Local Girl Makes Bad

Ex-finance director brings résumé of incompetence and corruption to new city.

The Kills Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 5; $10, 216-383-1124
Being ridiculed in Cleveland apparently wasn't enough for former finance director Kelly Clark, so she went south -- and got arrested for racketeering. You go, girl!

Clark managed the books under former mayor Mike White. When the two left City Hall in 2002, they claimed the city was flush with a whopping $11.8 million surplus.

Unfortunately, math wasn't the finance director's strong suit. After Jane Campbell took office, she went looking for the extra cash. Keep your eyes peeled for anything green and papery, the official staff memo went. Alas, the new mayor quickly discovered that the "surplus" was actually a $900,000 deficit. Clark had apparently earned her degree from the Jeff Skilling School of Creative Accounting.

Not to worry. By then, Clark had already secured a new job as finance director in Macon, Georgia. She wasted no time screwing up the books there either. Starting in August of 2002, she allegedly faked documents to steal money from City Hall, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Macon Telegraph. Last week, she was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Now city council members are kicking themselves for not doing a proper background check, such as Googling "Kelly Clark" and "missing money."

"You guys weathered the storm," Councilman Cole Thomason told Punch. "We're now standing right at the back of the boat."

We're not sure what that means, but we think it's a Southern gentleman's way of saying, "D'Oh!"

The numbers game
The Cleveland School District is crowing about improving its graduation rate to 50 percent.

Normally, that wouldn't be cause for celebration -- the Iraqi security forces have a better retention rate -- but it's a hefty improvement for a district that's perpetually underfunded, thanks to downstate legislators who think of ed-u-ca-shun as a nasty bug that should be taunted before it's killed.

When schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over in 1998, an abysmal 28 percent of kids graduated. She says the improved rate "clearly indicates the hard work of students, teachers, staff, and parents is paying off."

But Jay Green, an education expert at the Manhattan Institute, who's planning a study to fact-check the district's figures, is considerably more circumspect.

"I'm highly skeptical about these numbers," Greene says. "What we've found around the country is that that type of thing just doesn't happen in two or six years. It takes decades."

Ironically, that's precisely how long it takes most Clevelanders to finish high school.

Attention, thieves!
Don't bother with car stereos or flat-screen TVs. The hot item du jour is easier to steal and carries less jail time.

What is this incredible burglar's blue-light special? According to Akron Police Lieutenant Ken Ball, the fastest-growing property crime in Akron is stealing copper piping from vacant houses. That's right, copper pipes are the new bling!

That's not all. Thanks to an increase in scrap-metal prices, thieves are pilfering everything from aluminum siding to manhole covers, which are easily fenced at scrap yards.

"Where can I find one of these houses?" you ask.

Try Highland Square's Crosby Street, where abandoned Victorians come by the dozen. The best part: Since the houses are vacant, there's little risk of encountering angry owners.

This offer good only while supplies last at participating ghettos.

Lock, stock, and barrels of ink
Investment adviser Ken Kammal may be the hottest stock expert in town. Just ask him.

"A lot of people down at Cleveland State call me the next Warren Buffett," he says with a laugh. "I'm not gonna deny that."

Of course, Kammal has a long way to go before he's in Buffett's league. Known as "The Oracle of Omaha," Buffett landed at No. 2 last year on Forbes' list of the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $42.9 billion.

As for Kammal, his greatest accomplishment to date has been beating the pants off a Plain Dealer reporter in The PD vs. the Pro, a weekly stockpicking contest that appears in the paper.

So far, Kammal's picks have netted him $7,205 in Monopoly money, while reporter Peter Krouse has actually lost $2,860 of his initial fictional investment.

But it's enough to get Kammal appearances on The Tavis Smiley Show. He also claims to be the youngest manager for a hedge fund company in Ohio -- it just happens to be his own company, Base Investment Management.

Still, Kammal is maintaining his modesty. "One guy says, 'Are you like the Eminem of the stock-investor world? Because you're the only black guy I know who's this good, this young,'" he says.

Look for Kammal to diss his mom in upcoming editions.

Divided we stand
Last week, the young movers and shakers of the Cleveland Professional Twenty-Thirty Club gathered at Great Lakes Brewing Company to discuss ways to bridge the divide between the city's East and West Sides.

While the answer would appear self-evident -- for starters, the yuppies could hold their confab at Hot Sauce Williams' barbecue restaurant -- they instead recruited a panel of alleged experts.

Among them was comic writer Harvey Pekar, who must not have gotten the memo about the night's agenda.

"Um, this East Side-West Side debate, I don't care about," he said by way of introduction. "I want to talk about the issue of regionalism instead."

Pekar rubbed his forehead and looked scornfully at the audience. His eyebrows drew together like twin lightning bolts. "I didn't really prepare anything for tonight," he said. "Sorry for my incoherence, I'll try to get through."

For the next 15 minutes, Pekar stumbled through a dissertation on shared tax bases and rapid transit, as audience members stared uneasily at their plates of pita and artichoke dip.

"What is he even saying?" one girl murmured to another.

"I don't know, but hopefully, it will be over really soon," her companion whispered back. "He should have stuck with comic books."

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