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Thanks, D.C.

The only city willing to take Cleveland's rejects.


Eugene Sanders' trash is D.C.'s . . . trash. - WALTER NOVAK
When it comes to dysfunction, Washington, D.C.'s public schools are among the rare few that give Cleveland's a run for their money. The dismal district has exhausted six superintendents in the past decade and routinely counts itself among the worst systems in the country.

Perhaps that's why they're so eager to hire our flunkies. First, Louis Erste, a castoff from the Mike White and Barbara Byrd-Bennett era, served a brief stint as D.C.'s chief operating officer a few years ago. Now, Lisa Ruda, Byrd-Bennett's most recent chief of staff, has been hired to play the same role in D.C. It is, to say the least, an unusual choice.

Ruda, you may recall, was part of the team that invented attendance numbers and bungled the $1.5 billion school construction project. After Byrd-Bennett left, she briefly took over the reins as interim CEO and did little more than arrange the deck chairs on the listing vessel.

When new chief Eugene Sanders arrived, he had to overhaul the construction plan, fire consultants who were consuming an extra $6.4 million, and shake up a PR department that had been hoarding documents since 1999 ["Bait & Switch," May 23]. Not exactly the kind of accomplishments Ruda could use on her résumé.

Nonetheless, she got the job, and has already taken heat from D.C.'s city council because her new boss wanted to pay her more than the government's $152,600 salary cap. Welcome to our world, Washingtonians.

The Bizarre Boy Mayor
In his latest attempt to prove how super-duper cool his city is, Seven Hills Mayor David Bentkowski recently sent a bizarre letter to the suburb's "young residents." The three-page missive, mailed to residents "18-40ish," explains that "Seven Hills is actually starting to become 'hip,'" noting everything from the suburb's sweet rec center to rad schools to killer sports leagues. (The mayor even plays flag football: "It is a blast.")

Apparently under the impression he's mayor of Autistic Village, Bentkowski also instructs residents exactly how to respond "if someone ever asks you about living in Seven Hills.

"You tell them the following: Seven Hills is awesome," he implores.

The letter, which reads like a student-council campaign speech, is vintage Bentkowski. This, after all, is a 34-year-old mayor who brags about his youth, proudly wears Superman tights, and routinely tries to pull off stunts like limiting residents' feedback at meetings and barring government employees from running for office. Bentkowski, it's safe to say, has the political IQ of Quiznos' lettuce.

The letter also includes a lengthy questionnaire that asks residents to provide the ages and names of "everyone living in your household." This, Bentkowski writes, "will help us notify you of various things that may be of interest to you. For example, if you have an 18-year-old daughter we can invite her to participate in the Miss Seven Hills Pageant," an event the mayor has insisted he emcee. It also asks for e-mail, web, and MySpace addresses.

The mayor says he's just trying to stay in touch with residents. But the letter left some members of city council scratching their heads, says councilman Frank Petro, a regular critic of the Boy Mayor®. Nowhere does the questionnaire say it's voluntary or that personal information will be kept private. The letter doesn't appear on city letterhead and includes the mayor's personal web address. But it was paid for by the city.

"Council never approved it," Petro says. "I don't understand who 'we' is. He refers to 'we' this and 'we' that. Who's 'we?'"

Finally, the letter includes a "special invite" to a concert by the Spazmatics, an '80s cover band. Though the concert was part of last weekend's Seven Hills Home Days festival, the invite dubbed it a "Special Home Days Concert for 'Younger' Residents."

Petro, 51 years old, wasn't sure he qualified.

"I don't know," he said last week. "I hope I'm allowed to go."

The neighborhood pedophile
James Cody says he gave Michael Harig fair warning when the sex offender moved onto his Springfield Township street three years ago. Knowing that Harig had been convicted of molesting three boys, Cody had a simple rule for his new neighbor: Don't bring over any minors and everything would be cool.

But when Cody spotted a 16-year-old boy weed-whacking Harig's yard this past spring, all bets were off. Cody quickly called the police, accusing Harig of looking at adult-themed movie listings with the kid. Both Harig and the boy denied that anything happened.

Pissed that police didn't believe his accusations, Cody enlisted neighbors in a crusade. They began threatening to beat Harig and monitored his moves 24-7. Things finally came to a head this month when Cody posted an 8-by-10-foot sign in front of his house. Its scarlet letters not only list Harig's address and crimes, but accuse him of striking a deal with prosecutors to get a more lenient sentence. Soon, other neighbors posted signs of their own.

Cody told the Akron Beacon Journal that he was simply doing what the police wouldn't -- protecting the neighborhood's youngsters.

But not everyone in the neighborhood appreciates Cody's gestures. To Jessie Carr, 19, the situation is downright absurd. "I pretty much don't care," he says. "Mike's always been a good neighbor. [When the sign went up] I just thought, 'Oh, God.'"

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