Reason Saves Cleveland

The Confrontation

Drew Carey and Nick Gillespie clash with the Cleveland City Council over Reason Saves Cleveland.

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It's not every day that entrenched politicians in a decaying city confront libertarian ideas about turning their economy around. But that's exactly what happened on May 28, 2010, when the Cleveland City Council reacted to reason.tv's groundbreaking documentary series Reason Saves Cleveland (reason.tv/cleveland) by inviting its hosts, native son Drew Carey and Ohio resident Nick Gillespie, for a wide-ranging discussion about philosophy, governance, and the borderline between perception and reality.

Part photo op, part brainstorming exercise, and part angry rebuttal, the debate revealed worldviews that were not just ideologically incompatible but factually contradictory. Yet the two sides facing off across a narrow table also had to deal with having their usually unrebutted arguments thrown back at them by extremely knowledgeable and emotionally invested opponents.

The result was nearly three hours of flying sparks, defensive filibusters, and some of the best libertarian comedy this side of Penn & Teller. The following is an edited transcript.

City Council President Martin J. Sweeney: This table's full of people that care about the city of Cleveland. You care about it, and you have your own opinion. We're going to talk about how we can improve the place you were born in, we were born in, and we're responsible for taking care of. What's the most important thing you would recommend we focus on?

Drew Carey: The most important thing to me is cutting red tape and making Cleveland more business friendly. I'm a Price Is Right host, so I'm not an expert on urban policy; that's why I went to the Reason Foundation and asked them to do the documentary. But I think the goal for Cleveland should be to be the No. 1 business-friendly city in the country. Not to be better than we were last year, and not to be better than Brookpark or Solon or [other suburbs of Cleveland]. I think when somebody comes in from anywhere in the country and they think, "Well I want to start a business," they should think to themselves, "I want to go to Cleveland, because that's the best place to go."

We used Houston as an example. I think we should steal their ideas and just put them in place. The more business-friendly Cleveland is, the more jobs come in here, the more tax money we have, the more money we have for police and schools and all that stuff. It all starts with a business climate that's conducive to people wanting to come start a business here. 

But it takes a tradeoff, because when you get rid of the red tape and the regulation, you have to put up with people doing what they want. Sometimes, some of the things they do you might not agree with.

Nick Gillespie: In the video there's a moment when we talked to a city councilman. He's not here today, so we won't name him, but he's a good guy; he's working to make the city better. He talked about helping a company that wanted to expand its operations a few years ago. He said they've been trying for about a decade, and that he was very proud that with his help they got it all done in 18 months. That's just not good enough.

It comes down to rethinking things like zoning, which traditionally is seen as a tool for protecting people, but in fact is always a way of paying off certain interests that already exist. Cleveland is a very heavily zoned and regulated area in terms of land use. Many of the designations go back to the industrial era, or even the pre-industrial era. It's probably time to think about that and try to simplify what kind of licenses, what kinds of zoning, what kinds of approvals you need before you can get into the really tough part of running any business, which is actually competing against your competitors.

Councilor Phyllis Cleveland: I think we're all in agreement on the things that are not working, or not working well enough, in our city and other cities like ours. Our infrastructure, our school system. Of course the difference is how do we approach those things?

I agree to some degree with a lot of the things that you're saying, that we need to do better. I agree that we need to be more business friendly. Not necessarily that we need to be the most business friendly, because as you said, we're giving up something on the other side. And I represent communities of people who don't have access to the halls of power, the businesses, the capital, and the things like that, because of the conditions they were born in. There's got to be a balance. Just going to the zoning issue, I was on the Stossel show that you did.

Carey: The line you said that I remember is that you don't want to have a strip club next to a church.

Cleveland: Next to a day care center or a church, exactly.

Gillespie: That would make Sunday a lot easier, though.

Cleveland: I don't know about that. Not in my community.

But just following that train of thought, you mentioned somebody coming in and setting up a business. Again, I'm looking at it from the community I represent. And it happens all the time, we have people who come in, people who have the capital to open stores, and they're doing what they do naturally, looking at what's in their best interests, what makes money quick. And we end up with liquor stores and the low-end types of things. They may create a few low-paying jobs here and there, but they tend to create more problems in the community than they solve. So I think there's got to be a balance there.

I think there's a perception that things don't work in this city, and I think a lot of that is just perception perpetuated by the media and by others.

Gillespie: If you look at the economic literature, the urban development literature, the fears that zoning is designed to address—the strip club or the charnel house next to the residential neighborhood—these things actually don't come up that often. We worry about those, but they don't make economic sense, so it doesn't happen absent regulation.

Go visit the cities that have fewer land-use regulations, and see what kinds of odd things happen there. And you'll find actually that land use patterns in a place like Houston are basically identical to places like Cleveland. What is different is that the cost of doing business is dramatically lower in one place than the other.

And this is not peeing in the punch bowl or anything. Cleveland has many good things going on, but it is in a long-term economic decline that has reached a crisis situation. It had been as high as the seventh largest city in the country; it is now the 41st largest. There are less than half the number of people it had in 1950. It lost 10 percent of its population in the decade of the '00s. It has lost many of its jobs, and they're not coming back. I mean, this is something that needs to be addressed. How do you turn this city around? You can't say, "OK, it's not as bad as it was two years ago." It's got to be, "How do we make it better tomorrow?"

Councilor Kevin J. Kelley: I would ask you to respond to this assertion: From a 30,000-foot view, you take very complex problems and apply very easy-fix solutions. And some of the anecdotal examples aren't on point with the city of Cleveland. I think that we all have agreed to the general premise that the city has challenges.

