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  • Writer's pictureMike Burkons

Beachwood Mayor - Who I Am Voting For And Why

I expect it will surprise people to read I am voting for Justin. Many people know that I like Marty on a personal level tremendously, consider him a friend, and I don’t have that type of friendly relationship or even much of a friendship with Justin. In fact, at times, Justin hasn’t been my advocate. However, if I based my vote on who I was closer to or who said nicer things about me, that would make me a hypocrite since I often express frustration that voters support candidates based on whether they are personally acquainted and/or friends.

That said, there are many reasons I am voting for Justin, but here are my top two.

Reason #1 – The body camera footage of the mobile sukkah traffic stop

I know many of you have seen this 3-minute video below. For those of you that haven't, it’s the body camera footage of the Mayor intervening in a traffic stop last year of an Orthodox man who had been driving with three children in a trailer attached to his car that had been turned into a mobile sukkah for the holiday. This was far from the crime of the century and was basically a minor traffic violation deserving of a minor citation and/or warning. What was noteworthy to some was the Mayor’s statement at the end of this video: “I am not part of the orthodox community but I find them to be very strange.”

I understand others might not be so generous, but I will give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt and believe that he misspoke; what he intended to convey was that it was strange for three kids to be riding unsecured in a trailer/ mobile sukkah — and not that those who are part of the Orthodox community are strange. However, even if you look past his comment, certain elements in the video are far more troubling.

  1. It sends a terrible message to our police officers that if, during a legitimate traffic stop, the stopped individual calls a Council Member, who in turn calls the Mayor, asking him to intervene, the Mayor will do exactly that. Our police shouldn't have any hesitation to do their job or have worries that if they make a legitimate traffic stop of someone who knows a City official, that they will be pressured by the Mayor, even unintentionally just by his presence, to treat this stop differently. However, to me, this isn’t the most troubling part of this video.

  2. In my opinion, the most troubling thing about the video is when the Mayor was talking with the patrolman and intentionally disparages the commanding officer at the scene. Marty inserts into the conversation, for no apparent reason, “I don’t want to get in a fight with Owens. We didn’t make him the chief so he is a little upset. In the end, I think you’re better off, that’s my personal opinion.”

A good leader knows it is always detrimental to openly speak negatively about any employee — but especially to disparage a manager to the employees they oversee, as it undermines their authority. This is significantly more important and potentially more detrimental in an organization like a police department, where respect for the chain of command is critical to our collective safety and security.

While I believe that the entire incident shows troubling judgement by the Mayor, I have no doubt his decision to drive to the traffic stop and intervene was rooted in the right reasons with the best intentions. I know he wasn't trying to use his influence to help a friend. He likes to make people happy, which 90% of the time is a tremendous quality but in instances like this, it isn't. As critical as this post is of Marty, I know he genuinely cares about people and the City. However, a Mayor has to inherently understand when it is appropriate and professional to insert themselves into a situation — and when it is not.

Reason #2 – The City intentionally hid a bad police shooting and is still misleading the public about it.

Imagine if George Floyd's death was captured on a police dash camera instead of a citizen’s cell phone and the world only learned about it 13 months later because in the days after his death, the Mayor of Minneapolis, the Council President, the City Law Director and the City Prosecutor all saw it and decided to keep it under wraps for 13 months. Then, when finally forced to release it, the public learned the cop was still on fully paid leave even though he could have been fired nine months earlier, and the proper process to take the incident to a grand jury only began the day the City was finally forced to release the footage more than 13 months after it happened.

If that happened, everyone who saw the footage of the incident shortly after it occurred and had a duty to speak out when the decision was made to hide it and the known serious issues from the public, media and the other Councilmembers, would be called on to resign or be fired.

Here is what makes this situation regarding the June 27, 2019 police shooting in the Beachwood Mall parking lot even worse. When the City was finally forced to release the footage after keeping its existence unknown to the public, media and most of Council for more than 13 months, Marty’s response to this extremely legitimate criticism and outrage over why this was kept from the public was to attack the critics. In a prepared statement he characterized the criticism as untruthful politically motivated attacks and “There was never a “fight” to release the video. Nor was there ever any nefarious or clandestine plot to withhold its release by the Administration, as has been circulating in other posts. Most of this video was released shortly after the shooting a year ago.”

