There is your garden-variety city government obfuscation and delay, and then there's the zenlike artform of informational stiff-arming and dissembling practiced by the staff of Cleveland City Hall's Office of Communications. That would be media relations director Dan Williams and assistant media relations director Latoya Hunter. We'll throw Frank Jackson's chief of government and international affairs — Valarie McCall, the Mayorette — in there too, because it is she who essentially controls and authorizes the possession or dissemination of information regarding City Hall.
This trio of disgraceful civil servants is bounded by a deep and shared disdain for the public and the collective lowest of low bars they have established for what it means to be conduits of transparent and honest information to residents. That, of course, comes via their repeated and willful refusals to answer questions from reporters from this humble altweekly, as well as Cleveland.com, the Plain Dealer, Crain's Cleveland and all four TV stations. It's into this black hole that questions and requests are funneled to be lost and forgotten, met not with helpful answers but almost complete and utter silence as the trio abdicates their duties. To what end? Oftentimes to protect the mayor and City Hall. But this trio also routinely fails to respond to basic questions that are focused, not on the myriad ways in which Frank Jackson's administration has failed, but on things it has done — maybe quite accidentally — well.
For every time top city officials are investigated by TSA over violating security protocols at the airport, and the subsequent lies the communications team told reporters about the privileged reports they by no means could release without approval from the TSA (who gladly told reporters, on the record, that the claim was malarky), and for every time they refuse to answer questions about Frank Jackson's nearly yearlong part-time schedule, there's also outright refusal to field inquiries about positive things.
Take FHAct50, a new program from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, from which Cleveland, along with Columbus and Cincinnati, applied and later was approved for $3 million in financing for affordable housing that, with tax credits, could turn into $30 million in private investment. This started last September, and Cincinnati has already transparently announced which neighborhoods are under consideration. Cleveland, meanwhile, has been dead silent and Mr. Williams ignored, over the course of four months, a series of emails simply asking where Cleveland was in its progress.
It takes an almost herculean effort to prod any response or tidbit of information from the office. Basic questions, when they garner any response at all, are asked to be submitted as official public records requests, which are then ignored by a different department, which then forces reporters and news organizations to take the city to court. And when records are received, they are outdated, flat-out wrong, or incomplete.
It's real great stuff. So bravo to this fine team for being the absolute worst and let this award remind them that the disdain they show for the rest of us is returned tenfold.