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Friday, May 17, 2019

Cleveland.com had Armond Budish on its Podcast and Didn't Ask Him a Single G.D. Thing

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 11:34 AM

click to enlarge worst_budish_text.jpg
The fifth episode of This Week in the CLE, cleveland.com's weekly news podcast, arrived on audio streaming services Thursday evening and featured the show's first outside guest: County Executive Armond Budish.

Budish was a natural choice, given that the show has devoted its most substantial coverage to crises at the county jail, with stellar regular contributions from reporter Courtney Astolfi and, for the first time Thursday, reporter Adam Ferrise. 

In early segments last night, Astolfi and Ferrise provided updates on their previous reporting, (a sizable wage increase for county jail guards is forthcoming), and discussed their most recent work on both a suicide at the facility (the first death of 2019, the ninth since last Summer) and a guard who has been charged with running a drug ring there. 



This is all solid stuff, by the way. Astolfi and Ferrise have been doing consistently high-level work on the jail beat for cleveland.com, and the podcast makes for an exciting and informative opportunity to hear the latest news from the reporters directly.

There was an additional segment about the county's internal auditor Cory Swaisgood, who has accepted a position as the Finance Director for the city of Huron, Ohio. The position will mean a pay cut for Swaisgood, and Quinn could scarcely believe that the auditor whom he regards as a heroic bulwark against corruption would prioritize anything other than his salary.

In another bizarre editorial earlier this week, cleveland.com appealed to Swaisgood personally:

"Cory, please reconsider. You know how much your work has meant to the cause of good government. Cuyahoga County needs you now more than ever. Whatever challenges you face in this position, please take them on and keep doing your vital work."

(The Swaisgood story is worth following up on, but it's also worth bearing in mind that he isn't exactly "resigning under mysterious circumstances." He has accepted a position and provided an explanation: He said he wants to be closer to family. We can suspect that there's more to it — working at the county is undoubtedly a nightmare these days — but it's perfectly reasonable that he has made the choice for quality of life reasons or extenuating family circumstances, salary cut notwithstanding. Astolfi reported that County Council President Dan Brady said council had offered Swaisgood a $30,000 raise to entice him to stay, but Swaisgood declined, "saying money isn’t the reason he is leaving.")

In any case, Budish then showed up on the podcast. What a get, I thought! This Week in the CLE, which I've found myself enjoying, continues to surprise! Here was an invigorating chance to challenge the County Executive himself on all these swirling controversies.

Alas, editor Chris Quinn and columnist/co-host Mark Naymik did no such thing. It was merely a "quick conversation" in which Budish was allowed to recite the prongs of his climate action plan, providing zero elaboration on the plan's introduction at his State of the County address, which had been summarized in the podcast's first episode.

Quinn asked Budish what his thinking was on electric vehicles — "Electric vehicles are here and they're just going to grow" — on an expanded solar power initiative — "There's plenty of sun for solar power here," — and on a 'green bank' that will provide financing to residents and businesses for sustainable improvements — "A green bank can support energy-efficiency programs throughout the county."

[Sad trombone.]

If cleveland.com cared about dissecting the climate action plan, why not have county sustainability director Mike Foley on to discuss it in detail? Why not have someone from the County Planning Commission or NOACA on to discuss how and when these various initiatives will be implemented?

Letting Armond Budish reiterate his bullet points actually has negative news value. Not only was the content worthless because it's nothing that folks don't already know or could easily track down — the full plan is available here. (As I say, there was no elaboration on the plan's schedule, price tag, or even Budish's personal motivations for aggressively pursuing climate change policy). But the podcast segment was worse than that — it surpassed even the state of the county in its negligence of more pressing news.   

Here was Budish, the county's top elected leader, and cleveland.com couldn't be bothered to ask him anything about the many important issues they've been discussing ON THE SAME PROGRAM for weeks? They couldn't even force him into a no-comment? There was nothing on the jail. Nothing on the corruption investigation. Nothing on Akram Boutros or Gary Brack. Nothing on what the editorial board speculated might be "friction" between Budish and Swaisgood.

Instead we got the likes of this, from Quinn: "Mark [Naymik], I know biking is near and dear to your heart. It's one of your big hobbies. Ask Armond about what his plan is for improving that."

Cue a merry exchange about bikers' road rage and the connectivity of the region's trails. Mmmmmmm. And with that, the segment wrapped up, with Quinn noting that Courtney Astolfi would be writing about the many elements of the climate plan this week.

Why even do this? Budish surely would have refused to discuss anything about the jail or the ongoing corruption investigation. He may even have refused to answer questions from Astolfi and Ferrise. But if that's the case, cleveland.com should have refused to give him a platform.

If they thought that the content of the conversation was nevertheless so important that it was worth airing despite its glaring omissions, they owed it to listeners (at the very least) to provide a disclaimer saying that Budish only agreed to the interview on specific conditions. Then they should have named those conditions.

The alternative is embarrassing to entertain — that Quinn gave Budish the opportunity to promote the climate plan while insulating him from any serious questioning — but would be consistent with cleveland.com's illogical deference to the County Executive.  

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