This simply is untrue and insulting to suggest otherwise. In the days immediately following the shooting, the media reported, based on information provided by the City, that the suspect attempted to run over the police officer. However, last week, when the arbitrator's findings were released demanding the City hire back the officer who was fired, we learned the narrative the City provided the media in the days following the shooting, was the exact opposite of their real belief they argued to the arbitrator which was "The suspect never drove at the grievant (officer)" and "the suspect was intent only on getting away from police" and "The grievant’s (officer's) assertion that the fleeing shoplifter tried to kill him, using the car as a weapon, is contradicted by video evidence and witness statements." It should be extremely troubling to everyone who claims they care about these race and police issues, that the small circle of City officials who saw the footage in the days after it occurred, chose to remain silent and allow a narrative, which we now know they believed to be false, to take hold — likely because it made it easier to fight to keep the footage, and the known serious issues from the public, media and the rest of Council.

Then, two weeks after the shooting, instead of correcting this narrative, they did the opposite and released almost all the unredacted footage of the incident, including all the parts of the incident showing the 19-year-old Black man running and fleeing from the police. The only footage they didn’t release was the part that showed the cop firing two shots from the side, into the driver’s window as the car was driving away.

When the City tried to explain that the reason they fought against the release of the footage was because it might unfairly taint future legal proceedings, Beachwood resident Machelle Knight summed up the flaw in that explanation and troubling double standard in this extremely powerful Letter to the Editor published by CJN, where she wrote, "two weeks after this incident happened, I don’t remember her, or any other city official upset that the city released almost all the footage of the incident, including the foot and car chase of this 19-year-old Black kid, even though the investigation and criminal proceedings into his conduct were far from complete."

Despite Marty's aggressive assertions to the contrary, all these things show intentional (and yes, nefarious) decisions, made by those who initially saw the footage, to allow a narrative to take hold which they believed to be false, and to fight to keep the footage and known serious issues from the public, media and most of the rest of Council. Yes the City fought against the release of the footage. Channel 19's original request was made on July 2, 2020, which was initially denied two weeks later only to finally provided it on July 29, 2020, almost a full month after it was requested and more than 13 months after the shooting occurred.

When people demanded to know why the cop was still on fully paid leave 13 months after the shooting, Marty attempted to discredit them by claiming they didn’t know how these things work and weren't aware of an official written policy requiring the City to wait until after the conclusion of the grand jury process before the process to fire the officer could begin. However, if you make a public records request for this policy, you will learn it never existed but blaming a phantom policy is easier than being truthful and admitting the process to fire the cop could have begun immediately after BCI concluded their independent investigation and provided their findings, dated 10/28/19, to the City. This would have saved the City well over $150K from keeping him on fully paid leave until finally firing him on 2/22/21, for almost 20 months after the shooting.

The fired officer challenged this decision, which went to arbitration and last Monday (10/12/21), the arbitrator ruled, “although the arbitrator’s opinion is that the grievant was not justified in using deadly force in this incident, the City did not prove the grievant violated all of the policies listed in the termination letter, and also made numerous due process errors.” The arbitrator went on to write, “Given the number and seriousness of these errors, the City did not have just cause to terminate the grievant. He is to be reinstated to his position with full benefits as if he had not been terminated.”

You read that correctly. The arbitrator ruled that the City made so many serious mistakes that we have to give an officer his job back despite the arbitrator's belief that the shooting wasn’t a justified use of deadly force.

We can hold rallies in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, saying we care about these race and police issues, but how can anyone believe we mean it when there isn’t any accountability for those responsible for these mistakes? These individuals saw the footage and decided to allow a false, misleading narrative to be reported and take hold, as it helped their attempt to suppress the footage and its serious known issues from the public for 13 months, until they were finally forced to release it to the media.

To this day, Marty refuses to accept any responsibility or accountability for the mistakes that were made. He doesn’t even acknowledge that mistakes were made, or attempt to explain them accurately and truthfully. Instead, he chooses to attack those expressing legitimate criticism and seeking accountability.

As much as I like Marty personally, and know that he is wonderfully nice and well intended man who cares deeply and genuinely about Beachwood, it is impossible to look past or make excuses for his mishandling of this incident. Even if he was the perfect Mayor and that this was his only mistake in four years, you can not make a mistake of this magnitude and remain Mayor. I don't know how anyone that claims to care about these race and police issues can be silent and not call for those to step down or be fired, who were responsible for how the City handled this, and the mistakes that were made.

I will end this post quoting Marc Wilson's excellent Op-Ed piece titled "Beachwood Must Take Race Issues Seriously" published by the Cleveland Jewish News after two weeks after the City finally released the footage:

If what happened in Minneapolis caused you to be outraged enough to be one of the 1,000 people to attend the rally in Beachwood, but are not willing to express this same outrage upon learning what happened here as it is more uncomfortable to do so, your silence is the roadblock to the changes I believe you were marching for that night.


Mike Burkons


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