In 2004, Plain Dealer music critic Don Rosenberg toured Europe with the Cleveland Orchestra. Among his reports was a story that told Cleveland what music director Franz Welser-Mšst had been saying to the European press. Under the headline "Many Rich Widows," Rosenberg recounted what Welser-Mšst said to the Swiss weekly magazine, Die Weltwoche, including his comment that Friday matinee audiences at Severance Hall are filled with "blue-hair ladies" who are "too tired to attend performances at night." Welser-Mšst also reportedly told the magazine that these ladies must donate to keep the orchestra going, and that for $500 or even $5,000, they wouldn't even get a handshake from the music director. But for $10 million, "Of course you go to dinner."
When asked how he liked Cleveland, the Swiss magazine reported that Welser-Mšst described it as an "island" with a world-class orchestra and "an inflated farmer's village."
The Musical Arts Association, the orchestra's parent organization, was outraged - with Rosenberg. By revealing to Clevelanders remarks that Welser-Mšst had never intended for them to hear, Rosenberg had put the MAA in an awkward position with those usually generous old ladies. According to a new lawsuit, that is when the MAA began working behind the scenes to have Rosenberg ousted from covering the orchestra, which happened in September. The suit, filed last week, names the Musical Arts Association, its former president Jamie Ireland, and chairman and president Richard Bogomolny, Cleveland Orchestra executive director Gary Hanson, The Plain Dealer and Editor Susan Goldberg as defendants, and charges that after the 2004 story the MAA began a "punitive and retributive" campaign to tarnish Rosenberg's reputation and interfere with his relationship with his employer.
Situations in which an employee sues his employer while still on the job are "not so unusual, actually," says Rosenberg's attorney, Steven Sindell. "There are lots of things that can happen to someone while still employed that are actionable," including reassignments "designed to discourage people from staying at the job."
The suit includes a charge of age discrimination. Rosenberg, who is 56, had his primary and most prestigious responsibility filled by Zachary Lewis, whom Rosenberg had mentored as an intern.
"There is a very profound principle here that has to do with freedom of the press," says Sindell. "It's not just about being treated unfairly, which is not illegal, but it is actionable if there is an illicit reason for doing it, if it is motivated on a basis that the law prohibits. Number one, we have the age factor, and number two, this is about a critic expressing opinions. If they treat someone in a way that violates freedom of press, then aren't we in a situation analogous to papers like Pravda, the voice of the [Soviet] government?
"This case raises fundamental principles that go to the heart of a democratic society. Freedom of the press and the freedom of critics to give their opinions without fear of reprisal is essential to the concept of a free and open media. A critic is going to upset somebody from time to time. Otherwise the person wouldn't be a critic. Simply because the recipient of negative criticism is upset and seeks to remove the critic from his or her employment is not a legitimate reason to take punitive or adverse action against the critic by the newspaper employer."
Rosenberg presented the suit to all parties a month ago. None expressed any interest in settlement. The case has been assigned to Judge John D. Sutula. In addition to all the defendants, music director Franz Welser-Mšst will be among those deposed. - Michael Gill
CASTLE IN RUINS
Frank Giglio's house is gone. The house that stood at the top of West 14th Street - where Giglio tended an organic garden that was sacred to him, where he once hosted late-night bacchanals around a bonfire and over which he fought the city on a long list of code violations - was demolished by a steam shovel last week while he watched.
During his 15-year legal battle with the city, Giglio made substantial repairs, including demolishing a hazardous porch, painting the whole house and installing a new roof. Still, the city had claims about the plumbing and wiring, some of which were true. And the neighborhood was never happy that he let his yard grow over with weeds.
A hint of the confusing treatment Giglio has endured can be found in his tax bill: The county auditor's valuation of his property has more than doubled since 2005. That's interesting, considering that during that time the real-estate market has been declining, and the city of Cleveland has been working to evict Giglio and demolish the house on grounds of alleged decay. Giglio had been making tax payments and has a balance due in 2008 of just $86.65.
