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  • Writer's pictureMike Burkons

If we use common sense, Beachwood can have more nice things...

The school district spent less than $2,500 to build this wonderful shade structure/pavilion at Hilltop. This blog post will explain why it shows how much the City is getting ripped off by the impossible to defend arrangement we have with our City Engineer and GPD, the firm that employs him.

Last week I posted on Facebook about how happy I was to see the pavilion/ shade structure the schools just erected on the Hilltop school property, and how putting up relatively inexpensive shade structures/pavilions with a couple picnic tables under them, add a tremendous amount to open public spaces and encourage communal gathering.

I just found out that the school district spent $2,199.99 for this very nice 12x16 shade structure which they installed in house via their custodial/facilities staff. So how is this relevant to GPD and how does it show they are ripping the City off??? Just follow along…

At the Committee Meeting on Sept. 28, when Joe Ciuni, Beachwood’s City Engineer, recommended that the City amend his firm’s original $500k plan/design to build 6 pickleball courts, increasing it to $1.2m to include moving the community gardens 120 feet, the detailed cost specs he provided showed that $230k of the $700k increase was to add ten separate 12 x 12 shade structures each costing $23,000.

  • You are probably wondering how Joe Ciuni, the person the City pays to be our "City Engineer", who in that role is supposed to be our unbiased expert providing advice and recommendations on all things engineering related, could possibly recommend the illogically expensive solution of spending $230,000 to add ten separate 12x12 shade structures at $23k each, which are smaller than the very nice 12x16 shade structure the schools just spent under $2,500 to build at Hilltop, without paying a penny to an engineering firm for advice, and with 10% of the capabilities and personnel of the City’s service department.

This is what happens when our City Engineer knows that our Mayor and Law Director have determined we can ignore the State law, and our own local law, that require engineering contracts over $50k must be awarded in a competitive process and instead “award” all the engineering contracts on the projects he recommends, to GPD, the engineering firm he is employed by, without any other firm allowed to be considered, and at whatever he determines his firm should be paid for the work.

By ignoring the state and local laws and allowing this arrangement, it creates an obvious conflict of interest as it gives our City Engineer a clear incentive to find and recommend the most expensive solutions, and in this case, the most expensive 12x12 shade structures at $23k a piece, and include 10 of them in the specs of this project, because the more he can jack up the total estimated cost of the project, the easier it is to justify larger fees for his firm which he knows will get both engineering contracts on the project (the engineering design contract and the engineering construction administration/inspection contract) because no other firms besides his will be allowed to submit proposals to be considered for either of the contracts.

These $23k shade structures aren’t the only obvious example of how our relationship with our City Engineer and his firm GPD is costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars, just on this project alone. However, that is explained in more detail in a different blog post titled What Beachwood is gaining by adding $700k to the cost of the $500k pickleball project? (

I will end this blog post by recounting what a city official from another city said, who understands how the relationship between a City Engineer and a City is supposed to work, when I told them how we do it in Beachwood; “That’s crazy and would be like paying a real estate agent a $10k fee to help you find the best house, then when you do, help negotiate the best deal for the house, but only show you houses they own”.

As crazy as the scenario they compared it to is, what we do is much more illogical, irresponsible, and worse because at least with houses, you don’t have to be a real estate expert to know whether a house is way more than you need, and it is relatively easily find out if the suggested price is reasonable compared to comps.

However, when our City Engineer submits a proposal to the Mayor asking that his firm be paid $299,506 to design a $3m project to provide a solution to a sewer infrastructure issue (like they did earlier this year for sewer project at Green/Timberlane which the Mayor approved without Council's knowledge or approval, despite being well above his $25k spending authority), there isn’t a single city employee or official with the engineering knowledge, background or expertise to know whether the $3m solution our City Engineer is proposing his firm be paid to design, is needed or overkill (like the equivalent of $23k shade structures) and if it is the right solution, whether $299,506 is a fair and reasonable fee our City Engineer's firm should be paid for the work.

As one police officer told me, "It is frustrating the city spends over $100k in outside legal fees to negotiate union contracts but when Joe Ciuni determines his firm should be paid $300k to design a $3m project no one at the City is qualified enough to know whether the project is needed, we just take Joe Ciuni's word that it is and $300k is the right amount his firm should be paid for the work".

If you are a resident who would rather see this $700k used towards things people have been asking for like better lighting on side streets, putting sidewalks on one side of Bryden, or working with the schools to improve our community's embarrassingly substandard sports fields and neighborhood playgrounds on school property, adding $700k to the cost of the $500k pickleball project without being able to explain how it provides more value, this should upset you and you should demand better use of City money.

That is all and feel free to call (216-832-6771) or email with any thoughts, concerns, or questions.

Mike Burkons

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