CLEVELAND, OH – Mark Naymik has authored a series of critical stories on cleveland.com as an AdvanceOhio employee that have targeted Ward 4 Councilman Kenneth Johnson as being responsible for acts that have been performed by employees supervised by mayors Frank Jackson, Jane Campbell, Michael R. White and George Voinovich. Naymik’s reporting creates the “illusion” that Johnson is engaged in wrongdoing; but in 5-stories he hasn’t identified by statute a single local, state or federal law the Ward 4 councilman has violated as one member of a 17-member legislative body.
Under Ohio law and Cleveland’s charter Johnson’s only authority is to vote on legislation council introduces, amends or repeals during its official proceedings. Members of council are prohibited by the relevant sections of Title 7 of the state’s revised code from performing administrative duties or supervising administrative employees. For all the acts Naymik’s reporting have assigned to Johnson, Ohio law and the lack of any warning letter or enforcement action by four mayors as chief law enforcement officers is an indication that none have accused the councilman of stepping over the lines.
No law director has warned Johnson that he’s exceeded the authority of a member of council and evoked the authority of R.C. 733.57, specific performance, to do so. No state audit has referred any of the four mayors for prosecution for dereliction of duty in allowing Johnson to direct administrative employees. No citizen empowered pursuant to R.C. 2938.09 and 2938.10 based on their own knowledge has filed a complaint alleging that Johnson engaged in misconduct in office pursuant to R.C. 3.07; and signed it in “good faith” to be examined by a judicial or prosecutorial “reviewing official.”
What exists are a series of written claims that “imply” criminal conduct that Johnson says Naymik can’t possibly support when the specific revelations in his stories point to no violations of law or neglect of duty as a single member of the city’s legislative body. Johnson called Naymik’s reporting “fake news” and told EJBNEWS he’s going to fight back hard against what he believes is the reporter and AdvanceOhio’s smear campaign against him. He has no intention of stepping down.
Johnson questioned whether Naymik was operating as a political consultant and not as a “journalist” for AdvanceOhio; which owns the Plain Dealer, Sun News and cleveland.com.
The relationship between the four business entities is not perceptible to the average reader. The two newspapers and the website operate with 1st Amendment protections as so-called sources of news reporting about government and officials. But AdvanceOhio that owns the two newspapers and websites operates also as a public relations and marketing firm that serves political, corporate and institutional clients who need to lobby voters to support their candidacies and issues.
The problem for the public and those being interviewed by them is not knowing when reporters working for the Plain Dealer, Sun News and cleveland.com are operating on behalf of AdvanceOhio’s clients or as what should be journalists objectively covering instead of slanting news.
The conflict for the public became even more compelling when the Plain Dealer’s former publisher, Terrence Egger, invested $15,000 of his personal money in the 2010 county reform campaign and directed editors to drown out any negative coverage of it.
Egger also served on the Cleveland Clinic board that entered an illegal contract with Gary Norton to close Huron Hospital that was not ever approved by council. The Plain Dealer’s Ellen Kleinerman did not write a single word that East Cleveland council instructed Norton in an ordinance not to negotiate with Cleveland Clinic; an obvious neglect of duty Naymik also ignored.
EJBNEWS contacted both Naymik and Sam Allard of Cleveland Scene by multiple email to learn the basis of their creating the illusion of criminal misconduct against an elected official who no law enforcement officer has accused of violating a law. Allard responded. Naymik did not. EJBNEWS also “blind” copied Plain Dealer editor George Rodrigue, AdvanceOhio Vice President Chris Quinn, editorial pages editor Elizabeth Sullivan and other employees of the Plain Dealer and various media outlets. EJBNEWS blind copied its email communications to and between Naymik and Allard to key political figures at their “personal” email accounts. Rodrigue had previously claimed EJBNEWS did not contact him to discuss Rev. Jesse Jackson’s visit to the newspaper and concerns about the diminished presence of paid black reporters: none on the editorial board.
