The Cifani family – whose Perk Co. construction business has had a hand in building big Cleveland projects – is at the center of a new lawsuit from a minority business owner and longtime partner.
In the suit filed earlier this month in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, Mark Perkins – majority owner and CEO of construction companies McTech Corp. and Tech Ready Mix – accuses the Cifani family of plotting to “squeeze” him out of their longtime partnership.
For decades, companies owned by Cifani and Perkins have teamed up to win tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded road and construction projects. (Generally speaking, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County favor bids from prime contractors that include minority-owned businesses on the project.) Perk Co. is owned by Anthony and Joseph Cifani, who are white. Perkins is Black.
Among other things, Perkins accuses Joseph Cifani’s wife, Lisa, of working against him. She is an officer at both McTech and Tech Ready Mix and owns 49% of each company, according to the lawsuit.
“Lisa has shared confidential and proprietary financial and company information and documents of each of McTech and TRM with third-parties who are not privy to such information in the ordinary course,” the lawsuit charges.
Lisa Cifani’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. You can read Perkins’ complaint here.
This week, an attorney for Anthony and Joseph Cifani denied Perkins’ claims in court papers and counter-sued Perkins. The Cifanis say in their filing that their businesses are not intertwined as Perkins asserts and Perkins has violated elements of their agreements. You can read the response here.
In a text message to Signal Cleveland, Anthony Cifani said, “Lisa Cifani will be filing a counterclaim, which will include many of Mark Perkins’ improper acts and breaches of fiduciary obligation. … While we hoped to resolve these matters privately, he has chosen to file this and other frivolous lawsuits.”
Police become less transparent
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has pledged to make the police department – which is implementing reforms tied to a special agreement with the U.S. Justice Department – more transparent and accountable.
But recent actions by the department and the city’s safety director muddle that commitment.
Safety Director Karrie Howard decided in October to remove the names and badge numbers of officers facing disciplinary hearings or punishment from the department’s monthly “divisional notices.”
The notices are essentially bulletins that share information: job postings, transfers, promotions, new policies. The bulletins also offer details on discipline, from warning letters for failing to turn on a body camera to serious issues that result in firing.
Previously, the city posted the notices on its public records site and they could be requested by residents, reporters and defense attorneys.
The decision to drop the names was discussed for more than a year, according to a spokeswoman for the administration.
Howard said officers felt as though the notices were contributing to “significant misinformation” around accountability and made “shaming” essentially part of the discipline for officers.
Howard justified his decision to Signal Cleveland in an email that reads in part:
“It was determined that the goal of the divisional notices is to provide factual summaries and accountability outcomes to the members of the Division of Police. … There is little to no value in providing the name of the subject officer. The value of these notices is to inform members of the Division of the alleged violating conduct, the outcome of the pre-disciplinary hearings, and hopefully dispel any notion regarding lack of fairness in outcomes.”
When asked by Signal Cleveland whether the change was communicated in writing, Howard said in a statement, “Divisional Notices are internal communications to the members of the Division of Police. No prior notice was required.”
Howard said the city would still include officers’ names and badge numbers in discipline decision memos on the city’s public records portal posted “in anticipation of public records requests.”
Shutting out teacher input
At Tuesday evening’s Cleveland Metropolitan School District board meeting, several teachers and union leaders expressed frustration that they do not have enough say in the CEO-selection process.
Cleveland Teachers’ Union President Shari Obrenski told board members that the union was not given a seat at the table when the search process was formulated. She added that the Alma Advisory Group, the firm the CMSD board selected to lead the CEO search process, lacked a proper understanding of important issues such as the Cleveland Plan and several coalitions that Eric Gordon led during his time as CEO.
“We are urging you to create a process in which you will be able to hear directly from and have conversation with the people that will have to work with the new CEO,” Obrenski said.
Tracy Radich, a fourth-grade teacher at Joseph Gallagher Elementary School, added: “We are on the verge of being left out in the cold [in the CEO search process].”
Ben Chronister, an English teacher at Cleveland High School for Digital Arts, said there’s no way to ensure Alma Advisory is following up with teachers’ concerns.
“It’s an impersonal set of informal focus groups, but in all honesty, there is no mechanism in place for any kind of reciprocity should we not be listened to,” Chronister said.
Chronister also posed a bigger question to the school board, highlighting his frustration with the lack of value given to teacher voices in the district in general:
“The only people I have to go to if I need help are the union, and again, that is often seen [by the district] as adversarial. Why is there no one in the district who has to listen to us, who cares about what we think, when we are the ones spending the most time with students?” he asked.
Local GOP still fighting with itself
As Lee Weingart continues to press his case that Cuyahoga County Republican Chair Lisa Stickan should be dumped, party insiders and lawyers are lining up to support and offer legal opinions on both sides of the family feud.
Weingart, who lost his bid in November to become county executive, said he has collected enough signatures from the party’s Central Committee (which includes neighborhood leaders and elected officials) to hold a vote on whether to replace Stickan. He’s also offering a legal opinion from the law firm Thrasher Dinsmore & Dolan that says his call for the meeting – which took place Saturday – meets party rules and any vote would stand.
But Stickan’s camp is telling Weingart to slow his roll. It argues the meeting is illegitimate, waiving an opinion from the law firm Amer Cunningham that asserts Weingart’s meeting notice is invalid and that he can’t call for a vote to fire the chair without cause.
Stickan and her backers have rallied a long list of supporters, including top Republican mayors in Cuyahoga County. Weingart’s critics say he is an opportunist whose leadership would be marred by his lobbyist resume and “old money” ways.
Weingart’s backers argue Stickan has failed to raise money for the party, grow the party’s grassroots – and win elections.
A Cleveland City Council committee approved legislation Tuesday to spend $600,000 of the city’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars on Say Yes Cleveland’s family support services program. (The full council will still have to sign off.) Learn more about the issue from Documenter Seanna Jackson’s Tweets and from Education Reporter Paul Rochford’s Signal Cleveland story.