With every steaming cup of coffee served at Anna's Family Restaurant, the waitresses hear about Norwood's police chief being in hot water.
Just two doors from City Hall, Anna's dishes up the low-down on Norwood. City officials and working-class city dwellers sit side by side, gossiping over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"Everybody's talking about the chief," said waitress Chrissy Rooney, a Norwood resident for 17 years. She knows Chief Timothy Brown as an Anna's regular. "Ham and eggs, with the eggs over medium, for breakfast. Chicken salad sandwich for lunch."
"Nice guy. Quiet," added waitress Lora Papadis. "A good tipper."
Pausing to balance plates of pancakes, scrambled eggs and hashed browns, Chrissy said her customers "are worked up about the chief. But we don't hear much outrage."
Neither did I while table-hopping during Thursday's breakfast shift. Norwood regulars I spoke with were clearly concerned. But, save for one, no one was out for blood. And, even though the chief's trouble is the latest in a run of problems in the city's police and fire departments, everyone was satisfied with city government and life in Norwood.
"The chief made a major mistake," said Henry Mains, a Norwood resident since 1967 and a retired city employee with 28 years of service.
Stoking up an after-breakfast stogie, Henry mulled over the chief's two-month suspension.
"The punishment," Henry said between puffs, "fits the crimes."
The chief's problems stem from acting incredibly stupid. He drank too much at a party and drove his Jeep into a utility pole. Leaving the scene of the accident, he filed a false report that his Jeep was stolen. (Dec. 9 Story)
Forty-eight hours later, he confessed to Norwood's mayor, Joe Hochbein. The chief claimed his problems were alcohol-related. Under terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the mayor could not fire the chief. So, he suspended him for two months and $8,986 in pay.
A criminal investigation of the chief continues. It's being run by Norwood Police Department, a force whose police cruisers' rear license plates bear the message: 1-800-GRAB-DUI, Report Drunk Drivers.
"Twenty years ago, I would have said, 'Fry him. Fire him,' " said Bob, a recovering alcoholic who has lived all of his 51 years in Norwood.
"But now, I say he should get help," the construction worker said as he stared at his coffee cup. "Maybe get demoted. But not fired."
Gustavo Spude, Dan Magnafichi and Sylvi Klein sat apart but shared a common bond. They are relative newcomers to Norwood. Gustavo came from Mexico, Dan from Mount Lookout, Sylvi from Tennessee. None has lived in Norwood for more than a year.
Gustavo and Dan took the chief's problems in stride. "He's guilty. But someone took care of him," Gustavo said and shrugged. Dan, a video producer, saw the chief's problems as "a wake-up call for the city's leaders. The man's going to lose his job for two months. That's enough."
That's not enough for Sylvi. "He should be incarcerated," she declared, "and serve a long sentence. In his own jail."
I used to be in Sylvi's court. I initially thought the suspension amounted to a slap on the wrist.
After breakfast at Anna's, I think the chief is getting what's best, for himself and Norwood. He gets a chance to turn his life around and still serve his city.
Home sweet home
Every person in Anna's told me how much they liked living in Norwood. Dan raved about his big old house and its location. "In Mount Lookout, the same house would have cost me twice as much," he said. "And I wouldn't have the convenient access to the expressway that I need for my work."
Norwood makes Gustavo "feel free. I can work as hard as I want. People appreciate that here."
Even Sylvi is a Norwood booster. "Life's good here," she said. "You feel safe. People are nice. Nobody's stuck up."
Sounds as if they're satisfied with the place they call home.
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.