It's often said that the media are too negative. Such is the beauty of America, where scumbags like us can trade in the failings and misery of others to earn handsome livings.
Yet the holiday season is a time for reflection, a moment to count our blessings, take stock of our good fortune, etc., etc. Hence, we present the 2nd Annual Art Modell Awards, a celebration of incompetence and depravity from the year that was. These honors are intended to recognize those people who work tirelessly to bumble, thieve, and generally act like morons so the rest of us may bask in our obvious superiority.
Think of it as our gift to you, dear reader, during this most blessed holiday season.
Employee of the Year
In the lexicon of human resources geeks, Kimberly Hericks was a task-oriented self-starter. All the manager of the Lakewood Donatos wanted was to increase sales and maybe get a mention within the august pages of the company newsletter.
Like any wise manager, Hericks knew that actually building her customer base would be far too cumbersome. So, according to the Lakewood PD, she simply created fictitious accounts and delivered the not-so-fictitious pizzas to her garage for storage. She even sent herself flowers as a show of appreciation from her nonexistent customers.
Unfortunately, Hericks forgot to bone up on the "Dispose of the Evidence" chapter in her management handbook. When the store's owner dropped by her house to help her move, say police, he discovered his trusty aide had 400 large pizzas rotting in her garage. She was subsequently charged with stealing $38,000 from Donatos, as well as cooking the books, forging documents, and damaging equipment to cover her go-getter activities.
But police say Hericks didn't pocket a dime. She merely wanted her sales efforts to be heralded in the Donatos newsletter. Is that too much to ask?
It just goes to show that, no matter how much ingenuity workers bring to the job, The Man's always gonna find a way to keep you down.
Executives of the Year
LTV's management has long been vilified for tearing the industrial giant asunder. Fortune called it one of the worst-managed companies in America. Congressman Dennis Kucinich sought to have executives removed by court order. "Liars" was the word Mayor Mike White used to describe them.
It's all so unfair, for critics overlook the extraordinary savvy it takes to beach a company of this magnitude. After all, LTV didn't just fail at traditional steelmaking; it failed at virtually everything it touched, from briquette factories in Trinidad to mini-mills in Alabama. Not many managers can boast of turning a $450 million investment into a vacant building in just six years, as LTV did with its Trico plant.
Despite their many achievements, execs conducted themselves with humility. Just before Enron crashed, it paid executives $55 million in bonuses. But when LTV CEO William Bricker resigned in November, after losing a spectacular $2 million a day, he took only a $600,000 bonus -- though such hemorrhaging is typically worth eight figures, according to standards set by the National Association of Bankrupt Executives. It's sacrifices like this that make LTV a textbook on mercantile honor. Mike SellersPhilanthropist of the Year
Mike Sellers knew he was blessed. He had a job making top dollar as the starting H-back for the Browns. But all around him, people were losing their jobs.
Like professional athletes everywhere, he desperately wanted to give something back to the community. Yet he didn't want Clevelanders to suffer the indignity of charity. So one night, around 10:30, Sellers wolfed down some coke, smoked a couple of joints, and sped conspicuously down West 25th Street in his F-150, say Cleveland police. He was arrested on drug charges. Butch Davis eventually kicked him off the team. Just as Sellers planned.
He knew someone less fortunate could use a job making six figures and snorting lots of Colombian Medicinal Products, so he relinquished his own.
If you're out there, Mike -- probably knocking back some tall boys and honking down a spliff the size of a cargo vessel -- just remember this message: United we stand, big fella.
Judge Jill Heck
Jurist of the Year
Meet the first two-time Modell winner, Judge Jill Heck, the Oliver Wendell Holmes of Medina County. Last year, Heck's fans cited her for fining a kid just 300 bucks for burning down a neighbor's house for kicks, letting a football player off with probation after he raped his date (the girl spent a month in the hospital), and barring a rape victim's parents from appearing with their daughter in court -- though the rapist's parents were allowed in.
But let it not be said the good judge rests on her laurels. This year, she once again upheld our faith in the judiciary with a probate case that's been pending in her court since 1996.
Thomas Georgeoff accused his uncle, aunt, and cousin of stealing more than $1 million of his dead grandmother's money. Heck decided to let the case linger for years, for as any wise jurist knows, evidence must be allowed to ferment, to bring out its full bouquet.
Yet Georgeoff worried that Heck's delays endangered the estate, so he begged prosecutors to file criminal charges. His relatives were convicted of ripping off Granny's loot last year.
Even with the convictions, Heck still refused to act. So earlier this year, Georgeoff's lawyer filed a writ of procedendo with the Ohio Supreme Court. It's a rare legal maneuver that originates from the Latin phrase "Jesus, we can't get the judge off her ass." Five years after the case began, Heck finally removed herself from the proceedings.
It's not the only case Heck let sit. One custody case rested on her desk for 28 months; she presumably thought it made a handsome conversation piece. According to the Supreme Court, the judge had another 16 custody or visitation cases straggling beyond state guidelines, which require her to rule within nine months.
Yet Heck, ever the model of judicial independence, won't be pressured into swift justice. After all, as all good citizens realize, what's the point of having a government job if you actually have to work?
Man of the People
Congressman James Traficant has done a great deal for Northeast Ohio. Not only does he make profound speeches to an empty House chamber for the benefit of C-SPAN, but he's brought a stunning retro fashion sense to a Capitol Hill misguidedly wedded to navy blue blazers.
And how did the feds repay him? With a 10-count indictment that includes charges of federal bribery, tax evasion, and racketeering. Ingrates.