Allard was contacted because of a tweet he forwarded to members of council that appeared to express support for Naymik’s reporting without examining his alleged facts. His questions and email responses expressed his personal belief that Johnson was committing felonious acts that he thought council was going to cover-up.
It should be noted that Allard and this writer had a previous interaction during the 2017 Cleveland mayor’s race. Allard fabricated quotes, assigned them to this writer, and then described me as “deranged” for what he’d written I said that I did not.
EJBNEWS sought to learn from Allard just how much he understood about the duties of a member of a legislative branch of government; and to learn if either he or Naymik had identified specific local, state or federal criminal statutes the AdvanceOhio political consultant was accusing Naymik of committing. EJBNEWS’ email to Allard is below.
” Naymik has written stories about a member of council that you believe show criminal misconduct. Despite the fact that the councilman has not been investigated, charged, prosecuted and convicted of any offense, you’re calling his colleagues to achieve the following goal:“… get the temperature” of council in the aftermath of what I regard as serious revelations about Johnson’s conduct in office, and to explore the next steps. By whom will he be investigated? If he is forced to step down — as any council member convicted of a felony is, I believe — what is the mechanism by which he would be replaced?”I’ve quoted you exactly. According to your statement, the councilman has committed “felony” offenses. Please identify the acts the councilman committed and the sections of the federal or state criminal codes that make them a felony.Which law enforcement officer or “reviewing official” did you confirm your “belief” with that the councilman has committed federal or state felony violations of law?
“Apologies if I wasn’t clear. The first quoted statement was conjectural: “If he is forced to step down,” [as he would be, if he were to be convicted of a felony.]”
EJBNEWS shared Ohio’s “misconduct in office” statute found in R.C. 3.07 in a follow-up response to the journalists; and asked both Naymik and Allard to identify the specific laws Johnson violated. Allard’s response is below.
“I *am* operating under the assumption that Johnson’s actions represent misconduct of one kind or another. I don’t know what species of mis- mal- or nonfeasance it may be, but as I said before, it “seems cut-and-dry” to myself and many residents of Ward 4. Mark’s stories do not present “implied allegations of some unspecified misconduct.” The misconduct is extremely specific, and supported by documentation. I’ll leave it to others to determine how it’s categorized.What I’m much more interested in is what council members’ silence on Johnson says about the body as a whole. Part of the reason I’m approaching this story from the angle I am is because of a worry that council leadership would try to sweep this under the rug and let Johnson quietly appoint a successor (likely his son) at an opportune moment and let things continue as usual. (For the record, I have asked Johnson if he feels unfairly targeted because his colleagues do versions of the same thing. We’ll see what he says.)”
From his responses to EJBNEWS‘ questions, it is clear that Allard is operating on the belief that crimes are being committed by Johnson; and his only proof is Naymik’s reporting and “tautological” comments from unnamed officials and random Ward 4 residents.
Allard said he did not answer questions about whether or not he or Naymik were colluding on behalf of a client and being paid. He called the claim “absurd.”
EJBNEWS, knowing that journalists who operate in reckless disregard of facts that prove a claim is false, saw Allard’s responses as illogical knowing the defamation risk a journalist takes who persists in disseminating false information. After thanking Allard for his responses, EJBNEWS shared the following:
“I’ve shared the Misconduct statute with you. You don’t understand it and you’ve acknowledged that to me in writing. Your lack of understanding the statute doesn’t negate the fact that you have it; and with that comes a duty to understand it before you write a story based on your false supposition that the council member has committed “cut and dry” misconduct offenses.
The only “absurdity” in this dialogue between us is that you are fabricating offenses you can’t name; and writing a story that the offenses you’ve fabricated against a member of council are about to be covered up.
EJBNEWS contacted Johnson and shared the back and forth questions and responses with the Cleveland Scene employee. After reading Allard’s thought processes Johnson expressed an incredible disbelief in what he’d just read.
“I can’t believe it. I’ve never read anything like this in my life,” Johnson said.