We've spent a lot of time talking about zoning. But to suggest that the problems are caused by zoning, or that removing zoning is the solution, I would say doesn't quite add up. When you look at the number of zoned communities that are booming—Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon—they are numerous. There are a number of other demographic shifts in place, with people moving to the South and to the West. To attack the zoning, like zoning is the villain, I think oversimplifies the problem and I think isn't in line with other cities like that. If you look at what's going on with Milwaukee, St. Louis, we're all facing the same thing. I suggest it has a lot to do with the aging infrastructure, the fact that the company that came to Houston probably had a grassy field, while we have industrial sites that we are trying to remediate to put them back into productive use.

Carey: A lot of the documentary was done in broad strokes, and a lot of it was purposely not detailed because we want to keep an audience on the Internet for 10 minutes to watch video. And I agree that some places can be zoned and still flourish. But something isn't working here, because population loss happens all the time, the tax base declines all the time. Whatever combination you have here in Cleveland just isn't cutting it.

Sweeney: Just on the planning component of it, the city planning chairperson is next to me. We as the city are looking at a comprehensive overhaul, not elimination, of our planning codes, to help meet our zoning needs from when they were created to where they are now. It's about a year and a half we've been building it through. We haven't recommended changes yet.

Gillespie: I recommend going to a councilman who might be able to speed that up.

Look, simplicity helps. On a certain level you do want to have a 30,000-foot view, in that if you start getting into the details too much—I'm not being glib here—then you're micromanaging. And nobody does well under a micromanaged system, whether it's a businessman, a government, or whatever. It isn't all zoning; it's probably better to think of it in the broader terms of land use regulations and business regulations.

Councilor Mike Polensek: This is the first opportunity I think that we've had to really talk, not about legislation, but to talk about issues, to talk about perceptions. I came on this body 32 years ago. I'm a senior member. When I came in, there were 693,000 people here. So I want to tell you, without any fear of contradiction: It's not about taxes, it's not about the store on the corner, it's not about zoning. It's about disinvestment in our city. I'm not politically correct, so the crap is over as of this line of questioning, OK?

You look at what's happened in this city, the decisions that have been made. A federal judge who lived in one of the most exclusive suburbs implemented a school desegregation case that went after poor kids. Poor black kids suffered as a result of a school desegregation plan. Over 100,000 families bailed out of this city in seven years, OK? And who were the victims? Poor children, poor families.

Let's talk about business disinvestment in this city. Businesses have moved out of the city of Cleveland, and a lot of them offshore, so they could deal with people making five bucks an hour in China. Policies in Washington have crippled the urban areas of this country.

So when we talk about rebuilding Cleveland and where we're at today and why we're in the condition now we're in, it's not hard to understand it. We have been dealt severe blows by our own federal government. We have been dealt severe blows by policies in Columbus [Ohio's capital] that have worked against the urban areas, have built roads to nowhere at our taxpayers' expense and put infrastructure in and have not put it back in the city of Cleveland or the urban areas. So I can tell you as someone who's raised five kids in this city, who still has a child in the Cleveland school system—so I not only talk the talk, I walk the walk—that when you look at where we're at today, it's because of a series of blows over the years that have been done repeatedly to the city.

Have there been bad decisions made in this city? You're doggone right. I'm looking at one of them right over here, a stadium on the lakefront with no retractable roof on it. The only thing in there is seagulls and snow in the winter time. The Cavaliers' practice field. Look at everything we've done for the Cavaliers. The first chance they get to repay the people of the city of Cleveland, they have to build their practice facility in Independence. So when they had an opportunity to reinvest in this city, [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert didn't want to do that. And if you look at the major companies that started in Cleveland and where they're investing now, why? What's the difference between Cleveland and Chicago? People in Chicago, the corporate community, have not abandoned the city. They have reinvested, and they live in the city.

Gillespie: You've done a very good job of explaining the decline of Cleveland, and how it's not anybody's fault at this table. That's a way of kicking the can down the road, of saying, "OK, what we've got to do then is wait for China to stop doing business. We've got to wait for Washington to change things."

You talk about the schools. Here's the reality of Cleveland's public schools: They've lost 40,000 students over the past decade. You pay about $16,000 per student in straight-up tuition cost, plus a lot more that gets embedded in capital cost. Three-quarters of the schools in the Cleveland public school system are on academic watch or emergency, which are the worst categories that the state has. How do you address that?

This is a way that you can address it without going so far as Columbus. Cities are always going to get screwed at various times and various places. Why not try turning every school that's in Cleveland, or every school that's on academic watch and academic emergency, into a charter school? Why not give poor kids the freedom to make the choice that those of us who are middle class or wealthy take for granted, either by paying tuition at private schools, or by moving to communities that have better schools? You can do that virtually overnight.

Polensek: You'll find many of us around this table who support charters, who support vouchers. We want our children and our families to have an opportunity. But you did the Reason Foundation video and what I'm saying is, you whacked us pretty good. What I'm saying is, when you look at the condition we're in today, it didn't happen overnight. I've never stopped believing in Cleveland. That's why I live here. This is a great city. We have cultural institutions second to none, we have a lakefront, we have the Cleveland Orchestra, best in the world. We have a lot going for us that nobody else has. But you know what we have is a lack of confidence within our corporate community, who want to talk the great fight, but when it comes down to putting their money where their mouth is, it doesn't happen. And that needs to be said here.

Gillespie: Let me just suggest that one of the big problems is that declining cities often think about revitalization through corporate welfare. The most egregious forms are publicly funded stadiums, publicly funded convention centers.

Carey: We're against cities helping billionaire owners buy stadiums.

Gillespie: Every independent analysis of that kind of activity shows that it does not create a local economy, it doesn't help revive a local economy. So get out of that business and maybe more businesses will stay here.

Carey: I'll tell you something else, no BS. The last time you got screwed by a business is not the last time you're going to get screwed by a business here. There's always going to be somebody who's going to screw you. They're going to come here and say, "Hey, Cleveland's great, give us a deal," and you give them the lowest taxes; they're going to build a business here. And then when it's convenient for them, they're going to pull up and leave and disappoint you. It happens to every city, all over the country. It's always going to happen. The trick is to make it so more businesses come in and invest than the ones that screw you and take off.

