Sunday, May 2, 2004

3 years after riots, 'experts' still cashing in

Peter Bronson

If you break a store window to grab a pair of Reeboks with your brick MasterCard, they call you a looter. But that's chump change compared to those in suits who stuff cash into briefcases.

Lawyers, consultants, commissions, court-appointed monitors and other assorted "experts" have taken millions from Cincinnati in the name of "race relations." And one of the worst is former Cincinnati City Manager Sylvester Murray, who was hired after the riots three years ago to "address the systemic issues relating to race relations."

In plain English, that sounds like he was sent to find the root cause for riots. "Root causes" are what politicians and blue-ribbon committees look for to avoid looking at the truth: The root cause of riots is rioters.

I don't know whether Murray found any root causes, but he found a pot of gold.

He was paid $1,440 a day and ran up a hotel bill of $4,716. He collected $130,000 for 12 days of visits. And when it was over, according to a recent lawsuit, he had "failed to do all of the work," billed "for work not done and expenses not incurred" and "failed to provide ... periodic written reports" required by his contract.

The suit was filed, in response to a suit by Murray, by Knowledgeworks Foundation, which had agreed to pay Murray while he reported to Mayor Charlie Luken.

Murray was hired "to put oil on troubled waters," said James McDaniel, attorney for Knowledgeworks.

"They didn't want to use city funds, so Luken looked for private funds."

Luken offered no comment.

Knowledgeworks agreed to pay Murray up to $100,000.

Most of Murray's work was attending Cincinnati CAN Commission meetings, McDaniel said.

"His monthly reports were not to everyone's satisfaction.''

Murray billed Knowledgeworks three times, for $25,130, $49,617 and $55,360.

"His third invoice was very large and went way over the agreed-upon limit," McDaniel said.

Knowledgeworks said it mistakenly overpaid him by $30,000.

But when they tried to get the money back, Murray was harder to find than a root cause.

"When we asked him to return it, he not only refused, he sent another bill for $44,000," McDaniel said.

Knowledgeworks agreed to let Murray keep the extra $30,000 if he would drop his lawsuit. But Murray refused, so Knowledgeworks countersued.

In his lawsuit, Murray claimed he restored "African-American community trust in the police department" and "Cincinnati's image with national groups and entertainers."

I guess he didn't hear about the boycott.

Knowledgeworks won the litigation duel and Murray was ordered to pay back $37,000, including interest. But Murray still refused, McDaniel said.

When Knowledgeworks threatened to have him arrested or open his books, he pleaded for 30 more days to find the cash. The judge agreed.

And then Murray and his lawyer, Robert Smith, both of Cleveland, walked out of court and filed the same lawsuit again, this time naming the Knowledgeworks president and Luken.

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker may not be amused. Murray is ordered back in court May 7.

Friday, McDaniel filed a new motion for contempt.

"If we don't get paid, we will ask the judge to put Murray in jail,'' he said.

I called Murray and his lawyer four times, with no response.

Maybe he's out looking for root causes.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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