The Cleveland Cavaliers are seeking additional upgrades and repairs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Their requests will be discussed at the next meeting of the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit that manages the facility on behalf of taxpayers. Credit: Jeff Haynes/Signal Cleveland
The Cleveland Cavaliers are seeking additional upgrades and repairs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Their requests will be discussed at the next meeting of the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit that manages the facility on behalf of taxpayers. Credit: Jeff Haynes/Signal Cleveland Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Ken Silliman, an attorney who has run point for past mayors on building and financing Cleveland’s sports facilities, is now offering a behind-the-scenes look at the city’s arena, ballpark and stadium. But this isn’t a literal tour of the playing fields and locker rooms. Instead, this tour is a more cerebral affair.

Having spent 33 years in government, he’s revealing details of his involvement in lease negotiations with the Cleveland Guardians, Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Browns. You can find it in his new self-published 550-page book, “Cleveland Sports Facilities: A 35-Year History,” now available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. (We’ll offer a formal review in a later newsletter.)

In an email, Silliman hypes it this way: “My book is a practice-oriented, in-the-trenches account of how pro sports teams go about getting what they want from the public sector … It’s told from an ‘inside City Hall’ perspective and it tracks eight distinct negotiations with three separate sports teams (and the National Football League) occurring over 35 years of time.”

It sounds like a timely read given that the current mayor and the Browns are beginning to negotiate over the future of Browns Stadium.

Also, the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit board that manages the ballpark and arena on behalf of taxpayers, is expected next month to consider a Cavs request for more arena repairs and upgrades that the team is guaranteed in its lease. These changes include replacing outdated elevators and the broadcast control room — changes that were not part of the arena’s $185 million renovation four years ago.

Silliman, who still chairs the Gateway board, has said the available money from a tax on alcohol and cigarettes is running low and won’t cover the estimated $28 million of requested changes

Judge under fire

The Marshall Project-Cleveland continues to shine a light on the relationship between Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze and a family friend and businessman, Mark Dottore, who has received nearly $500,000 in fees for work he does through her courtroom. Dottore works as what is known as a receiver. Celebrezze frequently appoints him to act as a neutral party who takes temporary control of marital property, cash and businesses during contentious divorces. The divorcing couples ultimately cover his management fees, which can run into the thousands per case.

Beyond pointing out the personal relationship between Celebrezze and Dottore, Marshall Project-Cleveland Reporter Mark Puente recently highlighted the fact that Celebrezze’s colleagues don’t see a need to appoint receivers and have never done so, saving couples big money. Celebrezze is also the subject of bias complaints before the Ohio Supreme Court. You can follow the series here.

MedMart mess

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office told Signal Cleveland it’s reviewing for potential criminal charges a recent Ohio State Auditor’s special report that found the company once hired to market the convention center’s Global Center for Health Innovation still owed taxpayers money for improper reimbursements and duplicate billing.

“We just received the report [Thursday] morning and we will review it for potential criminal charges,” a spokesperson for the office said.

Here’s the backstory: The Global Center, formerly known as the MedMart, was supposed to become a high-end showroom for companies to display their medical equipment. It was built as part of the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. But the showroom never took off. The board that oversees the convention center —Convention Facilities Development Corp. — hired a company called BioEnterprise to market the showroom and find tenants.

But BioEnterprise, then-headed by Aram Nerpouni, came under scrutiny after submitting expenses for liquor, a pricey Las Vegas meal and $110 bottles of wine, among other things. Internal and external audits later determined that the expenses were not fully justified and found that BioEnterprise also submitted duplicate billing to another entity through which it was receiving state grant money.

After lots of back and forth between the BioEnterprise (now largely defunct) and the board, a settlement was reached that netted the board more than $200,000. The state auditor argues taxpayers are still owed $116,000 for unauthorized charges. 

The audit also calls out former board president Matt Carroll, who was representing former County Executive Armond Budish’s administration at the time, for signing reimbursement checks after the board’s executive director, George Hillow, refused to do so. Hillow was the one who sought outside investigation of BioEnterprise’s practices.

The State Auditor sent a letter July 20 to Carroll, who is no longer on the board and now works for County Executive Chris Ronayne, informing him that it issued a finding of recovery against him, meaning he could be held responsible for what the auditor said taxpayers are still owed. BioEnterprises also received a finding-for-recovery letter.

The board’s lawyer has argued the matter should be closed because the board has been repaid and their settlement agreements limit further action.)

The prosecutor’s office has not said when it plans to announce its decision on whether to pursue any criminal charges.

More MetroHealth health fairs

MetroHealth System CEO Airica Steed previewed this week the hospital’s first-ever  Multicultural Women’s Health Fair and Empowerment Expo with a promise to double down on the goal of eliminating the differences in quality of health across racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups, which is commonly referred to as health disparities.

Dozens of Cleveland’s nonprofit leaders and city and state officials gathered in the atrium of the hospital’s new Glick Center Tuesday for an informational presentation on the September health fair at the Huntington Convention Center, which will provide preventive health screenings and educational seminars on issues affecting minority women’s health in the city and county. 

In April, Steed announced plans for the  fair, which was inspired by the hospital’s annual minority men’s health fair. It will be part of her ongoing efforts to address the city’s abysmal health disparities.

Noting her and her family’s health experiences as minorities navigating the medical system, she said, This event is all about reversing the devastating effects existing in a city that is deemed least livable for Black women.”

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.