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Browns Charity Drive Comes Up Short

Bring back the Modells! Or at least someone who will return phone calls to the many reporters and publicists frustrated by the brush-off they've been getting from the Browns' misnamed community relations director, Hillary Johnson. Fumbling opportunities for celebrity promos and public service spots, Johnson has earned a reputation for being even more difficult to deal with than the Rock Hall. "I'm not calling her anymore," fumes one local charity maven. "I don't think she has a clue what's involved in community relations." A winning tactic in previous losing seasons has been to get the players out in schools and such. But while this year's squad enjoys well-publicized perks like valet parking and errand boys, both players and coaches have been noticeably absent from the public service circuit. "That stuff's really important in Cleveland," notes a prominent publicist. "But the new kids in town don't know how to play." Johnson's reaction? Hard to say, since she didn't return the call.

What gets the Browns' attention? References to owner Al Lerner, which occasionally merit a personal phone call from President Carmen Policy, admonishing writers for flippant references to the football god. In particular, Lerner was reportedly peeved by a Plain Dealer columnist referring to him as "Mr. Chargebucks." Evidently the leatherneck flag Lerner flies so proudly at his new stadium doesn't reflect his current skin condition.

If speeding tickets continue to lag, the city can always pick up a few extra bucks by fining street people selling The Homeless Grapevine. In October 1997, city lawyers won a heated court battle to charge homeless vendors $50 for a license. Council's Safety Committee tried to soften the blow with legislation waiving the fee for nonprofit vendors, but it stalled after several members worried the measure might result in a proliferation of Nation of Islam acolytes selling their newspaper, The Final Call, and fund-raising trinkets in the Lee-Miles area. So the waiver remains in limbo, leaving Grapevine vendors unable to obtain a license yet technically required to have one. "We have a lot of questions, and not many people have answers," says Grapevine Editor Brian Davis. "Every single person at City Hall we talked to regarding this has left."

Whine of the month: Cleveland firefighters complaining that alleged superstalker Thomas McCarthy has queered their on-duty off-time. Firemen traditionally get time away from the station for "food shopping" during their 24-hour shift, a handy opportunity to run personal errands. But McCarthy allegedly used the time to snoop on his subjects, prompting a new 75-minute food-shopping limit. "We've got the best job in the world," moans one blazebuster, "and this guy goes and screws it up."

And finally, a public relations tip from the voice mail of David Modell: "Hi, this is David. Unfortunately, I'm unable to take your call. Please do leave a message with the time that you've called and your telephone number, and I will call you back. If you are a fan calling to express yourself about the football team, please, please, leave your name and telephone number, and I will call you back -- because I do appreciate your comments, whatever they may be. Thanks very much, and I hope you're having a good day."

Pleases and thank-yous to edge@clevescene.com.

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