larger shame is this: shame on both units of government for waiting more than eight years to do so, or to at least look closely into persistent reports about the worthiness of a prime and sensitive contractor. As I mentioned briefly the day of the arrest, the Free Times carried a powerful front-page story about Roth's proclivity for drugs, and it was way back in March of '95. So all this talk in the media and elsewhere about Cleveland Works employees, board members and others being "jolted" by the news is just silly, reminiscent of the Claude Raines character in Casablanca pretending to be shocked at the idea that gambling is taking place in speakeasies.

Try as they might, smart people couldn't easily ignore a very explicitly reported and well-written story, the subject of a two-month investigation, written by a guy, Mark Naymik, that's something of a protege of both Roldo Bartimole and Jim Neff, merely the two best investigative reporters in Cleveland in the last quarter-century. Yes, the story, headlined "The Fall of Cleveland's Welfare Prophet," was pretty hard to ignore, but other Cleveland media did their best to render the title premature, which helped the agency shove the problem under the rug for all this time. And you have to remember that time in Cleveland media history to get a sense of the dynamics: the FT was all alone in pursuing tough, investigative stories while the town was owned by a mad-dog mayor (Mike White) who played Karl Rove-style hardball, even trying to snatch the paper's street boxes in just one celebrated bit of extra-constitutional vindictiveness. And at the time, he was being left almost completely alone by the pre-Doug Clifton Plain Dealer, which later helped convince him to retire to the more genteel rhythms of the life of a country squire when it started really covering his reign of petty terror (the post-Clifton PD also made a point, for the first time, of hiring the best of the alt-weekly workforce, reporters like Naymik). In that environment, Free Times muckraking took on the character almost of Soviet samizdat literature furtively passed around on street corners by citizens schooled to ignore party newspaper propaganda in favor of more truthful underground papers.

While their contractors may have understandably reacted a bit hysterically in their immediate defensive shock over the article, why didn't these public officials with responsibility for expending public monies wisely ask some simple questions after the passions subsided a bit? Like, why would a reporter with a growing reputation for digging out ambitious stories invent these very specific allegations out of thin air? Like why wouldn't the subject sue the paper if these allegations were so unfounded? Didn't his documented findings at least warrant a closer look? Of course they did...

Hope for a Divine Outcome. Some books cause collateral damage, but Kristin Ohlsen's Stalking the Divine seems to have caused the opposite. For want of a better coinage, we'll call it collateral optimism. I mentioned last week that Rightie Rush Limbaugh is her newest and biggest fan, to her profound mixed pleasure. But I neglected to mention an even more interesting development. The author appeared on Dee Perry's WCPN After Nine show last week to discuss the book, along with one of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration who were her subjects. The nun wasn't so much interested in talking about the book, but rather kept circling back to the fact that some of her foreign-born colleagues are facing the threat of being deported because of snags in immigration paperwork. Sure enough, the PD's longtime crack courts/legal affairs writer Mark Rollenhagen wrote it up for the next day's front page. Which makes it pretty unlikely that this case will get lost in the shuffle at the Immigration Service. (if the PD doesn't follow up with an update on their situation, as I expect they will, WWW will soon do so). Kristin, take a bow, along with Mark and Dee (who did her usual good job today interviewing the husband & wife blogging team of Eric and Dawn Olsen)...


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