Newspapers and magazines like to strike a reflective pose during the holiday season. It's our chance as thoughtful journalists to look back on the year that was, assessing its significance, its lessons left. We do this not for ourselves. No, this involves a higher calling. By chronicling our times, we leave a record of the year 2000, so that our grandchildren's children may someday understand the lives we led.
And what would we like to tell the children of centuries to come? "Jesus, kid, there were a helluvalotta morons in our day." That's what we'd like to tell them.
Hence, we present the Art Modell Awards, celebrating those who, in the spirit of Art, possess a unique mixture of incompetence and depravity worthy of capturing for the ages.
Entrepreneur of the Year
His company has been sued by Jefferson County for allegedly hiding assets to avoid paying a civil judgment. An auditor accused it of accepting overpayment on a Youngstown project in which it realized an 80 percent profit. Summit County wants to know how company funds found their way to an official convicted in a bribery case. And in southeastern Ohio, the FBI is investigating the firm's possible involvement in a kickback scheme.
It's all part of a day's work for Paul Voinovich -- mercantile visionary, chief of the Cleveland construction company V Group, and brother of U.S. Senator George.
A lesser businessman might consider these accomplishments enough for one year. Not Voinovich. When he wasn't busy raking in millions of dollars in government contracts or schooling law enforcement agencies on his unique managerial practices, he still found time to drive the V Group into Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection.
Some might call him bungling. We call him a model of task-oriented management.
Mentor & Mayfield Schools
Educators of the Year
Do-gooders like to gush over students like Jeffrey Kling. He overcame cerebral palsy and a severe hearing impairment to join Mayfield High's track and cross-country teams. But when he turned 19 before his junior year, the school barred him from running. State rules said he was too old to compete.
Kling appealed, and a hearing officer ordered him reinstated. But school officials in Mentor, where he lives, and Mayfield, where he attends school, appealed that ruling, fearing athletic sanctions. Earlier this month, a second review also favored Kling, clearing his way to run once more.
Mentor and Mayfield might have lost the war, but they stuck to a valuable principle: Rules are important, and if you have to crush the dreams of some handicapped kid to enforce them, so be it.
Artist of the Year
When the Cleveland San Jose Ballet collapsed, many claimed credit for its legacy of mismanagement. Yet no one deserved more recognition than artistic director Dennis Nahat.
Naysayers cautioned him about the company's finances, which bled like a Great White Hope in a title fight. But Nahat was an artist, so deep he was practically French. He understood that great dance, the kind that runs up really big debts, could not be confined by trifling matters like an absence of money. So he fought until the bitter end to provide Cleveland with the indulgent and costly ballet it so richly deserved. After all, self-sustaining art, by definition, is not very good art at all.
Judicial Temperance Award
Medina County has long trailed the rest of Northeast Ohio in its production of quality judicial ineptitude. But Juvenile Court Judge Jill Heck has set out to single-handedly change that.
Critics say that, when a kid burned down a neighbor's house for kicks, she fined him just $300. When a football player raped his date (the girl spent a month in the hospital), Heck let him off with probation. In another case, the parents of a rape victim say they were barred from appearing with their daughter in court -- though the rapist's parents were allowed in.
Heck's crowning achievement, however, involved 16-year-old Ryan Duncan, whose record included assaults on police in two counties, three psych ward escapes, and a choked cleaning lady among the highlights. The judge sent precocious young Ryan home with an electronic ankle bracelet, even though his father was so afraid of him that Dad locked his bedroom door at night. Duncan quickly ditched the bracelet and would soon become a top Medina court alumnus after beating an elderly couple with a baseball bat for no apparent reason.
Unlike her brethren in Mahoning County, who've built their reputations on bribery (that's so '90s), Heck hails from a traditionalist school of basic recklessness and folly. We find that refreshing.
Vision in Public Policy Award
Rebuilding Ohio's public schools is a complex and difficult problem. That's why the Ohio Legislature wisely avoided the task and simply created proficiency tests.
So what if nine-year-olds are puking from stress for fear of not passing the fourth-grade exam. So what if teachers have abandoned rounded curriculums to concentrate on helping their students pass. So what if the state has contracted $8.50-an-hour temps in North Carolina to grade essays in as little as two minutes. North Carolina has a long tradition of scholarship, having introduced the concept of reading as far back as 1994.
What Ohioans must understand is that government doesn't exist to solve problems. It exists so failed real estate agents with too much hairspray have a safe place to congregate, and they're not out stealing your car stereo.
Parent of the Year
There was the Brunswick father who sued his son's baseball coach for guiding the team to a losing season. There was the Rocky River dad who punched out a 15-year-old during a high school soccer game. (Soccer, for chrissakes!) But in the end, our judges couldn't overlook Thomas Lavery, whose parenting went way, way beyond the call of duty.
Folks in Akron were always enamored of the five Lavery kids. They won spelling bees, knocked down near-perfect SAT scores, went to college while their peers were still attending high school. That's because father Tom's home school was a model of discipline. If the children went astray -- say, wet the bed or misspelled a word -- they might get a fist to the head, be forced to head-butt a wall or lick up spilled milk, or be deprived of food and bathroom breaks.
But P.C. social workers didn't see this as attentive parenting. They saw it as nine counts of child endangerment. "None of them are drug users or gang members," argued Lavery. "Yet they're trying to say I'm a bad father." So much for gratitude.
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