Polensek: You want to help Cleveland? Bring the Price Is Right show and put it on the road to Cleveland.

Gillespie: Embedded in the request to bring The Price Is Right to Cleveland, and I don't mean to be overly argumentative, but: That is the problem. You know what? The Price is Right is not coming here, The Jersey Shore is not coming here; car manufacturing is not coming back here. What Cleveland has to do is say, "OK, what can we bring to the world," not what can the world bring to us. And I suspect that when that mindset is gone, it will be six months into a great long-lived recovery of Cleveland.

Councilor Jeff Johnson: You pretty much have brought to the table a libertarian philosophy, and I've read your writings on your website, and since you're here and since you brought this out, let me just say that on many things you say I agree. Many things you say I don't agree with. Your philosophy is your philosophy. I've been in government almost 30 years now; I'm not a libertarian.

So our debate deals with this concept of, as you say, better, smallish, smarter. Decentralize, deregulate. The core values of libertarianism. Government, from my philosophy, can be an engine of change. It is not always the quickest way to a solution, but it is the fairest way to a solution. Government seeks to bring fairness and opportunities to all, whether it's class, race, gender, what have you. Because the private sector historically has not done a great job of being fair with minorities, with gender, women. And so government has to step in at times to make sure we balance it. So my philosophy is not your philosophy. And we'll agree to disagree on that.

You have a forum through the Internet to send provocative messages, and you've done one relative to my city. I am not defensive and thin-skinned; people know me. And I've challenged the leaders of this city continuously, as well as myself. But I will say, before we deal with some specifics, that I think that you took cheap shots at our city. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, equating us to a [perennially losing] basketball team, using an analogy that we're weak and others are strong—cheap shots. What I do is not entertainment. It is real life. Trying to stop a young 15-year-old with a 9mm from killing someone. Trying to deal with the results of the housing crisis. Trying to educate our children. I totally agree with you that competition in education is something that should be tried. I was an anti-voucher guy many years ago; I changed on that issue. I think Cleveland should compete, encourage competition, but the private sector, in and of itself, doesn't mean they're the best product.

And so the simplicity of your solutions does not help me. Raising the issue helps me, because it helps me be challenged by you. I've read through and I've looked at most of the videos and I would say you have achieved a goal, and that is to get our attention. Thank you, Mr. Carey, on that. But I need you to understand that there is hope and a plan in Cleveland. You may not agree with it, we may be moving too slowly for you, but there is. In the complication of government, it is easy to write about and compare on the outside, but on the ground, on the front lines, it is difficult when a federal government makes certain decisions that impact my people, like Councilor Polensek said. It is difficult with a state that fights over funding of schools and has told us it is unconstitutional and still won't fix it.

I would love for you to come back and talk about how my philosophy and libertarianism can work together for solutions. For example, on the golf course issue, which is really a question of provision of services that you think historically government should not be in. You think. Part of the golf course issue is accessibility, where private golf courses, in the past, have denied African Americans access. Now, you might be able to sell more golf tees [by privatizing the courses], but I have to make sure there's accessibility on at least one golf course to, not necessarily race now, but to class. Accessibility. So I have to be able to figure out if somebody from my neighborhood who isn't part of the club can go play golf. Now, we can do a management contract so it can be managed better, but I will not sell it if you ask me that question.

I am upset with how we manage West Side Market, or some parts of it. But I know it's a city asset. And when you're a central city in a region that wants to forget you, when you sell assets, you get forgotten, you get marginalized, you're not in the room, you're not at the table. So I'm not selling the airport. I'm not giving up my power to the port authority. I'm not selling the West Side Market. Why? Because I need to be at the table as a city. Because they will forget the central cities. It has happened and will happen. Those are the dynamics that go beyond your video. It goes into the whole reality of how people treat people. And how folks marginalize people.

Carey: I would say it's OK to agree to disagree. The whole point of the video was about promoting discussion. And I said at the beginning that I don't envy anybody your job, and I know that it's hard lifting that you guys do every day, and I really do appreciate it. Honestly, big love for everybody for doing that.

But there's no reason that we have to own a golf course. You don't have to be responsible for somebody being able to golf. There are cheap golf courses, cheap enough for somebody who wants to golf. Not many people golf anyway, and if somebody wants to golf, they can go pay the fee at a private golf course. Especially when the golf course isn't kept that well. If you're going to keep a golf course, at least keep it up so it can compete against the good golf courses that people really like to go to.

And the same thing with the West Side Market. Everybody talks about the West Side Market as this big tourist attraction in Cleveland. It's not. Nobody says, "Hey, honey, let's drive to Cleveland and see the West Side Market," you know? I love the West Side Market, don't get me wrong, but it's only open four days a week. It's not open that many hours. My idea is to sell it to somebody who knows how to manage a market. You guys are in the city-running business, not in the golf course–running business or the grocery business. You shouldn't have to be a grocery store expert and a golf course expert. Your job is hard enough.

Go to whatever big supermarket chain and say, "You want to buy the West Side Market? You have to keep it, you have to call it the West Side Market, and you have to pay us this much a year for it, that's how much it's going to cost you, and then do what you want." And they'll improve it to make the money to pay us. They'll open it seven days a week, they'll make sure it's open 'til midnight, they'll have sales, they'll do all kinds of things to improve the place that we can't afford to do. And then it'll be a better place to go. Because right now, the West Side Market loses money and it's inconvenient.

I'm telling you, if I lived here in Cleveland, the money I have, and if I wanted to be mean about it, I would open a market right beside the West Side Market and put you out of business. I'd make it nicer than the West Side Market, I'd open it seven days a week, I'd make the facilities better, so that vendors at the West Side Market would want to move right across the street. I'd have better parking. And the West Side Market would cease to exist. If I was mean and that's what I wanted to do to punish the city of Cleveland, which I don't.

