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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Consent Decree Sludge: Consultants Get Big Bucks From City to "Help the Process"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 6:56 AM

click to enlarge Jackson urging media to cut him some slack back in February. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Jackson urging media to cut him some slack back in February.
As reported last week, Mayor Jackson and the City of Cleveland hired two PR consultants — both former Plain Dealer staffers — to assist in the city’s negotiations with the United States Department of Justice. In customary fashion, the city paid them handsomely for work that would strike most law-abiding, cop-fearing taxpayers as redundant.

Consultant Mary Anne Sharkey and Dave Davis, a Youngstown University Journalism Professor, were each paid $115 per hour, according to the city’s contract, to supplement regular law department personnel and gather and compile information to help the city determine with which items in the DOJ report it agrees (the logic of which we won’t bother to once again dissect or impugn).

“Although the city disagrees with the conclusions of the [DOJ],” reads the contract, “the City and the [DOJ] have agreed to engage in pre-suit negotiations toward a court-enforceable settlement agreement to be filed with the Federal Court in conjunction with the filing of a civil complaint by the DOJ against the City.”

It’s “pre-suit” negotiations because if said negotiations fail, the DOJ will, in all likelihood, file suit against the city of Cleveland.

But that won’t be happening anytime soon. A spokesman for the DOJ confirmed to Scene that consent decree negotiations have been “productive” and “ongoing,” but declined to comment further. He did add, via email, that “there is no time frame for negotiations vs. lawsuit.”

When asked whether he thought it odd that the City would go to such great time and expense to validate conclusions in the DOJ’s thorough investigation (requested, by the way, by Jackson himself when he was eager to embrace change and a more professional police force back in 2013), the spokesman said only: “We stand by the report.”

As for the consultants’ work, which began in December: It’s now just about done. The NEOMG’s Leila Atassi reported that Sharkey and Davis, among other things, were responsible for putting together that glowing PowerPoint for a Mayoral press conference in which Jackson highlighted the declining usage of force by Cleveland police and celebrated his commitment to reducing police brutality since long before he took office.

The MITA Group — “Marketing and Public Affairs Consulting with Results” — of which Sharkey is president, claims in its case studies to have worked with, or at least to have “partners” who have worked with, a defense contractor and “a foreign nation.” So the City of Cleveland ought to be a fairly small potato for the former Editorial Page Editor at the PD.

That said, what are the “results” that $50,000 in lavish hourly consulting fees have bought in this instance? (Or will buy, technically, seeing as Sharkey and Davis have not yet been paid).

“It was intended to help the process,” a city spokesperson told Scene. “But the process is distinct and different.”

Per usual, it was unclear to which process the city was referring. Neutralizing the great social threats of our era, no doubt. Either that or changing public perception of the Jackson administration in the wake of the DOJ report. When local groups were clamoring for specific responses after the deaths of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, Jackson did little, it appeared, but spout off about silver bullets and band-aids, and how the DOJ Report still didn’t go far enough. A city spokesman assured Scene, in our most recent phone call, that at this point there is no “sitting around” at City Hall.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “The negotiation, it’s constant.”

To that end, we wanted to know, what was the significance to the completion of the consultants’ work? Does it mean we might expect more tangible results soon?

“It means her work is done,” the city said, referencing Sharkey. “It doesn’t mean anything else.” 

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