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Friday, March 10, 2006

Why doesn't Cleveland embrace young leadership?

WARNING: I'm feeling very salty today, very glass-is-half-empty. If you're feeling great today, don't read any further. I wouldn't want to bring ya down. But I gotta get this off my chest.

I’m sort of following the selection of a new Cleveland Schools CEO, but I have to say I’m not inspired by what I read. My gut reaction — it’s more of the same.

I have nothing personal against William Denihan. He’s demonstrated himself as a fine public servant. But to my mind his being considered as a finalist for the Cleveland Schools CEO job represents all that is wrong with leadership in Cleveland.

Regardless of intent, the message is that if you stick around in the same incestuous circles you can just pass your jobs along to the same old cronies. It’s despicable, really. And it is a contributing factor to why young leaders flee for regions that actually embrace young leadership. And by young I mean the legions of 40-somethings who have ample experience and expertise, but who lack the entrĂ©e to the top positions because they are more entrepreneurial in their thinking and less willing to play by the rules that have defined Cleveland for generations.

Denihan is 69 years old. Why would the board even consider someone of retirement age for such a high-energy and vital post? I’m sure Denihan has the energy of someone at least 10 years younger. But what about the acting superintendent, you know the one who was told by Case Law School that her BGSU undergrad degree was not “prestigious enough” to gain her a scholarship to that fine institution.

Perhaps she doesn’t want the job. Perhaps as I write she’s being recruited to another city that embraces young leadership better than Cleveland. Regardless, I think we’ve already seen that the board has exercised an, at best, lazy search.

But that’s not the only post that irks.

The other big one that absolutely blows my mind is the Center for Families and Children. Lee Fisher has left as President & CEO to run as lieutenant governor to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland. An item in The PD’s Openers column, which I cannot locate online, states that former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell is being considered as Fisher’s replacement. The salary: $350,000 a year.

Is it me or is that an absolutely ludicrous sum of money for a nonprofit devoted to children and families?!?! Beyond the salary it smacks of cronyism as one pol leaves and hands the job off to another. Okay, so the board of directors has to hire the president but the fact that Campbell’s even considered makes me want to wretch.

There are so many dedicated nonprofit professionals in this town, some of whom are already working at the Center for Families and Children and doing the actual work for which the political figureheads claim credit. Why not consider bringing in and bringing up someone with direct knowledge of the agency and the people it serves?

Don’t Cleveland children and families deserve to have someone in place who truly cares for them rather than have the top job passed off on a career politician who will probably use the job as a scouting position for the next campaign? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’d really like to know the answer.

We talk a good game in this town about bringing young talent to the fore, but our actions rarely follow our words. One very bright exception to that rule is David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. He quietly, but effectively goes about raising our city’s profile among the sporting crowd. At least one Cleveland CEO (himself a 40-something) has said that people like Gilbert are the future of Cleveland.

David is an incredible leader and has a fine mind for organizing gargantuan events. But he is also something Cleveland’s Old Guard isn’t – humble about his individual contributions. He could easily be plucked by dozens of cities for higher profile jobs. But David’s heart is in Cleveland.

When my design partner Brian Willse and I were working on the wrap-up book for the 2004 International Children’s Games, it took some convincing to get David to go along with having one small photo of him addressing a group in the book. He was more interested in making sure the young athletes and the Old Guard honorary chairs were represented than himself. I’m sure convincing him to do the full-page photo for the Believe in Cleveland campaign in Sunday's paper took a lot of arm-twisting. But he probably did it as a favor to Alex Machaskee who has served as honorary chair of GCSC events.

I want to believe in Cleveland. I want to believe that younger people will be embraced for their contributions and talents and considered for some of its top posts. But the record speaks clearly.

Wait your turn.

Pay your dues.

Kiss the right asses.

Make donations to the right politicians.

Make friends in the right high places (i.e. law firms).

Be entrepreneurial if you choose, but know that the powers that be really don't value autonomy.

And maybe you’ll be considered by the time you’re 69.


Jill said...

Wendy, thank you SO much for this post about the CEO job. I agree with you 100% about Denihan, and I've met him a couple of times and felt similarly about him then. When I read the PD story - that he was in the final three, I really really felt unhappy about that - though again, for the reasons you describe.

On the other hand, I don't know if you read Gloria Ferris's blog. She feels that Denihan would be an excellent choice and so after reading that, I really told myself to hold off on thinking he wouldn't be a good choice - because I respect Gloria and her opinion. You might take a look see at what she had to say.

Last - about the old Lee Fisher job. For one thing, I wonder if they'd hire her at the same salary. Just don't know for sure - I didnt' see that OPEN piece or whereever it was.

Second thing - Right Angle Blog had a post and then a very lengthy comment thread (in which I got beat up pretty badly :) - that was all about how much Fisher makes. Having been at Bellefaire, and finding out that Fisher's salary is 2% of the functioning budget, I didn't think it was so off. But I'm gathering that maybe I'm the one who is off about that (wouldn't be the first time - won't be the last).

I know you've seen nonprofit numbers - I suspect you have an idea as to what the number should be - or what would be a more reasonable range.

Bottom line: the whole musical chairs and where are you when the music stops thing is a chronic problem. You are so right.

How do we make inroads???

Wendy Hoke said...

I did read Gloria's post. As I said, it's nothing personal against Denihan, it's what his selection would stand for that really frosts me. Does he even have instructional experience? It has all the appearance of cronyism and I just can't stand that.

Now, as far as Fisher and his salary: I don't know if Jane would be paid the same, though the PD mentioned it would be a big pay boost from the mayor's job. It's excessive and reckless.

But more importantly, it's not open to people who could really make a difference and would gladly do so for half the salary.

Daniella said...

I can't add much to what you both said but I agree totally. What is the matter with Cleveland? We have a huge school problem. I thought Frank Jackson wanted to make some improvements.