Gillespie: I appreciate particularly your questions of accessibility and fairness. And I think what you're getting at, which is one sign of success and one sign of failure, is that race may not be the dividing line in Cleveland anymore, but class remains. And this is a huge issue. Also—without going into a tear-inducing story of my own childhood—that is precisely why I'm a libertarian. Businesses historically have been pro-minority, they've been pro–poor people. The whole horrible stain of Jim Crow, of government-enforced discrimination in the United States, arose precisely to kick back at free market companies that were doing things like selling first-class railroad tickets to blacks, allowing blacks to sit in the same restaurants as whites. So it's actually a very complicated and interesting history, which I think speaks well to the libertarian persuasion.

Reason Foundation put out a policy report about California that was authored by David Osborne, who was head of reinventing government back in the '90s. And he suggests that states, municipalities, other kinds of governmental jurisdictions can go through an exercise where you think about what are your core businesses. You come up through a democratic process with what they are, and then you figure out how to afford them, if you can or can't. How do you rank police protection, filling pot holes, running golf courses, running markets, etc.? You'll find a pretty quick consensus, and it will also give you the clarity to say, "OK, what can we do without?"

And in terms of selling, there are two things we've been talking about. One is competitive bidding, which can realize real savings. For instance, Los Angeles recently contracted out its building maintenance, and it saved 51 percent of its cost. That's great, the buildings aren't going anywhere, they're still in Los Angeles. And you have a firm that's either responsive to your demands, or you get a new contract. That's a great way to save money.

There are also asset sales. We talked a little bit about Chicago and its parking meter stuff. But the selling of the Chicago Skyway changed a huge asset in Chicago that, in a good year, made the city a net revenue of about $8 million. But they were also paying 5 percent on a long-term debt project, which pretty much wiped out any possibility of a profit. By doing a long-term lease—they didn't really sell it—they got a $1.8 billion lump sum up front, which is pretty good. So if you start thinking about it in those terms, it's not destroying the West Side Market, or the golf courses, or countless other assets that may be here. It's really unlocking the economic value both to the city and then the taxpayer, but then also the customer base, because all of these contracts will revolve and hinge on whether or not the people who you give the contract to are delivering the goods at the price they specified.

Councilor Tony Brancatelli: I certainly agree with having to fight perception. Fighting perception is what we're dealing with every day. Population loss, I think, is a little bit of a red herring. There were 70,000 people in the Slavic Village neighborhood at one time, and it was packed. My mother was one of 11 in a 1,200-square-foot house, and that just doesn't happen today. We had front-back houses and 25-foot lots. And so we have to put our population loss in perspective. I think certainly the issues around the schools were a big change agent in the population loss, but it wasn't the only one.

In the video, when you talk about less government, we saw where less government had a horrible impact on the neighborhood of Slavic Village. It was ground zero in the foreclosure crisis. It was because an unregulated mortgage industry created opportunities for people to capitalize on the bundled Wall Street securitizations that caused a huge negative effect. Because there was no oversight on providing loans for houses four and five times their value. And so when you start looking at that, that's where you look at where government can play a role.

Carey: I can talk about the schools for a second. School competition is a good thing. The solution we brought up in the video that I like better—I thought that it's the best school idea I've heard—is backpack funding, where every school, public and private, charter school and public school, has to compete for every student. The money stays with the student in their "backpack," as they call it. So if your kid's going to Rhodes and your favorite teacher quits, or Rhodes starts to go downhill, you can say, "I don't want my kid going to Rhodes anymore," and you can just transfer them. The same money goes with the kid. And each school is run autonomously by the principal and the teachers; they decide what the school's going to be. That makes them all compete for the students; that makes them all bring up their game all the time. Nobody can slack off.

The idea is to make the K–12 system in Cleveland like the college system all over the country, where if you're going to Cleveland State and all of a sudden you don't like Cleveland State, transfer to another college, just like that. And all your credits go with you, everything you learned goes with you, and it's not that much of a hassle.

Gillespie: To talk about the mortgage crisis, there are a lot of things going on there. First off, the mortgage industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries, both in terms of day-to-day paperwork that needs to be filed and a larger scale. What was really problematic in the housing bubble that popped a while ago and shows very little sign of recovering is precisely the fact that the government was subsidizing so many loans and bankers and mortgage holders. And that banks no longer had any real incentive to monitor their risks the way that they should have, because they knew that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac—government-sponsored enterprises—were going to pick up all of their loans.

Carey: They were gambling with a friend's money.

Gillespie: Yeah. And in any case, if you look at Cleveland, before and after the housing bubble overall in Ohio, house prices did not go up that much and they did not go down that much. There are a lot of foreclosures here that had to do with, without getting into it too deeply, the down payments people make.

But again, the issue in Cleveland is not a lack of housing, and it's really not a lack of affordable housing. If anything, it's matching better the supply and the demand in the sense that there is a lot of supply. And in cities like this—I also lived in Buffalo, which is another place that has seen a 50 percent or more decline in population—you have the sense of the city as a balloon that was big and then the air was let out. It's really baggy, it's saggy, there's a lot of free space. How do you shrink the scale of the city back down? It's a very, very difficult challenge, but it is not something that you can lay at the feet of the mortgage industry.

Councilor Zack Reed: I do want to go back to a few things you were just alluding to, about the fact that there are some good things that are going on in the city of Cleveland. I mean, you look around, there are not too many cities that have three professional teams, which we do. So I look at it this way, like when we lost in the NBA finals: I say, well we got another bite at the apple, you just keep biting the apple. So look at the three top-notch medical facilities we have here in the city of Cleveland. I mean, second to none. And the diversity in our population.

I guess I will be the closest one to your libertarian politics, because I'm a moderate Democrat who believes that limited government is best government, as Thomas Jefferson has taught us. So I appreciate us having this conversation, but how do we go from the conversation to implementation? Because that's where I think we lack. What is the next step to get there?

