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CLE Chatter: Metroparks CEO salary going up-up again – and so is a round of golf; Cleveland releases more crumbs from failed Amazon bid; and other tidbits from our town

December 20, 2018

CLE Chatter: Metroparks CEO salary going up-up again – and so is a round of golf; Cleveland releases more crumbs from failed Amazon bid; and other tidbits from our town

In December, you can count on at least two things from the Cleveland Metroparks.

One is the sound of kids screaming on the toboggan chutes at Mill Stream Run in Strongsville. And the other is Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman getting another big fat raise.

On Thursday, the Metroparks board of commissioners signed off on Zimmerman’s latest salary boost of nearly 4 percent, the maximum allowed under his contract. This brings his annual salary to $247,113, not including his excellent health and retirement benefits and use of a late-model SUV.

It’s impossible to ignore the meteoric rise of Zimmerman’s taxpayer-backed salary, up 70 percent since he started in 2010.

And the board has become so smitten that it also has allowed Zimmerman to cash out up to 80 hours of unused vacation days a year, a dubious practice that pads his salary by thousands.

Zimmerman took full advantage of the cash-out option last year at our expense. (I’ve asked the the Metroparks if Zimmerman is cashing out time this year and will update this post when I hear back.)

I’ve long challenged the board’s contention that it can’t keep such a good guy as Zimmerman without throwing more money at him each year.

While Zimmerman deserves many props for his stewardship, the Metroparks will not collapse without him. The Metroparks’ success has nothing to do with the high salary of the CEO position. Given that Zimmerman is already among the highest paid public officials in all of Ohio, he would be hard pressed to find a gig that pays better. Let’s see him try.

And Zimmerman and the board should not forget that the generosity of taxpayers – not the CEO – have allowed the park system to take on ambitious expansion plans and an exciting agenda.

On an unrelated note, the cost of playing golf at one the Metroparks many courses is going up, according to the Metroparks 2019 rate schedule. The Metroparks wants to add $1 to the cost of playing 9 holes, which would run $16 during the week. (See rate schedule below.)

Metroparks golf rates  Mark Naymik, cleveland.com

More crumbs from Northeast Ohio’s failed Amazon bid

Among the secret locations Cleveland leaders considered offering to Amazon for its second headquarters were properties in the Warehouse District, a sliver of the lakefront and Scranton Peninsula, according to recently released emails from the city of Cleveland.

I’ve already reported that the historic Terminal Tower and the Post Office Plaza, a five-floor office building on West Third Street, were part of the city’s official bid, according to records obtained exclusively by cleveland.com earlier this year.

The emails are from September 2017, when city leaders began planning for the bid. The emails do not shed much light on the proposal. But they do confirm that our civic leaders had indeed given the project the silly code name “Conway,” which I reported earlier this year. The emails also show that our leaders were trying to limit participation in order to complete the proposal in a few weeks.

I am sharing the emails since the city of Cleveland clearly didn’t want to. I’ve attached the emails in the box below, so feel free to pick over them.

My favorite email is from Deb Janik, a senior vice president at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, who spearheaded the proposal. She warns other city and civic leaders that the usual “tools in the tool kit” won’t be enough to attract Amazon and that the region and state will need to pony up big money.

“I believe that (given the commitment the state and [Jobs Ohio] have provided to the [Amazon] distribution centers) if we are successful in securing the HQ – our partners at State and JO will be at the table with significant incentives and unprecedented commitments – and they will expect the same from us,” she writes. “Either way – and perhaps my opinion only - there’s going to need to be a lot more commas in the incentive numbers.”

Our leaders’ refusal to publicly disclose details makes it impossible to say how really good – or really bad – their proposal was. Amazon blew off our proposal early in the bidding process, leaving the region out of even the top 20 picks. (Amazon recently announced that it will split its second headquarters by building in Queens, New York, and in Crystal City, a Washington D.C. suburb.)

BRIEFING AGENDA DRAFT (PDF) BRIEFING AGENDA DRAFT (Text)

Enjoy these emails.

Consolidated Emails 1 115 Updated Nov 21 2018 (PDF) Consolidated Emails 1 115 Updated Nov 21 2018 (Text)

More to come on Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson

I can’t wait to see what expenses Johnson has concocted this month in order to take advantage of council’s $1,200 monthly expense allowance.

As I’ve pointed out in earlier columns, Johnson has for years turned in unitemized expenses for which he has been reimbursed the monthly maximum of $1,200 with little or no questions asked by council or council staff. Last month, council challenged Johnson a bit, but still reimbursed him for gas that he claimed he bought to cut lawns for senior citizens in his ward. Yet, Johnson would not provide a list of residents who received the grass-cutting service.

Council told me it is gathering Johnson’s latest paperwork, which I’ll be sure to review next month.

I’ve also asked Cleveland City Hall to explain how Johnson has come to use a recreation center named in his honor as his ward office, given that such dedicated space is not available to other council members at other recreation centers around the city. My question was prompted by the fact that last month Johnson sought reimbursement for the cost of a Spectrum phone service he had installed in his name at the recreation center. I’ve asked the City Hall what official signed off on such an arrangement. A spokeswoman for Mayor Frank Jackson told me the city is researching the issues.

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