Monday, May 4, 2009

He's no Don Plusquellic ..

I just came to the end of my first press conference at Cleveland City Hall with Mayor Frank Jackson. I say that "I just came to the end" because the press conference wasn't finished. It just ended.

Jackson and County Commissioner Tim Hagan announced the signing of a letter of intent for the county to pay the city $20 million for the Convention Center site to build the Medical Mart.

$20 million. That's a bunch.

The media was handed a two-page list of the details of the agreement, and it was a lot to digest.

I'm accustomed to being at press conferences where the media has a chance to really iron out the details and make sure that we understand what's being presented. After all, if we get it right in our stories, everyone benefits. There's nothing worse than making a mistake in fact, especially when it involves a major development deal.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got to ask one -- 1 -- uno -- a single -- question about the deal. A few other reporters each got a single question in as well .. and then it was over. A press secretary said "thank you" and that was it.

Done. Over. Thanks for coming. Don't let the FREE statue hit you in the butt as you walk back towards E. 9th Street.

My first thought was " .. well, he's no Don Plusquellic."

Akron's Mayor has been known to hold marathon press conferences; many of them easily busting the one-hour mark and that includes issues with only a fraction of the impact of a $20 million sale. Plusquellic would go out of his way to ensure the media understood the details he was announcing ..

I can't for the life of me understand why Jackson and Hagan would gloss over the bullet points of this issue without wanting to make sure the media's questions were answered to the smallest detail.

For example, the release included bullet points about:
  • Bed tax dollars the city will continue to collect for the convention center even though it will no longer own it. So where will those dollars go now?

  • $2.5 million of the price tag encouraged to go for Perk Park but Jackson won't guarantee how/how much of those dollars will be spent there. So what's the plan for it then?

  • Clauses in the contract that provide for a training program for kids in the Cleveland schools to learn skills for employment with the Medical Mart. Really? What skills would those be? Does that mean these kids will get jobs when they graduate?

  • The city will support the county's push for tax abatement on the nearly $500 million project. So how much will local schools and other community projects miss out?

  • The city would covey title to the Public Auditorium, but the city can re-take possession in 2067. Why then? What's up with a 48-year agreement on that property?

  • The county agrees to hire at least 10 of the Convention Center employees to work in the new Medical Mart. How many are there now? Which jobs will transfer over? And why only 10?
Those are just the basic questions that came to mind based on the handout given to the media.

I also wondered what Mayor Jackson meant by calling the Commissioners "courageous" for having the foresight to approve a tax for the project without going before the voters.

Say what???? Isn't that the single biggest complaint by the public over the project?

This has nothing to do with whether or not the media agrees with a project like this, or whether I agree or disagree with anything Plusquellic or Jackson present to the public.

But I stand firm that when a public leader has the opportunity to make sure the facts are presented correctly and all pertinent questions are answered, they have a responsibility to do so.

Jackson should carve out some time and take a few notes at a Plusquellic Presser. The public could benefit a lot.

I know I still have a lot to learn about Cleveland, but likewise, what I saw today tells me the leaders have a lot to learn too.


Anonymous said...

Eric, do you think the mayor didn't stick around because HE doesn't know the answers.

Ed Esposito said...

So I'm also curious how many reporters asked Jackson and Hagan why they wouldn't answer any additional questions -- and why they let the press secretary dictate when the news conference is over instead of at least going man-up and doing it themselves? I was a reporter during the Mike White early years and even then -- even with a Plusquellic-style leader in the pulpit -- he'd stand in the foxhole and take what was coming without wussing out and letting someone else do it for him. We wouldn't let him get away with otherwise...

deep lock said...

great post eric.

Elizabeth Bartz said...

Wouldn't it be lovely to have Warner Mendenhall go to Cleveland and spread his venom there?

Watchman said...

Cleveland would eat Mendenhall alive. There's not much of a career to be made there in fighting from the shadows.