The social and legal issues surrounding Giglio and his house could fill a book (for a primer, go to clevescene.com; search for "American Scream"). The only new twist is that a single changed vote on a city-planning commission panel finally allowed the demolition to proceed.
But the bottom line is this: The city created a homeless man under the guise of protecting him from his supposedly hazardous living situation. They did that by knocking down his house, which he owned outright, with no mortgage to default on. At a time when the city of Cleveland can't keep up with its backlog of abandoned homes awaiting demolition, it knocked down a house that belonged to someone who made steady tax payments and desperately wanted to live there. One measure of a community is how it treats those who just want to be left alone. And in this case, the city failed. - Gill
ALE YEN INVASION
The little guy. What he lacks in buying power, he makes up for in bitching power. And that's worth something when you're trying to get your hands on some of that sassy and sweet Christmas Ale. Or maybe it'll be like yelling at your deaf grandmother: She still won't hear you.
Lee Karr, who runs McBill's Beverage on East 185th Street, shot off a letter in recent weeks to the ale's local producer, Great Lakes Brewing Co., and its new Northeast Ohio distributor, Superior Beverage Group, to express his "utter dismay with their total lack of local fidelity … for attentions of further flung markets and lack of focus on the good people of Cleveland, who put them on the stage in the first place."
Karr was able to get his hands on just 16 cases of Christmas Ale to sell this year - five for each of the first three weeks of distribution, then one case and now none. Of course, he could get all he wants if he were willing to pay retail prices for it.
"When I see it stacked at Giant Eagle and Dave's and Heinen's and even Whole Foods, I know what's going on," he says. "These guys have pockets. They can afford to buy pallets and pallets at the beginning of the season." Great Lakes is a bigger little guy now for sure. Christmas Ale sales are booming, says co-founder Patrick Conway, who brags about lording over the best-selling seasonal specialty brew in the nation. He says the company produced 33.4 percent more this year - something it's done each of the past three years, as distribution has extended throughout the Midwest and beyond.
"It looks like we're still going to run out, so it's totally insane," says Conway. "We actually started two weeks later this year too, because we decided we shouldn't start selling any Christmas stuff 'til after Halloween. So that makes all this even more remarkable. The fact that we do such an unbelievably high volume in a short eight-week period is just astounding."
But Karr still finds it remarkable that Great Lakes can't find it in its heart to keep the local taps overflowing.
"Why are you expanding into other markets when you can't meet the demand here at home?" he asks. "You do that when you have the capability to do it. It'd be like me trying to sell wine to somebody in Cincinnati. What's the point?" - Dan Harkins
STUPID IS AS STUPID BRIBES
By all accounts, attorney-cum-councilman-cum-bribe-magnet Robert White is financially in the flophouse. Liens on his property. Borrowing from his boss. But why he was willing to jettison his $72,000-a-year job to change that is a mystery.
Ward 2 lost its leader last week when White resigned the post he'd held for 12 years, and it will be a big sucking hole to fill. White was already under investigation by the state ethics commission for paying his wife and stepson as much as $7,000 out of his spending account. Then, The Plain Dealer revealed how low he ranked on the meeting-attendance meter. The final blow came last week after the feds revealed a $500 bribe he'd received in late 2007 to help a businessman get his city power restored. At press time, White was planning to plead guilty to a single charge of bribery.
"A businessman felt he could use Councilman White's help, and when he said he would help him, he was thankful," explains White's attorney Ed LaRue. "He was just thankful in an inappropriate way."
And White, we might add, is an idiot for accepting. But this businessman - how idiotic is he? Aside from oversight of liquor licenses and the potential for kickbacks from bar owners (something Councilman Joe Santiago is being investigated for right now in Ward 14), some are wondering how anyone could think a council member is worth trying to bribe anymore. At least council vet Mike Polensek is wondering that.
The last time somebody was busted - when Ward 1 Councilman Joe Jones was scooped up in 2005 in the case against Nate Gray's posse, minus Mayor Mike White - it was also a case of someone making themselves out to be more powerful than they really were, says Polensek.
