In the pantheon of Modellian greatness — the one over on Brookpark Road, just past the Fox's Den — there is but a short list of qualities that ensure an individual's rightful membership.
Honor. Determination. Gratitude. It sure ain't any of those, but damned if we can remember what they are.
And through the years, no man has more tirelessly exemplified those principles of exacting stewardship than the incomparable Art Modell. It is in his honor that we gather today to celebrate those who, in this year gone by, climbed the ladder of depravity straight into the penthouse of incompetence, where they gleefully sipped from the goblet of malfeasance and viewed the basic-cable network of ineptitude.
Sadly, Art could not join us for this year's festivities, given that he has died, or gone into hiding at a Boca Raton Waffle House. Anyway, he hasn't returned our telegrams in decades, so we're bracing for the worst.
But though our grand honoree could not be with us today, his spirit burns bright in the deeds and handsome caricatures of the noble imbeciles whom we honor today.
Art, as we all know, had an enduring fondness for the expression "People? Screw 'em. Let's round up some broads and have 'em make sandwiches."
It is in keeping with this timeless sentiment that we proudly present the winners of the 2011 Art Modell Awards for Incompetence & Depravity. As Art would surely say, if he weren't hiding in a broom closet, or possibly dead: Broads and sandwiches for all!
C. Ellen Connally
As Cuyahoga County's gloomy cloud cover of corruption gave way to the scattered skies of reform, C. Ellen Connally rode a lightning bolt of righteousness, singing the praises of open government as she jockeyed for a seat on the first county council. But C. Ellen specialized in that classic brand of campaign-trail goodwill: the kind that ensures happy election returns, followed by free rein to draw dirty cartoons in the county's new ethical playbook.
So it was that C. Ellen earned a plum seat on the council. And for her first act of business under Cuyahoga's fabulous new government, she organized a closed-door session with a select group of her open-government friends, such that they could secretly conclude that C. Ellen would make a fine council president. Because, technically, the "open" part doesn't start till January 1, right?
When word got around that C. Ellen had launched Cuyahoga's new era with a vaguely illegal meeting, she sagely responded with a shit fit suitable for a Lehman Brothers boardroom.
Quoth C. Ellen: "Leadership is not the public's business."
As the smoke settled from her inaugural tirade, the new president made headlines again when talk turned to acquiring software that would allow the public to — horrors — keep an eye on what their government servants are up to. This notion, too, did not sit well with C. Ellen, who had been rather enjoying the peace and quiet of zero scrutiny and saw no reason to ruin a good thing. In a bout of verbal diarrhea, she noted the new system would be too damned expensive, then followed that with the admission that she had no idea what the actual tab would be. But it was sure gonna cost way more than free secrecy.
Better that we worry about feeding the poor, she said, in a deft change of subject. Knowing what elected leaders are up to, she rightly pointed out, does not serve the public good.
The C. Ellen highlight reel included shouting down the authority of the county's newly created inspector general — the gig charged with making sure the public dime is fueling a functional candy machine. She noted that it's in nobody's best interest to share the county's in-house dirt with the kind of meddlers who might want to actually do something about it.
C. Ellen capped her year of open-government adventure with a secretly proposed shift of all council meetings from evening to mid-afternoon. If it was an ace move to free up her schedule for Dr. Oz, it was also another opportunity to spray shaving cream down the pants of her adoring public: 3 p.m. meetings tend to be a tad difficult to attend when you're out working or caring for kids. Alas, your kids are not C. Ellen's problem.
Yes, hers is a most refreshing brand of cantankerous cluelessness, a beacon of folly in an era when political theater in these parts has been reduced to fond memories of fat guys in bad suits being kissed by bricklayers. It is with this in mind that we present C. Ellen Connally with this year's Modell Award for Nostalgic Reverence to When Scumbags Ran This Dump.
For 22 years, venerable Vern Hartenburg was Mother Nature's chief lieutenant in Cleveland. As executive director of the Cleveland Metroparks, he was charged with making sure the grass got cut and that CVS and Walgreens kept their asses up on the hilltop where God intended. By all accounts, he was pretty good at this.
During Hartenburg's tenure, the park wiped out lingering memories of scandals within the department and grew the place by 2,300 acres. Under his watch, the RainForest was built at the zoo, followed by Elephant Crossing this year — twin projects that cost the system $55 million and were greeted with great fanfare and new jobs for dung sweepers.
Widely regarded for his honesty and commitment to volunteering with religious groups, Hartenburg also stepped up security in the parks. He fashioned a phalanx of 75 rangers, whose duties included random, twice-monthly stings aimed at snuffing out the perverts and creeps who intrinsically love to ply their trade in the company of Bambi.
It was the kind of career that gets guys' names on signs out front of important buildings — and that's exactly what the Metroparks did for Hartenburg at its Valley Parkway headquarters.
All of this would properly set the stage for anything other than what came to pass on the afternoon of November 4. It seems the 64-year-old Westlake resident was enjoying his first autumn in retirement by parking at the Memphis Picnic Area of the Big Creek Reservation and communing with nature in that ages-old fashion: by sitting by himself in his car. With his pants weasel hanging out.