I'll give you a great example. It leads right into what you're saying. There's a gentleman in the city of Cleveland who is a very successful businessperson who now works for one of the nonprofits. He owns a business in the city, and he wants to put in a $20,000 sign, because he's trying to bring up his business. He applied for a variance to do it. This is what he says—I'm just going to read it because it's pretty short: "If we have to go to the zoning review board, I understand that it may take 60 days for approval. That is simply too long. I applied for a variance on 4/21. Based on the progress to the day, I will have my sign installed by 9/1.…The summer will be over. The car wash will have lost more money. This is the kind of stuff that hurts Cleveland and puts people out of business. It's just ridiculous. I need the variance to be approved ASAP so that the sign can be manufactured and I can have some hope of getting the sign installed before the summer's over."

Carey: That's a lot of money for a car wash owner in Cleveland who can only be open in the summer.

Sweeney: Let me give some context to this. If you apply for a sign that's within our regulation, it would take somewhere between three and five days. If it's outside the regulations, it needs to be [no bigger than] four foot by eight foot, no more than two or three colors. If you want to go 10 by 10, and put it up a little bit higher, and have 10 colors on it, you have to get approval to go outside the variance.

Carey: Why does it matter how many colors are on it?

Sweeney: It's one of the regulations we have.

Carey: Get rid of it.

Sweeney: Got it. But what I was trying to get at, the three to five days is if you stay within the regulations, if you agree with them. If you want to go outside, it's six weeks to put it on the calendar and have it heard. And then all the other steps.

Carey: You should be able to put up whatever sign you want, man. If it's your business.

Reed: But understand, you can say that simplistically. We can't say that because there has to be some type of structure.

Carey: That kind of stuff can't be happening, man, I'm telling you.

Gillespie: There are ways of switching the default positions so that rather than having to apply for a variance you are automatically granted whatever land use you're doing unless there is a specific objection made, so that instead of the onus being on the business owner, it's actually on somebody who would have an objection. Things like that.

Sweeney: On behalf of myself as council president and all our city council members, thank you for accepting our invitation.

Carey: Yeah, thanks a lot. I really enjoyed it and I hope it was helpful for everybody, honestly.

Sweeney: I think it was healthy, productive, and nudging. You know what I mean? If you did it for the purpose of getting the conversation going, you've accomplished it. 

Bonus Reason.tv Video: Mr. Carey Goes to Cleveland: Drew and Nick talk to the Cleveland City Council:

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  1. I read this in the print issue. I liked it. Will there also be a video?

    1. Please include footage of world class symphony orchestra in said video.

      1. That should be a double D – for a Double Dose of this pimpin’.

        1. Upgrayedd was trademarked by Brawndo, so I had to improvise.

            1. Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

  2. Still have fiery rage for “We don’t want to be business friendly” lady.

    1. I’m loving the content you have on the site. Keep up the good work

  3. “Nick Gillispie and Drew Carey talk to a few bricks in the wall.” That was pretty much that entire thing.

    Councilmembers: “Hey I get what you’re saying, but I still disagree, because I’m a fucking idiot.” I will be very suprised if they change anything at all, besides that sign regulation.

  4. This is a quote that sums up the pols nicely:

    And when you’re a central city in a region that wants to forget you, when you sell assets, you get forgotten, you get marginalized, you’re not in the room, you’re not at the table. So I’m not selling the airport. I’m not giving up my power to the port authority. I’m not selling the West Side Market. Why? Because I need to be at the table as a city.

    They’ll let the city crumble, so long as they have a seat at a table with only two legs.

    1. Yes, THIS man NEEDS to have a job is what he’s saying. So, he harrasses the city of Cleveland in order to be of importance.

    2. Woah hold on. Are you advocating for MORE colors in signs? I think signes should be monochromatic so as not to discriminate against the color blind.

  5. The part where that councilman said (not verbatim but close enough) “some people think we should privatize parks and the government shouldn’t be in the business of mowing lawns and taking care of trees, that we should only be arresting people, taking care of the trash and fixing roads with too many potholes, but I have a more “believability” in what government can do for change..that’s just my philosophy..”

    Well, there’s your problem Cleveland. You have councilman who don’t think that they are the problem, and who also believe that the government should do more than what is layed out in the constitution. Until idiots like this are either reformed or voted out you will continue to be a national punchline.

    That “change” quote made me throw up a little in my mouth too.

    1. I think the same guy said:

      Part of the golf course issue is accessibility, where private golf courses, in the past, have denied African Americans access. Now, you might be able to sell more golf tees [by privatizing the courses], but I have to make sure there’s accessibility on at least one golf course to, not necessarily race now, but to class.

      I don’t get it. Not at all.

      1. Exactly. It makes no sense at all. Government is inefficient in many ways, but one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that they shouldn’t be managing golf courses.

        It doesn’t say “life, liberty, a decent back nine with some nice bunkers, and the pursuit of happiness.”

        The fact that they are even discussing whether or not the government should be running a FARKING GOLF COURSE is an indication that they are not going to change anything in Cleveland.

        1. See, it doesn’t have to, because “a decent back nine with some nice bunkers” is the definition of the pursuit of happiness.

          1. You mean “playing” a decent back nine with some nice bunkers is the definition. “Pursuit of Happiness” does not mean the government will provide you with a golf course.

            1. What about us bowlers, this is CLASS WARFARE!

        2. “”The fact that they are even discussing whether or not the government should be running a FARKING GOLF COURSE is an indication that they are not going to change anything in Cleveland.””

          Right. And if the people of Cleveland don’t give them the boot, they get what they deserve.

      2. I would like government run bowling alleys.

  6. Sweeney: Let me give some context to this. If you apply for a sign that’s within our regulation, it would take somewhere between three and five days. If it’s outside the regulations, it needs to be [no bigger than] four foot by eight foot, no more than two or three colors. If you want to go 10 by 10, and put it up a little bit higher, and have 10 colors on it, you have to get approval to go outside the variance.

