Former Parma City Councilman Roy Jech retired on December 31 to collect increased pension benefits. It's a familiar and oft-decried maneuver in these parts, but Jech has tried to distance himself from double-dipping's reprehensible image.
Effective this month, a new law stipulates that all future pension increases will be based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index. That means annual hikes could range from zero to three percent.
Under the old law, retirees were guaranteed an annual three percent increase, and that stability was too attractive to pass up for Jech. He officially retired after the New Year but had his paperwork retroacted to December 31. He cited the financial security of his wife and family and his age as primary catalysts for the decision.
Now up for grabs is Jech's Ward 9 Council Seat, a seat that carries with it an annual salary of $20,000, a seat which Jech has occupied for 19 years, and a seat which he very much wants to keep.
However, in light of recent public animus surrounding pension loopholes – Ken Johnson! Ken Johnson! Ken Johnson! -- Jech said he wanted to do things the honorable way.
Unlike Johnson in Cleveland, who asked to be reappointed to the council seat he vacated (and for whom Martin Sweeney and Co. merrily obliged), Jech is foregoing re-appointment and instead will run in the May 7 Democratic party primary.
"I told everybody I wouldn't [seek reappointment] because I'd be putting people in a rough spot," Jech said. "They all think I'm doing the right thing and they respect me for that."
So long as his honor is intact, Jech presumes, he'll be set to recapitulate his council seat in good faith.
But in order to ensure that his 2013 campaign will be as snag-free as possible, Jech, whose sway is mighty in Parma's ninth ward, choreographed the reappointment of his successor. And he found someone who greatly resembles himself.
The reappointment proceedings went down on January 23, in the VFW on Parma's Woodrow Ave. Folks from the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party oversaw. Ward 9 precinct heads would nominate and then vote on a replacement to keep Jech's seat warm until January 1, 2014.
In the event, the Ward 9 precinct heads had been hand-selected by the Ward 9 Councilman: Roy Jech. There are seven precinct heads and two didn't show up. So the committee to nominate Jech's replacement was manned by Jech himself and four of his pals.
Two candidates had officially filed their names for consideration: Jeff Crossman, a lawyer whom Jech had castigated in a January 7 meeting, and Andy Schofield, a long-faced, soft-spoken fellow who was introducing his girlfriend to the precinct heads before official business got underway.
Crossman was dressed in a (pinstipe) suit and practicing his remarks off to the side while guests and observers trundled in from the cold. About 20 people showed up to witness the decision.
Other nominations were welcome, so long as they were initiated by the precinct heads, but they weren't exactly trying to populate a ballot. Only after some prodding did they ratify the motion that attendance had been taken. And only after an extended period of silence when Democratic Party Treasurer Rudy Stralka asked for nominations did Roy Jech pipe up.
"Chairman, I stand to nominate Andy Schofield," Jech said.
Stralka nodded and petitioned for further nominations. The precinct heads once again firmly said nothing -- it was like they didn't hear -- and Stralka closed the floor.
Jeff Crossman was sitting on a folding chair near Schofield and the other guests looking everywhere for support, waiting for his name to be called. It never was.
The vote for Schofield was immediate and unanimous. Schofield trod up there, shaking hands and smiling. His remarks were of the earnest, off-the-cuff variety.
"I just want to help out," etc. Nothing much in the way of platform, by his own admission. "I have no agenda," he said later. "My main focus is to help the city and help the residents."
He's a sweet guy, seems a lot younger than 42 years old. He's lived in Parma since he was a kid and on Wales, in Ward 9, for the past 20 years. He's an electrician with Local #38 by day, but his real aspiration is to be a moviestar. His business card celebrates him as a "Four-time Telly-Award Winner" beneath a logo for something called "Dream-Maker Productions." His professional website is moviemanandy.com.
"Whether for commercials, television, or movies, my passion and drive is to be in front of the camera. I have more than 10 years of experience in regard to film, stunts and vocal training while being involved in many features, short films, commercials and industrials," the site's introduction reads. "I continue to strive to become the best actor,director and producer possible.I also have certification in O.S.H.A., C.P.R. and first aid as well as firearm safety."
This guy wants to be a politician?
"I've always wanted to serve," Schofield said, "but I never wanted to run against Roy. He's done such a good job."
After the vote, Jech openly admitted that the die had been cast before the meeting even started."Part of our decision was made --and I spoke to the other precinct people -- to keep diversity on council. We've already got three lawyers. Crossman's a lawyer. We've got three people from private business. Two women. And this position with Andy, or when I was in there, there were 2 guys from organized labor, working-class families. That was part of our decision-making too."
The other precinct heads were mixed about the proceedings. David Kennedy said he would have preferred to hear a debate between Crossman and Schofield. The Sun reported that Kennedy thought one of the absent precinct heads had intended to nominate Crossman.
Nick Halsak, a pipe-fitter like Jech, said he had nothing against Crossman but preferred Schofield's credentials: presumably the union affiliations and not the Tae Kwon Do.
Parma City Council President Sean Brennan, a few days removed, said he was "shocked" by the way the meeting went. He was surprised that neither Crossman nor Schofield was given a chance to speak.
"The meeting was run according to the rules, but I think more tact could have been used," Brennan said.
Ward 7 Councilman Brian Brochetti was also surprised. "And I can see how, looking at the pieces and putting them together, it seemed a little odd."
Debbie Lime, Ward 2 Councilman, missed the meeting, but not for lack of trying. "It was over in 7 minutes. I was on the phone with a resident and got there as Andy was being sworn in."
When Schofield was asked if he'd run in the Democratic primary later this year if Jech also ran, he expressed uneasiness and uncertainty. "Roy's just done such a tremendous job. I don't know. I just...he's done a really good job and I haven't made up my mind."
Nonetheless, Schofield has officially filed his petition. Jech now claims to be undecided. Crossman has also officially filed and says he's been receiving heat from Jech's camp ever since he indicated his interest. Jech certainly hasn't been shy about his animosity.
"There are people that are trying to make a move against me," Jech said in remarks at the January 7 council meeting where he explained his retirement. "I know they work for a law firm with our mayor and I am totally surprised at what's happening. They rent a house in my Ward and if I do win, I will stay on Council until I die because he will never get back in. He'll never be Ward 9 Council. A single lawyer."
Crossman never expected to win the appointment, not with Parma's atypical arrangement. But he didn't expect to be railroaded the way he was either.
"I reached out to every single one of those precinct folks with a letter. I understand that they're Roy's friends, but historically, even if you jump in late as a contender, they'll nominate you as a courtesy. They'll let you speak."
Among other things, Crossman intended to thank Jech for his service. He's most alarmed by the selection of Andy Schofield because what he views as an obvious lack of credentials.
"No one knows him. He's not active in the party. I guess just because he's a union guy..." Crossman said. "The fact that I'm the son, grandson and brother to union didn't seem to matter to them. Three of my four grandparents were union people. As a Democrat, I believe in the Democratic process. And this was not a Democratic process."
Fortunately, an election is. Crossman hopes his efforts on the ground will pay dividends in the primaries later this year. Roy Jech, with his own actions, may have decided the fate of Ward 9's Council replacement for now; but on May 7, voters will decide the fate of Roy Jech.