The feds say Traficant took cash and free work from a contractor. That he forced an employee to kick back $2,500 a month from his salary. That he had a Youngstown company make $27,000 worth of free repairs to his boat. That he mooched free chow all over Washington.
But the most telling part of the indictment is this: He allegedly traded congressional favors for a generator, a welder, and power tools. We hope it's true. Any politician who takes his bribes in power tools is surely a Man of the People. Can you see George Bush doing that? Jeepers, guys, I'd love to give you that missile contract, but I'm gonna need a DeWalt 3-horsepower VS electronic plunge router to make it happen.
If Traficant could only convince colleague Dennis Kucinich to start taking bribes from a more accomplished barber, the world would be a better place.
Persecuted Athlete of the Year
In today's cutthroat persecution industry, one needs extraordinary whining to stay competitive. Simple claims of being "misunderstood" -- or squawking about the media's negative coverage of your latest wife-beating charge -- won't get you to the playoff rounds.
Though John Rocker was already respected for his whining in Atlanta, he perfected his game upon arriving in Cleveland. When he was chided for making an overnight trip to Atlanta for a Black Sabbath show, only to blow a game the next day, he pioneered the cutting-edge Zoomer Defense.
"I've been playing baseball for 20 years," he told The Plain Dealer. "I know how to get ready for a game. There are greenies [amphetamines] and Ripped Fuel . . . And that's what reporters don't understand."
When he started pitching like a guy from the Berea 50-and-Over League, apologist/coach Dick Pole blamed it on the Scorpions, whose "Rock You Like a Hurricane" played whenever Rocker entered the game, causing him to lose concentration.
And when he was questioned during the playoffs about being an asshole, he invoked the ol' Rat Out Your Teammate Defense, deflecting attention away from himself by mentioning a suit filed against Bob Wickman. (A former Yankees employee sued Wickman and others, claiming they harassed him because he's gay.)
"There's a certain guy on this team who has a lawsuit filed against him for gay-bashing," wailed Rock. "Why doesn't that make the papers?"
But what put him over the top in this year's Modells was his claim of a conspiracy being perpetuated by The Plain Dealer. He told a reporter: "I guarantee you there are two or three people at your paper, sitting in a tiny room, saying, 'The fans seem to like this guy. The front office seems to like this guy. What can we do to chip away at that fan base?'"
Never mind that Plain Dealer big shots likely spent the summer doing what journalists everywhere do: bitching about their child-support payments. True practitioners of the persecuted-athlete motif realize that even balding, middle-aged guys with suspenders can make quality oppressors.
Statesman of the Year
Here in Cleveland, we like our statesmen loud, brazen, and petty. No one exemplifies these qualities more than George Forbes.
The NAACP chief's crowning moment came when he announced his group's opposition to the Cleveland school bond issue. At the time, Mayor White was presumed to be seeking reelection, and Forbes believed construction contracts would go to Mike's pals.
Call it courage personified. Though another gym might collapse, and this time crush a few dozen small children, it was a price Forbes was willing to pay to uphold his vendetta against White. This is not a man who easily abdicates his principles. "I don't think the schoolchildren will suffer if this doesn't pass," said Forbes in a most statesman-like way.
Unfortunately, nefarious forces conspired against our hero, chiding him for his pettiness and self-interest. Like there's something wrong with that? Forbes was forced to cave. "The NAACP can't be cast in a role against 77,000 children," he said in an abrupt about-face.
It was a shrewd move by a wise old warrior. Forbes knew that someday there would be a new day-care program, a new food program for the elderly, and Cleveland would need a leader to marshal the troops against them. He would live to fight another day.
Role Model of the Year
Every child knows that some well-placed ass-kissing is the key to a better future, and no one knows ass-kissing better than Mike Trivisonno.
The WTAM sports jock is a true rags-to-riches story. Though he was born a mere blowhard with the insight of patio furniture, Trivisonno managed to overcome his modest skills by puckering for the greatest butts in Cleveland sports. Whether urging working stiffs to buy tickets to help a starving Larry Dolan or likening Butch Davis to Landry and Shula after just five wins, Triv doesn't just fawn; he wants to have their babies.
His most instructive moments come when he's interviewing Carmen Policy. Trivisonno's softball questions and gushing praise so test the boundaries of ass-kissery that a team of surgeons must remove him from Captain Hairdo's intestinal tract after the show. Take heed, children, for if you ever again wish to witness craftsmanship of this caliber, you're gonna have to visit the Pyramids.
Penis Envy of the Year
Clevelanders have come to respect the Free Times as the city's leading outlet for unintentional self-parody. (Motto: "Jeepers, we're like totally outraged!") But the paper doesn't get nearly the plaudits it deserves for its never-ending coverage of The Plain Dealer.
Check the Free Times website, and you'll find 274 stories mentioning The PD. Some involve innocuous references, yet most are devoted to shredding the granddaddy of Cleveland media in that shrill, humorless voice that makes the Free Times a must-read. As columnist Roldo Bartimole notes, The Plain Dealer "fails its central role: to define in plain language and context what is happening in the community, and why and to whom it is happening. These causes typically elude the newspaper's grasp."
Actually, we don't know what the hell he's talking about either, but we're behind him 110 percent.
Jealous critics claim the Free Times' bleating is akin to Chad from the Baldwin-Wallace Frat League lecturing Andre Miller on the fineries of playing the point. Balderdash! If The Plain Dealer could only write like the Free Times -- sportswriters who never actually interview athletes, news coverage that reads like a Green Party press release, all wrapped in a clove-cigs, black-turtleneck, I'm-for-animal-rights-but-I-still-wear-leather perspective -- Clevelanders would find a million laughs on their doorstep every morning. And mirth and gaiety would render the Quiet Crisis mute.