    Carey: Why does it matter how many colors are on it?

    Sweeney: It’s one of the regulations we have.

    Note he doesn’t even question whether the damned city needs to regulate signs at all. “It’s one of the regulations we have”. Sheesh!

    1. How many times are you and Reason going to run the same stupid stuff??? Anarchy sucks and it will never happen….at least for long.

      1. Yes, because how many colors you have on a sign or being allowed to place whatever size sign you want on your own property is exactly the same as Anarchy…

        Did you even bother to read the article? Here is a quote from just a bit further in about the same situation:

        Gillespie: There are ways of switching the default positions so that rather than having to apply for a variance you are automatically granted whatever land use you’re doing unless there is a specific objection made, so that instead of the onus being on the business owner, it’s actually on somebody who would have an objection. Things like that.

        Wow, that really sounds like Anarchy to me…take your Strawman and go home.

        1. We had this pissing match on a thread about the samething about two days ago….where were you?

          1. Lurking…

            You obviously couldn’t distinguish between limited/less Government and Anarchy in that thread either.

            It just seemed like an easy time to bring that fact home again, especially since the arguments made in the article had nothing to do with Anarchy.

            1. “You obviously couldn’t distinguish between limited/less Government and Anarchy in that thread either.” You’re obviously too fucking stupid to find the thread or can’t read!

      2. Wegie I am sorry but your a bit of a moron. Just speaking the truth:)

        1. You’re kind of a sick shit if you think you know the “truth”.

    2. Maybe they can pass some regulations to better regulate the regulations.

      1. They call it an incinerator.

  7. These people are incapable of thinking this way. Also, no mention of the fact that one dude’s been there for 3 decades IS THE PROBLEM?

    1. He’s not the problem, he’s a victim too.

      Boo hoo.

  8. A good deal of blame placed at the foot of the Feds and Columbus by these guys and yet their omnipotent command/control is the solution??! Wow, the irony of that nearly gave me a concussion.

  9. I go back to my new meme.

    There is no hope…

    …but there is revenge.

    City council men and mayors and county commissioners etc really are not in strong positions they can be kicked out of office easily with little money and little effort.

    Simply pick the worse of the worse then dive into a Nixon bag of dirty tricks and get them booted from office.

    Will this make a difference in the long run?

    I do not know…but i do not care any more. If these fuckers want to continue destroying economies and bossing poeple around then we should make them suffer. Fuck em.

    Note: i do not care who replaces them any longer. They will always be just as bad or worse or only a little bit better then the last guy. The point is not to make government better. The point is to make the enemies of liberty suffer.

      1. Or maybe +2… whatever you say, Squirrel

  10. Shorter Polensek:
    Them damn corporations and their doin’ what’s in their best interest! They should be doin’ what’s in MY best interest! Turncoats!

    1. I think this is really the heart of to many people’s philosophy of government. They are basically selfish, self-involved people who demand that everyone else make sacrifices for their benefit.

      Carey and Gillespie are desperately trying to explain to the politicians that Cleveland has to become a community in which economic creatives can create wealth. The politicians respond by asking why economic creatives (especially those with no roots in Cleveland) don’t sacrifice massively for Cleveland’s sake. Almost everything they complain about comes down to “Oh, why won’t everyone else think about me!”

      Wealth and security ultimately come from making yourself valuable to other people i.e. making them better off for having interacted with you. If your cities dominate political philosophy is based on the idea that you have a right to make people worse off for having interacted with you, well…

      … you are so screwed.

  11. I think Nick and Drew found the problem.

    The voting people of Cleveland. How else can someone stay on city council for so long when the city is dying.

    1. How else can someone stay on city council for so long when the city is dying.

      Cuz the poeple who would run against or vote against him left.

      1. And opened a strip club in Houston… right next to a daycare!

        1. I’m wondering if (and if not, why not) no one mentioned to the esteemed councilwoman that it’s not her job to look out for the interests of churches and religious institutions. I mean, isn’t that somehow unconstitutional?

          1. Yes. But to her this isn’t about what she is allowed to do by the constitution–who cares about the constitution?–to her it’s about what people want and what she feels like she can do in return for her votes. This is something she can offer. The courts should strike it down, but they aren’t so she’s offering it.

            1. She can probably get 50% voter turnout by offering BJ’s and HJ’s to on every third tuesday.

  12. The result was nearly three hours of flying sparks…

    There’s no way that transcript amounted to anywhere close to 3 hours of discussion.

    1. The 3 hours includes the time they were staring at Drew and Nick as if they were aliens.

      1. They were hypnotized by “the jacket”.

        (Not Nick’s mind you… it sadly absent from these festivities.)

    2. It was an edited, probably abridged transcript.

  13. Drew should just give up on Cleveland.

    It should be a learning experience. If Cleveland was a good city he would have stayed there to live and earn money. It isn’t so he left. And everyone else with any talent or drive has left as well.

    Fuck em let em rot in their crappy city with their crappy city council.

    1. Drew Carey won’t take the Price Is Right to Cleveland. Drew Carey Hates Cleveland.

    2. I just “disinvested” in Cleveland myself. As someone who managed to escape this cesspit of dumbfuck and fail, I swear there must be something in the water here. It’s the epicenter of everything wrong with America.

      1. It’s a regional thing. As a refugee from Buffalo, I can attest to the same dynamics at play there.

        In these older cities (and newer ones, for that matter), the city councils are in the pockets of land developers. New stadium construction, big fancy public libraries, new zoos, commuter rail lines that go nowhere–these projects make millions for the businesses who profit from government largess.

        I don’t see stupid politicians here. I see intelligent politicians doing their best to protect their paying, as opposed to voting, constituents. They just can’t do it without sounding stupid. Drew and Nick are tilting at windmills here.

        1. the city councils are in the pockets of land developers.

          You are an idiot.

          Here is a question for you…do developers like Huston style regulations or do they like Cleveland style regulations.

