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The Merle of Free Sandwich: How Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden and His City Council Pals Created the Worst Suburb in Northeast Ohio



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Gorden went on to mention how his dining practices were totally different from Jimmy Dimora's and listed some of the important steps he'd be taking to stem the tide of all this negative publicity, using strong phrases like "make every effort" and "encourage council to review."

Gorden also lamented that lost in all these attacks on his leadership style are the many accomplishments of his time in office. Lest we be remiss in our neutrality, Beachwood has a truly magnificent pool.

The Beachwood Pool, effervescent with wee Yarmulkes and canvas umbrellas striped blue and maize, sits next to the city's illustrious municipal complex. Last Tuesday evening, concerned citizens navigated through the parking lot's traffic cones to attend a public meeting about the expansion of Beachwood Place and the procedure by which residential property is rezoned. Snoozer alert!

(Worth mentioning that the traffic cones are on account of the new parking lot and heated sidewalks being rigged up at City Hall. Let that sink in for a moment. A government currently under pressure about the spending of public dollars has opted to make heated sidewalks its most pressing capital improvement. Awfully boldfaced. I mean not even your richest friends have heated sidewalks.)

Unlike the raucous attendees at public meetings on Parks and Recreation, for instance, Beachwood citizens, as a rule, are courteous, articulate and strikingly germane. Only one commenter made a subtle jab at Gorden.

"I like restaurants. I go out to restaurants all the time," said the 40-year resident when talking about proposed new eateries on Richmond Road. "So does our Mayor." Through laughs, someone in the crowd wanted to know who paid.

But underneath residents' questions and comments about deed restrictions and points of egress was a cumulative distrust of Gorden and council. It's the same sort of abstract moral anxiety that may be familiar to those of us with family or close friends on Wall Street. Several residents wanted council members to firmly state their position on the rezoning before the November elections. Others were concerned about the financial implications.

"I'm sure we'll hear over the next [several] months that without this development, we'll be losing tax revenues," said a Haliburton Road man. "And I'd like to gently remind, with all due respect, that a couple years ago we were in a difficult tax situation where a tax increase went through. And through that process, with no ostensible public opposition whatsoever, it only passed by a 52-48 margin. I only ask that you take into consideration the best interests of the city, which include its taxes. We should not only look at a balanced budget, but actually reducing expenses going forward."

That tax is a continual source of frustration for Beachwood residents. Not because they're footing the bill—it was an income tax increase, affecting only those who work in Beachwood (and the percentage of those who live and work in Beachwood is incredibly small)—but because it represents just how fat the government has become with little to show for it.

Councilman Brian Linick voted against the tax increase. His central argument at the time was that before taxes should be raised, government should be doing everything in its power to cut costs. Residents agree with him.

"The standard defense has been to tell everyone that Beachwood has great services," wrote resident Mike Burkons in an email to council Vice President Frederic Goodman after he brought up financial concerns at a July council meeting. "No one is denying that. I have spoken to many people and almost all of them have said that while the services are great, outside of the pool, they are no better or worse than they were 20 years ago."

That's distressing especially because government spending has lately seen exponential growth.

According to city budget documents, Beachwood's total spending as recently as 2007 was $34 million. Projected expenses for 2013: $61 million.       

Much of Beachwood's spending, if you ask Gorden, is tied up in 'economic development.'   It's a concept the mayor and council don't seem to fully understand. The business lunches that Gorden has been paying for, illustratively, have been deemed appropriate by the Beachwood legislature because it eliminates the perception that the Mayor's guests might be trying curry favor with him by treating (a la Dimora).

The Mayor's records indicate, however, that close to 75 percent of those meals were with city employees—many of them with Gorden's Executive Assistant Tina Turick who, with a salary of $92,000, makes more than most area suburban mayors and has an assistant of her own). What possible development purpose could those meals serve?

The fact that those meals have now been outlawed suggests above all else that Gorden and co. knew they were wrong. They were willing to burn public money on private meals—but not alcohol or entertainment!—up to the point at which the public found out about them? I mean that's literally what happened.

Seemingly in defiance of their development initiatives, Beachwood purchased property that became its service garage in Commerce Park.  It's one of the most lucrative taxable commercial parcels available out there, yet the city snagged it and refurbished it for $5 million—according to Councilman Goodman—and now has so much empty space that they're planning to house Lyndhurst and South Euclid's bus fleet in an auxiliary storage area.

"I don't know why anyone would be upset with us for being neighborly," professed Goodman in a phone interview after residents raised concerns about the garage at a recent council meeting.

That's not what people are upset about. They're upset because a reliable source of tax revenue has been effectively cut off and is now utilized with gross inefficiency. It's more space than they need and it's an eyesore. At least one business has been compelled to move from Commerce Park because they've now got garbage trucks and salt trucks keeping them company all day long.

"That area was supposed to be a catalyst for economic development," said councilman Brian Linick.


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