For today's savvy pervert, Craigslist and various weekly news sources have elevated the art of skankiness to a more nuanced and calculated undertaking. But King Vern always was an old-fashioned kinda degenerate.
Unfortunately, he had chosen to air out his acorns on the very day his former employer happened to be operating a sting. An undercover ranger pulled alongside Vern's car. When the ranger approached on foot, Vern treated him to a peek. Alas, this gesture did not achieve the desired effect. The ranger arrested his former boss' ass and charged him with public indecency.
Hartenburg has entered a plea of not guilty in Parma's Municipal Court, where proceedings will get under way this month. In the meantime, it is with great reverence that we present him with the Award for Distinguished Service Followed Immediately by Incomprehensible Acts of Pervitude. Remember, Vern: All exposure is good exposure in The Book of Modellian Achievement.
There may be something in the water over in the hardscrabble city of Lorain, but more likely it's something in the malt liquor and crack.
How else to explain the wilting steel town's legacy of lunacy? Lorain is where daughters knife their mothers over discussions of who gets the cocaine. Where enterprising teens steal more energy drinks and nicotine products than they are physically capable of transporting from their crime scene of choice. Where grown men flash toddlers and bite off ears. It's where drunkenly slamming your car into a snowbank can be expertly explained away with the defense that you were simply "mowing the sidewalk."
And how does one humble burg cultivate such a bumper crop of degeneracy? By giving its future generations precisely the head start they need to become the mug shot highlights of tomorrow.
We pick up the action on a sunny day back in August. It looked like good news for 17-year-old Brytny McCall when she freed up some quality time to play with her one-year-old baby that afternoon. For, in addition to successfully locating her baby, Brytny also happened upon an unexpected bonus bag of cocaine. Not so conveniently, that bag was found in the baby's mouth, and a precious quantity had already been wasted on the wee tot's lips. Brytny said it was the oversight of Anna Irizarry, the child's not entirely doting grandmother.
So Brytny called her friendly Lorain police (motto: "There's Coke at Your Place? We'll Be Right Over"). When they arrived, Brytny pulled the sack from her bra and handed it over. She had no idea how the baby got the powder, but she went off on Mom, as all good daughters of Lorain do.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. According to the police report: "It should be noted that [the grandmother] did not appear to be upset or concerned that her grandchild had possibly just ingested cocaine."
On the plus side, the baby was to be taken away by children's services the following day anyway, so the afternoon's events amounted to one last memorable moment of Lorain-style family bonding. Happily, the baby is OK, apart from being forever linked by genetics to her mother and grandmother.
Despite her stoicism amid crisis, Grandma Irizarry was arrested for child endangerment as well as possession of coke and drug paraphernalia — or what local parents call a "happy meal." Though she lost a bag of crack and perhaps nearly killed her grandchild, Grandma carries the comforting solace that a fellow Lorain resident is sure to do something even stupider sometime very soon.
Until then, we proudly present Anna Irizarry with this year's Award for Hillbilly Paragon of Child-Rearing Excellence. Drill a hole through Art's nose with a 3/8 inch bit, and your prize doubles as a handsome crack pipe!
At the outset of 2011, MetroHealth Medical Center was toasted by credit-rating geeks for its turnaround in performance since the arrival of CEO Mark Moran in 2008.
The county-run hospital had reported net income of more than $85 million in Moran's first two years, following losses in the years preceding his arrival. Even better: Metro eyed a profit of $25 million more for 2011, despite the soured economy and the wave of corruption all around it. Bonus round: There would be no shortage of sick and dying residents!
For his next trick, Moran would devote 2011 to steering the ship back to the brink of ruin and garnering all the negative publicity taxpayers could eat. He would achieve it in that classic fashion favored by all arms of Cuyahoga government: by overpaying executives, losing ungodly sums of cash, having no standards of performance or ethics, and keeping it all nice and quiet to those who might not take kindly.
It all seemed so perfect on paper. But eyebrows were raised early on when Moran agreed to take on embittered former county commissioner Tim Hagan as a $90,000 consultant in exchange for two days a week of alleged work. (Among Hagan's key achievements: showing up occasionally and using proper change in the executive vending machine.)
For his next number, Moran sent 42 executives packing with nothing more than hundreds of thousand of dollars in their pockets to soften the blow. The hospital calls the departed honchos "contractors" — which is Cuyahogese for "one who draws a paycheck in exchange for keeping his damned mouth shut."
Another consultant drew more than $240,000 from Metro for six months of temp work while the hospital sought to permanently fill the vacant spot — a $105,000 job.
One of the dearly paid departed, CFO Sharon Kelley, abruptly resigned over the summer and walked away with the lovely parting gift of her $440,000 salary plus benefits in exchange for making sure nobody knows about it. Thank you for playing, Sharon!
As a bonus, the hospital is paying another guy $576K to do the same job Kelley is being paid not to do.
It's an arrangement that works way better with the institution's ribbon-cutters than it does with medical staff — but Moran had a plan for them too.
This fall, he announced that he would whack 450 people from the payroll, almost all of them non-essential personnel: the kind who fix broken people.