          Nine times out of ten the developer would pick Huston style.

          1. That’s an unfair comparison. Houston is full of grassy fields, while Cleveland is nothing but crack houses, Superfund sites, and closed down LeBron James 24-hour superstores.

            1. It’s not about the scenery. It’s about how much time/expense the developer has to go through to get shit done relative to his return on investment. If the regulation were the same, Cleveland’s low property values would make it CHEAPER to build there which would be a big influence on businessmen.

              Basically if you have a regulation that adds time or expense, getting rid of it will make investment more worthwhile and you will get more investment. DO THIS.

  14. Exsqueeze me while I clean the brains of my monitor from the 20 megaton head assplosion I just experienced.

    I’m debating whether to send this to my Pa…cardiovascular trouble runs in the family and I don’t want to risk it.

    1. I don’t think Pa’s heart could take another assplosion.

  15. Will the last person to leave Cleaveland please turn off the lights?

    1. This assumes the lights haven’t been shut off by the power company already.

  16. Earlier in the year I made good on my goal of getting more politically active. I started to attend as many Republican/conservative events as possible, acting under the assumption that this would be the best way to promote my libertarian ideas. What I found, sadly, were people exactly like these councilmen; lots of politicians/aspiring politicians who had zero concept of principle. Everything thing I heard was either generic bs rhetoric or blame of everyone else.

    1. Politics seems to attract authoritarian personalities with a fetish for complex and arbitrary rules.

      See, you had to make it a goal to be more politically active. Career politicians just assume it is their role to be a politician.

  17. Every Cleveland post should link to the hastily made Cleveland tourism video. I’m sure we’ve all seen it hundreds of times already but it’s still a classic.

  18. You know, I love Cleveland, and I love my home state, but I really don’t understand why anymore. I’m sure I’ll be gone as soon as I finish becoming Dr. Warty.

    1. Dr. Warty? They give PH’d’s to be a hedonbot? And I went to law school. What a fucking idiot i was.

      1. You don’t want to know what our orals are like.

  19. Maybe if The Drew Carey Show was as good as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cleveland would be as nice as Minneapolis-St. Paul

    1. It was better.

  20. Gillespie: That would make Sunday a lot easier, though.

    Cleveland: I don’t know about that. Not in my community.

    The only thing worse than a power-mad bitch is a power-mad bitch with no sense of humor.

  21. More and more I think the real problem with the industrial states around the Great Lakes was that we won WWII.

    In the aftermath of the war from 1945-1965, the US was producing as much as 50% of the GDP of the entire planet. About 80% of that production happened in the Great Lake states. Basically, a complex of Big Business, Big Unions and Big Government existed that had a de facto monopoly on industrial production in the free world.

    Unions and Governments in particular could name their own price. The UAW had a monopoly on building cars, the United Steel Workers had a monopoly on making steel and so on. If you wanted cars or steel you paid their price or went without. If you didn’t they shut the entire industry down. Local government likewise could levy any tax on business and the business would pass that on to their customers outside the region.

    This situation was untenable but I think that the political and social culture of the region froze solid at the pinnacle of their success. Instead of seeing the boom era as freakish and caused by external events, they instead believed it was created by the three Bigs. After the rest of the world rebuilt and changed, the region had forgotten how to compete. They kept trying to act like the other industrial regions of the world still lay in rubble. They kept trying to act like you just couldn’t conceivably build a factory in Texas.

    This “conversation” in the article is really just the city council explaining that they can’t do anything unless conditions revert to the monopolies of the post war era. They simply do not have any clue how to operate outside of an enforced monopoly situation. They really don’t understand how to function in an open competitive environment.

    1. What he said!

  22. Every time I go to Toronto, I think to myself: “This is what a successful Buffalo would look like” It’s fascinating, the same climate, same architecture, and same prominence 50 years ago, yet one flourished and one died.

  23. Jesus would put his church next to a strip club.

    1. ’cause the son of god loved him some strange.

  24. This right here says it all:

    Carey: Why does it matter how many colors are on it?

    Sweeney: It’s one of the regulations we have.

    Carey: Get rid of it.

  25. Having just slogged through the whole thing. The thing that jumps out at me is that the 2 sides are not talking about the same thing. Gillespie and Carey are talking about efficiency and creating more business and the politicians are talking about regulation and making sure that poor black kids can golf.

    I did realize from this exchange that politicians care about different things than we do. We want for our home cities to be efficient, helpful to business, a place where people and the creation of wealth can thrive. The politicians are worried about making teh population happy through equality. they are worried about reacting to the pressures of what other governments will do to them. These people sound embattled and beaten down. They don’t really sound like they could fathom letting people make their own signs because they can’t disentangle themselves from the problems they have in just running the place on a day to day basis. None of them sounded happy or creative or willing to think of new solutions. Only to get through the day.

  26. It’s pretty exasperating listening to these people. Their logic is that the reason Cleveland sucks is everyone else’s fault. It’s because people are poor and can’t fend for themselves. It’s because there isn’t enough education funding. It’s because China stole our jobs. It’s because other cities are stealing their population.

    Lot’s of finger pointing and zero solutions even though Nick and Drew are sitting there giving them a laundry list of things they can at least TRY TO DO.

    Unreal. Cleveland apparently got the government it deserves.

  27. Imagine the fight to shrink the federal government. Good lord.

  28. I think it’s simple. Tie the council’s salaries to Cleveland’s performance, on a number of metrics. See how quick they’re willing to listen then.

  29. Drew or Nick should have said this:
    “let’s put it this way. Lebron James, cold and unscrupulous he may be, is not the only person to have taken his talents elsewhere.”

    1. If they had a time machine available, maybe they could have. (This meeting took place in May.)

  30. I am relevant. ME ME ME. If a councilman doesn’t add regualtion then what do they do?
    Maybe man’s thought of civic duty is hopless? Don’t make a career out of being in govt jerk.
    Now, keep me safe with more sign regulations. The public desires more “Structure”.

