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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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Media entities are indispensable for aggregating, assembling, and disseminating important information, but it's often people like Burkons who do a great deal of the legwork. He's been a public records piranha. One thing that's continued to irk him as he's dug deeper and deeper is the question of "legality."

"Both the Mayor and some council members have been on record defending Gorden by saying, he hasn't done anything illegal," Burkons wrote in an email, which in itself is a fragile defense. And it turns out to be objectively untrue.

Here are some illegal activities Gorden has engaged in, if you're keeping score:

a.  It was disclosed that a complaint was filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission because the Mayor hadn't filled out his required public disclosure forms completely or accurately. Gorden's excuse was that he forgot minor things like his marital status. Turns out he also forgot to add his sources of income. Had he filled it out, the fact that he retired in 2009 to collect lavish benefits would have been public knowledge. That wasn't known until this year, however, when a complaint was filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

b. When the Mayor went to Florida with three people from the fire department, he used the City's credit card for meals. However, he also applied for and was granted a $54 a day per diem.

c. The Mayor applied for and received a $100-per-month cell phone bill allowance in 2006 to cover his personal cell phone plan. However, in 2008, a bill of his plan made it into his public record that showed his personal plan costs only $78-per-month and it covers a phone for his son.

These are tax dollars, here. Public dollars.

Beachwood city council is "totally transparent," according to Frederic Goodman.

"We're just not hiding anything," he said. "We're well organized and well run. That's all we're guilty of."

Hm. That doesn't jibe with just about everything that's being reported about their processes and spending.

The case in point, of course, has been the issue the mayor's escalating salary. Gorden's pay was never discussed in public meetings. It was an agenda item in private "executive sessions," with only vague references online.

Council even works hard to make public meetings inaccessible. Councilman Brian Linick said he's personally had a videographer come for the past 3 years to record meetings to make them available for seniors who might not otherwise be able to attend.

Linick feels some of the negative publicity's heat and as an elected official, he knows he has to take the good with bad. But he also acknowledges that council only works part time, and they can't be responsible for Gorden's every last receipt. Linick admits that council gave Gorden a certain amount of leeway with spending because in many respects it increases efficiency.

"But when you pass certain ordinances you do so with the expectation that the mayor is going to use discretion with how he spends the money," said Linick. "It has become clear that he has failed to use that discretion."

Some council members—in particular, council leadership—don't seem to care though. And some of these gentleman go way back. Council President Mel Jacobs was Gorden's best friend in high school, according to at least two separate resident accounts.

Vice President Goodman, also, justifies the mayor's spending from a business perspective.

"First of all, it's not a wild amount of money we're talking about," Goodman argued. "And we're running the city as a business, so we present that brand and look at that brand and adjust the brand as we need to. So when [Gorden's] taking out the business community, we think it's the right thing to do. That's a conscious policy."

The brand is key, according to Goodman.

"People generally want to come to Beachwood," he said. "We've worked hard to create that brand. Beachwood residents are proud of it. It's the Beachwood brand."

A brand is only as good as its representative. But is a city only as good as its mayor?


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