"I'm down here these nine consecutive terms, and I just shake my head thinking, Why would anybody with any brains in their head attempt to offer councilmen any money," he says. "They don't have any authority. You might as well take your money and go to Vegas. But I guess as long as there's dumb people, there's going to be dumb politicians."
Yeah. Doesn't everybody know that the way you get things done around here is to do work on a politician's house? -- - Harkins
TORSO THEY SAID
It's beginning to seem like the film Torso, the true story of Eliot Ness' epic cat-and-mouse game with a Cleveland serial killer, is cursed -perhaps by the ghosts of the 13 victims mutilated at the hands of some unknown monster in the 1930s.
The movie was adapted by Ehren Kruger (The Skeleton Key - yawn!) from the graphic novel of the same name, written by Clevelanders Brian Michael Bendis (Powers - yeah!) and Marc Andreyko (Manhunter - woo!). Paramount optioned the story so long ago that its rights to the project were set to expire this month. Luckily, the studio has decided to exercise the option and began to budget the film last week, said producer Todd McFarlane during an interview on the Bubba the Love Sponge show.
So good news, right? Not so fast. The coolest news about Torso was that it would be directed by David Fincher, who did a remarkable job bringing the unsolved Zodiac case to life last year. Except it seems that Fincher is currently fighting with Paramount executives over the running time of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. They have retaliated against the director by nixing another passion project of his (an adaptation of the cult classic Heavy Metal) and may no longer be keen to have him behind another $100-million true-crime film. Fincher made Page Six in the New York Post last week after he insulted Paramount's former chief at a screening of Benjamin Button in L.A.
It appears Torso, in part, hinges on the success of Benjamin Button; studio execs have a way of mending bridges with directors who make them money. So go see Benjamin Button, people. We don't want Brett Ratner directing the coolest Cleveland movie since The Deer Hunter. - James Renner
THE O FILES: NOW HE KNOWS
One of Ohio's most famous Bigfoot hunters, George Greene, died last Wednesday, still searching for the elusive missing link. Greene took part in an exhaustive investigation of a rash of Bigfoot sightings that occurred in 1980 near Wayne National Forrest, in Vinton County. Hunters reported sightings of a group of hairy beasts that called out to each other in strange "barks" similar to the noises some gorillas make. A man named Larry Cottrill, interviewed in the Cleveland Press, claimed to have wounded one of the animals with his rifle. Greene and three fellow researchers camped in the woods near where the creatures were spotted, and analyzed footprint casts and tree scrapings that locals said had been made by the Bigfoots. Their findings all but proved the evidence was manufactured by some jokester. But their time in the area caused Greene to believe that something strange did indeed live in those woods, a notion he carried with him until his sudden death last week.
THIS MEANS SOMETHING
Crop circles are so 1999. The new fad in extraterrestrial design is "round ice." It appears to have started in Russia a couple weeks ago - giant, perfectly symmetrical circles of ice found carved into lakes by some unknown force (Google "round ice" for pictures). Online conspiracy theorists are calling it one of the first signs of the end of the world in 2012, as predicted by the astrologically advanced Mayan civilization. Others suggest it could be a natural phenomenon caused by underwater springs or bored Ruskies. Scene staffers are currently searching for round ice in Ohio, but so far have found only several ice holes caused by Lake Erie fishermen.
COULD IT BE … SATAN?
Some copies of the rare 1993 book Satanic Panic are showing up for sale on the web, just in time for the holidays. Written by sociologist Jeffrey Victor, Satanic Panic explores modern-day public hysteria and how communities - in Ohio, as well as New York and Pennsylvania - occasionally are overrun by false reports of mass murders perpetrated by satanic cults. One of the more famous cases is the 1985 hysteria that culminated in the "Toledo Dig." The local sheriff there claimed he had credible confidential informants that told him there was a satanic cult in the neighborhood that had been sacrificing children since 1969. The dig at the mass-murder site, attended by about 100 reporters, found no evidence of any crime. Still, police captain Dale Griffis, a self-described cult expert, claimed that a headless doll found in the ground there was an obvious "occult ritual relic." Scary book. Because it's true.