  31. I think a big part of the problem is council members who have served for 30+ years. It was obvious in their comments that the belief that government is the solution has become entrenched, which leads them to think that issue, such as divestiture by business, is the cause of the problem rather than the result of poor public
    policy and regulation.

    It doesn’t help that they confuse having cultural trophies, which may add to civic pride and quality of life, like the symphony and pro sports teams with the need to reform a regulatory environment that would attract job creating investment by
    businesses. Until they acknowledge that Cleveland’s current economic condition is as much a result of their policies as it is external forces, they will continue to do the same thing that have kept them on this downward spiral.

    What Cleveland needs is new leadership.

  32. I have a feeling that the unabridged transcript had an exchange like this:

    Councilman Fuckbag: So Drew…Nick, what you are telling us is that we should currently take everything we are concerned with as councilpeople at this moment and cut it in half?

    Nick: For a start I guess…

    Carey: 90% is probably better.

    Councilman Fuckbag: But?but what would we do all day? Do you think the citizens of Cleveland would tolerate us sitting around, only looking at crime statistics and road management issues all day long? Each one of us makes 4 times the average Clevelander salary? How can we justify that with the paltry duties limited government demands?

    Carey: I suppose you can’t. In the end, each one of you should probably only be working for the city 1 day a week. Max.

    Nick: Make that half a day.

    Councilman Fuckbag: But what are we supposed to do for chrissakes? I can’t go and drift in the streets for 6 days a week like those other dumb fuc… unfortunate citizens out there?

    Nick: Well, you could start a business, and without your lauded regulations in the way it should be relatively easy.

    Councilman Fuckbag: But we don’t know how to do anything productive.

    Carey: WalMart needs its shelves stocked and horny men need their dicks sucked. Plenty of people have got by meeting those demands.

    Councilman Fuckbag: (((Mouth Agape, Christian Sensibilities Offended)))

    Nick: See. You should be able to do one of those things!

    1. wow…that sounds just like Nick.

    2. I don’t think Democrats have Christian sensibilities to be offended.

  33. In re size of signs, etc. – I’m sympathetic to the libertarian point of view, of course, but do you really want the business next to you to put up a billboard, blotting out the sun? Just because one city councilman couldn’t justify the regulation doesn’t mean the regulation doesn’t have a reason. Some businesses get pretty obnoxious signage, and it can affect property values…

  34. “There are ways of switching the default positions so that rather than having to apply for a variance you are automatically granted whatever land use you’re doing unless there is a specific objection made, so that instead of the onus being on the business owner, it’s actually on somebody who would have an objection. Things like that.”

    This is the heart of the regulation debate. Following this advice is what makes the difference between a business friendly city and a city with no business.

    There are infinite possibilities for what a business owner might want to do. You want to let business owners find the solution that works for them, and AFTER he does, then if people complain you can try to resolve complaints. The problem is that when you try to PREVENT complaints with regulations you remove the freedoms that allow business to develop those business models. When you do that business must go elsewhere.

    1. People need to stop complaining about fucking signs. Christ its a sign, nobody is trying to shove a fir tree up your ass. Chill out and learn to enjoy signs.

  35. I love Gillespie and Carey for the intelligent, thoughtful attempt at getting discussion from the so-called “leaders” of Cleveland. It’s good for general education purposes. However, as a former Ohioan transplanted to a worse situation (Chicago), I know that no amount of discussion is going to change the minds of these idiot politicians who will continue to wish for municipal ponies and unicorns to come their way, even as more and more cities will go the way of Detroit (and yeah, Cleveland, you’re well on your way).

    Therefore, despite his best efforts and intentions, the political reality of the stupidity of councilmen and pols will still rule the day and this series will eventually need to be renamed, “Drew Carey Gets the Shit Beat out of Him by Cleveland.”

    Oh well, Mr. Carey. At least Cleveland has an intelligent, talented, native-son booster you. I have the fucking oncoming political Haitian Earthquake named Rahm Emanuel to look forward to in Shit-cago…

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  37. From the transcript it’s obvious the city has no leadership. No one wants to accept responsibility… just pass the buck to the state and feds. That town is screwed. It’s sad too. From watching the series the city does seem to have great potential. With the understanding that the potential will only be met when the idiots in charge are gone.

  38. Brilliant!
    This is the kind of discussion every major US city needs to have. Did you see all the excuses given to why Cleveland is failing? Did you see the attitude of helplessness?

    These are the people who are supposed to run the city, and they behave like a bunch of losers. The founders of Cleveland would have never recognized these people. Cleveland has had a longtime competition with Pittsburg, but now these “leaders” sit around and only see excuses why their city sucks, instead of seeing what it can offer.

    These people have overregulated themselves out of business. Every age-old excuse not to do something has been put into the books and turned into a sacred cow. These “leaders” are perfectly comfortable sitting in this rotting city and fingerpointing when someone comes up with a good idea or a problem.

    Cleveland has no future with these people at the helm. They claim they are pro-Cleveland, but they are not – they are pro-historical-Cleveland. They cling to what the City once was, not what it could be. They have gotten fat and happy and no longer have an interest in opening the doors of this city to the world.

    As to why Portland, Denver and other overregulated cities are not dying, as one of the council members brings up, well, look at those cities! They don’t have frozen winter winds, flat prairies, and the utter lack of natural beauty Cleveland has. Cleveland exists to make money! The moment the City stopped being that, there was no natural beauty for it to live off of.

    I hope the City fires every single one of these mopes and elects a new generation of leaders who understands that when their city isn’t embracing the world – the world won’t embrace it.

  39. If this is the thinking of our elected officials, we are in more trouble than I thought. The council members come across as defensive and clueless. In a city deteriorating as quickly as Cleveland they are concerned with who can play golf. Should we buy them a fiddle while Cleveland burns. Pathetic.

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