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The Merle of Free Sandwich: How Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden and His City Council Pals Created the Worst Suburb in Northeast Ohio 

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On Friday, July 12, theCleveland Jewish News published the SEO-friendly story "Top paid Mayors in Ohio."  Odd editorial move, given their recent exclusive with Gorden.  Except their top getter wasn't the Beachwood mayor, but Columbus Mayor Michael B.Coleman with a salary of $172,981 (pop: 797,434). Of the 11 Mayors featured, Gorden was listed as #11, making $106,659 (pop. 12,000 approx.)

It's unclear whether this is deliberately misleading or just bad reporting, but the fact that Gorden makes an additional salary for his role as safety director wasn't even mentioned, never mind his additional compensation and ludicrous benefits. To reiterate, performing the role of safety director—titular head of police and fire—has always been a component of the Mayor's duties and wasn't even a separate position until Gorden's opportunism. And it's not like being the safety director for a community of 12,000 people (many of whom are elderly) could be causing manyheadaches.

The glaring Cleveland Jewish News typos may be yet another case of Beachwood government forming a protective membrane around Gorden, their CEO and 'brand representative.'

Mark Naymik, in email correspondence, said that he'd been treated with professionalism by Beachwood staff. "They process records requests without question or delay," he wrote.    

And that's been my experience as well, but some city hall employees suggest that anyone seeking information had better be very specific with the wording of their requests.

"If you ask for the mayor's salary," said one staffer close to the finance department, "you'll get the 'mayor's salary.' They won't go above and beyond to get you what you're really looking for."

When the city of Aurora did a study of mayors' salaries in Cuyahoga county this May—Aurora went about the pay-increase process much more traditionally, by the way: you know, asking the public what it thought, measuring its practices against suburbs of comparable size—it ranked Beachwood's mayoral salary below both Solon and Berea.

Aurora Clerk of Council Donna Hawks, who worked on the survey with her assistant, said that Beachwood told them the Mayor made $98,000.

"[My assistant] was certain she got the number right because Beachwood was the first one she called. She was doing it alphabetically," said Hawks over the phone.

But David Pfaff—who didn't handle the call personally—said that Beachwood would have no reason to misreport or consciously give out false information.

When Hawks called back to verify once she learned of the Mayor's actual compensation through the PD's stories and resident emails, someone in Beachwood's finance department told her the mistake was on her end.

"They said we must have misheard or copied it down wrong," Hawks said.

Whether or not intentionality played a role in the Aurora reporting is a he-said, she-said, ordeal, but it's clear that Beachwood government takes cues from its mayor, who lives on the defensive and actively refuses to meet with those who don't play ball his way:

Resident Mike Burkons, who has taken on Beachwood with great personal fervor, has been trying to meet with council members and Gorden since the news of financial lassitude broke.

In a bizarre email exchange with Gorden's secretary Debbie Noble (the assistant's assistant), who among other things seems to handle all of Gorden's personal correspondence, Burkons asked to meet with the mayor to bring some things to his attention.

"If we meet I am going to listen and try to understand why the spending in Beachwood has increased at such a rapid level.  I will have an open mind but I am going to warn you advance, I am also going to try to convince you there really needs to be a rethinking of how Beachwood operates.  While I have been openly critical, I don't think you are corrupt but I think after 16 years it is easy to get a little sloppy in certain areas. Our meeting will be between you and I.  Most likely at the end we will agree to disagree on certain issues but I think a lot can be gained by both of us hearing the other's perspective," Burkons wrote.

Gorden, via Noble, and Burkons set up a tentative meeting time for July 11th at 8:30 a.m. But Burkons was still waiting on public records that he'd requested some time earlier. He asked if the meeting could be postponed until after he received them.

The next email from Noble was the punchline:

"Mr. Burkons,

Per Mayor Gorden, he agrees with your June 28th email comment that should you meet, the two of you will agree to disagree in the end.  As such, your request to meet is no longer approved."

Aint democracy a bitch?

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