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Cleveland Police Candidates Held in Waiting:  Problems with Candidate Testing Hinder Process

Monday, June 19, 2000 at 9:05 AM

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The spectre of scandal surrounding a Cleveland civil service exam continues to lurk at City Hall, even though historic hearings into the matter are over. A Cleveland City Council committee has spent several days trying to get to the bottom of problems that have kept over two thousand prospective police candidates in limbo for over a year and a half. This week, council leaders are trying to decide what action, if any, to take in the matter. 90.3's April Baer reports.

April Baer- Every two years Cleveland officials conduct a civil service exam to thousands of prospective police officers. These tests are often administered by consulting firms who promise to design and run the test faster and more cheaply than the city could itself. In 1998, the Cleveland Civil Service Commission received proposals from nine firms who wanted the job. Recommendations were made (and) a finalist was selected. Then, one month later, a man from Texas walked into City Hall, unannounced.

Robert Duvin, an attorney who works with Mayor Mike White’s administration, tells this story about what happened next.

Robert Duvin- Troy Coleman came into Cleveland on other business and actually made a cold call to the woman who was head of the civil service commission, and actually was so impressive, was a such a dynamite professional in that limited experience, she invited him to participate in the next bidding experience. It was just one of these things that happens!

AB- Coleman subsequently submitted his plan for running the civil service exam. This Ph.D. from Dallas lacked experience writing the kind of exam the city needed, and his bid was tens of thousands of dollars more than most of the other bidders. In spite of all this, his firm, Coleman Associates, won the bid to conduct the 1998 exam. City Council President Mike Polensek says he someone needs to answer for Troy Coleman’s hire and for the serious problems that followed - including major mistakes in grading and handling.

Mike Polensek- Clearly there are some significant questions: how Coleman and Associates was picked, the process of reviewing the applicants for the position, how tests were supposedly put in a drawer or locked cabinet for almost a year without being found.

AB- Coleman Associates did such a bad job on the ‘98 civil service exam results that hundreds of the tests had to be thrown out. In all, over two thousand police applications went on hold.

At the end of three exhaustive six hour sessions, it’s still not clear exactly how and why Coleman Associates, an unqualified firm, earned the city’s trust. So far, City Council has heard from several different players from within the White administration. Lisa Meese is a city examiner who was responsible for running the civil service commission’s office at the time of the test. She came about as close as any to pinpointing the crucial moment when the commission’s then-secretary, Cynthia Sullivan, first brought up the firm’s name.

Lisa Meese- In April, Cynthia Sullivan gave me the name and address of Coleman and Associates and told me to send the request for proposal to that company.

City Council attorney Barbara Marbuger- Was that unusual?

LM- Yes.

Sullivan later testified she could not recall why she had been anxious to have Coleman do business with the city.

The White administration insists council’s investigative hearings were unnecessary. The Civil Service Commission Secretary who apparently had first contact with Troy Coleman has been replaced. Robert Duvin, who also represented most of the witnesses subpoenaed by council, says the mayor has taken responsibility for the mistakes that forced two thousand police applicants to put their lives on hold. He questions what good more inquiry could do.

RD- That criticism is out there! We don’t need an investigation to uncover it. It is a problem. It is a challenge to the White administration to move this along, no matter what it takes, and they are going to have to deal with that. You can put it on your radio station every day, you can put it in the Plain Dealer every day...it’s not entirely resolved to this day. But it doesn’t take an investigation to know that.

AB- If anything, council may now want more answers about who’s getting work with the city, and how. Last week a report surfaced in the Plain Dealer suggesting a long-time friend of the mayor’s may have improperly benefited from a project at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Council President Polensek has said in the past, he wants to hold the White administration to a higher standard of accountability than it has had in the past.

MP- The main purpose for this investigative hearing is our attempt to try to create an environment where the average person taking a civil service test in the city of Cleveland is assured a fair and impartial application process.

AB- The most curious detail of all in this story is the seeming disappearance of the one man who’d be the most likely person to provide answers. Troy Coleman’s Dallas home and work numbers deliver the following message: “...the number you have dialed is not in service...”

He’s believed to have moved out of the area. Polensek will decide within the next few days whether more testimony should be heard. I’m April Baer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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