The County Commission hearing on the sin tax this week was typical of the OLD brand that goes through the ritual of a pretend public hearing. On automatic pilot.

The agenda called for the public to speak before the proponents presented their pitch. No use having a testy argument over some $300 million.

Chairwoman Ellen Connally was presiding. She had all the warmth of the weather that day. It was brutally frigid walking from the city hall parking lot to the Justice Center where the council meets in temporary quarters. (Had to give up the regular offices for an Ed Fitzgerald hotel that will lose money by the ton.)

Connally, a former judge showing she hasn't quite come off the bench yet, announced that a little tingling bell would signal the end of the time a person had to address the County Commission. It would ring at the three minute mark.

When I addressed the board I thanked members for the "generosity" of giving the public all of three minutes to speak. Such respect for constituents. There wasn't even a stir from the 11 members.

I could keep to that short time. I didn't expect anything from my public representatives anyway. Been to too many of these kind of pro forma charades posing as public meetings.
Four of us spoke in all. All against putting the sin tax on the ballot, ostensibly the reason for this meeting.

There was a bit of clapping at one point. Upset Judge Connally. Anymore of that and you'll be out of here.

The 11 member board sat there bored. I believe one meaningless question was asked. It was all over very quickly. Just as planned.

Then the meeting was essentially turned over to the money-grabbers and their supporters.
The three minute rule disappeared. And the bullshit started. With Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the representative of the city's corporate, legal and banking interests. You know, the 1 per cent people. They keep trying to widen the gap.

No need to go into what or why the team representatives said. Too boring. Sum it up: Give us more!

They want bigger TV screens for an audience that paid to actually see the real game, not sit in their homes and watch on personal TVs.

The desire for 20 years more of sin taxation insures that the teams will be able to spruce up their over-priced restaurants, gain more revenue from flashing scoreboards and other advertising boards. Can't exclude some fix-up stuff.

Not much really to do with the fans. It's more about revenue-enhancing at public cost. Why would rich owners pay their own way?

The only reporter with a bit of imagination and insight - Rich Exner at the Plain Dealer no less - wrote a piece that showed how little we need the 20-year, multi-million, highly-regressive tax on people.

A great numbers guy he wrote how the teams could meet the money needs easily - by charging a bit more to those who actually want to see the events. The fans pay their own way. What a novel idea.

He broke the cost down neatly with fans shelling out a bit more:

- $6.72 for a Browns ticket.

- $2.75 more for an Indians ticket.

- $5.84 more for a Cavs ticket.

Of course, he knows that especially at the Q the Cavs ticket could jump much, much less since Dan Gilbert controls the Q when it has countless other events. And those thousands of ticket-buyers could pay a bit more.

But Exner didn't extend his idea to the fact that the teams could add in other ways - pennies to the cost of a hot dog; quarters to the cost of beer and alcohol, even cigarettes; or dollars to the cost of meals at the $5-million, 900-seat Terrace Club restaurant we - the public - built for Dick Jacobs, now the Dolans; or the $2-million plus restaurant we built for the arena, originally operated by a former Gateway board member. It's to the benefit of needy billionaire, gambling tycoon Dan Gilbert.

By the way, these restaurants -property tax exempt - were fully equipped via public money - and compete with downtown restaurants that actually have to pay their taxes and for their forks, spoons and knives, not to mention tile kitchens, fancy chairs and carpeting, all provided gratis to these sport-owning bandits.

I didn't stay for the entire meeting.

But what is totally clear is that the big reform county government is a big joke.

I've watched Cleveland City Council for years and years. The County Council is a replica and will make the same kind of decisions.

Maybe they won't go to Las Vegas; maybe they won't be supplied hookers.

But be assured they'll give us essentially the same kind of government.


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