Moran also pledged to consider introducing actual policies at Metro, including plans for not getting so roundly jacked whenever it's time to whack a few more bosses. The news comes more than a year after the rest of Cuyahoga government figured it might be a good idea to not be such brazen assholes all the time. It also comes as Metro gears up for a return to the ballot to ask voters to keep doling out the millions to sustain it.
Final score for 2011: Metro's projected profit: $25 million. Metro's actual profit: -$1.1 million.
And there will be no overtime period for Moran, who announced in December that he will step aside early this year, the better to follow his passion of torching yet another business in an alarmingly brief period of time.
On your way out the door, don't forget to grab this year's Jesus We Blew Through a Lot of Money and We're Not Done Yet Award. Nice going, Mark!
The corruption that engulfed Cuyahoga County right up to its bathroom stalls was built on the time-honored tradition of quid pro quo, an ancient Swahili expression meaning "Don't forget to feed Jimmy."
It's that very logic that led to the downfall of politicians, businessmen, lackeys, and even a judge, each one of whom buttered the county's bread in hopes of a little gravy in return. But Bridget McCafferty blazed a refreshing new trail to her own demise.
In more than 10 years on the bench of Cuyahoga's Court of Common Pleas, McCafferty cultivated a reputation as something slightly less than a straight-faced arbiter of the law. In legal circles, she was widely regarded as a smiling, robed clown who had a knack for rendering verdicts that were reversed on appeal more often than they were upheld. A robed duck could have quacked more meaningful decisions, and without the $100 fund-raiser suppers.
Indeed, McCafferty would never even have been elected to the job, conventional wisdom at the justice center snack bar went, if she weren't so impossibly Irish.
"She is the dumbest legal person I have ever met," one attorney said of McCafferty in a Scene article that rated county judges back in 2003. "Once she gets into the courtroom, she has no idea what she's doing."
"A brain-dead political hack," another barrister raved.
But they clearly knew little of McCafferty's savvy away from the bench.
The judge joined colleague Steven Terry in breaking a lull in the county's corruption scandal when both were arrested by federal agents back in September 2010. Terry went down for rigging a foreclosure case for Frank Russo in exchange for campaign cash.
And McCafferty? She earned a 14-month vacation in lady prison for influencing cases to help out Russo, Dimora, and others. No money for Bridget, no free patios, no ponies for her niece in return: just the satisfaction of another job shittily done.
"This case has destroyed her career and shattered her life," McCafferty's lawyer said after the March verdict. "But it doesn't define her life."
And it sure doesn't shatter her one-way ticket to this year's Award for Corrupt Official Too Stupid to Get Anything for the Effort. Who's the brain-dead political hack now?
Our final honoree this year needs no introduction in these circles, though he could use a couple of orange crates to help see over the podium.
A near-perennial Modell honoree, Dennis Kucinich ammoed up for three years to make 2011 one to remember. It all started in January, when the congressional figurine finished contemplating a lackluster meal he had consumed in a federal cafeteria back in April 2008. The repast in question — an olive pita wrap, hold the steak — was served with a rogue olive pit tucked inside. His rage simmering for years afterward, Dennis! considered his numerous options: suing the government that houses the cafeteria. Suing God for inventing olives. Perhaps a month of yoga with his pals from Jupiter, followed by a lawsuit against somebody.
But the righteous score was a $150,000 suit against the company that runs the cafeteria — a suit Dennis! filed on account of his "loss of enjoyment," among other things. He later dropped the suit after being advised that nobody much cared to read about his dental work anymore.
Besides, there were greater battles to be waged on behalf of his home state. Most notably: the battle to gallantly flee that home state in favor of one that's more embracing of nutjobs with plastic hair. Coincidentally, congressional leaders were starting to look serious about slicing up Ohio's district map, which meant Dennis! might be forced to — gasp! — fight for his job against the rare opponent more formidable than a bowl of probiotic yogurt.
Yes, Dennis! could actually lose. And how have all of history's great leaders responded in that moment when their power has been challenged? Why, they have promised to take their talents to Washington state — a decision Dennis! arrived at based on the fact that nobody had specifically told him not to go there.
"I intend to stay in Congress," he said quite a number of times, including occasionally in response to people who actually asked him about it. "I just don't know where my district will be." A spokesperson! confirmed that he's been courted by 20 states, though it is unclear whether those states were seeking a lawmaker or an ornament for their congressional gardens.
Then, in a shocking move that shocked no one, Dennis! filed for candidacy in Ohio during the last week of 2011. Yes, an entire year of what looked very much like disingenuous posturing turned out to be ... disingenuous posturing! And nobody does it like Dennis!
For his noble treatise on the unsung value of frivolous litigation in the face of vengeful olive pits, and for his dutiful service to his home state for so long as it's convenient, we present Dennis! Kucinich with this year's Forty Years and the Sons of Bitches Are Still Buying This Bullshit Award.
Thank you for joining us, everybody. Don't forget to tip your strippers, and yes, they can make change for your dollar bills. In the unlikely event you should find your car where you parked it, remember that replacement hub caps can be procured at Kash's Auto & Salvage over on Woodland. See you next year!