Public Meetings Report for Community Partners (OCT. 2023)

Public commenters support Cleveland’s Palestinian community; Cleveland police give staffing update

Cleveland Public Meetings Report – The week of Oct. 16

The Public Meetings Report is produced by Signal Cleveland and Cleveland Documenters. Here’s what happened last week in local public government meetings covered by Cleveland Documenters.

Here’s what happened last week in local public government meetings covered by Cleveland Documenters.

Public commenters support Cleveland’s Palestinian community

Byline: Anastazia Vanisko and Cleveland Documenters Karima McCree-Wilson and Christina Easter
Omar Kurdi makes a public comment at Cleveland City Council. (Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube)
Public pushback: Six residents of Greater Cleveland voiced their disapproval of Mayor Justin Bibb’s Oct. 7 statement in support of Israel, saying it is one-sided. Faten Odeh, the interim executive director of the Cleveland and Northern Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that Bibb’s statement ignored decades of Israel’s violence.

‘Dismissed and diminished’: Summer Husein said Bibb’s tweet made the more than 25,000 Palestinian people living in Greater Cleveland feel less safe. “With just one tweet, you dismissed and diminished the oppression that Palestinians have had to endure for over 75 years,” she said.

Omar Kurdi said that, during a TV interview next to City Hall the week prior, someone took a picture of him and posted it online, calling him a terrorist. “I want to see real commitment from the city to protect us, to humanize us and our people, and to stand up for all civilian lives,” he said.
No legislation passed: Only 11 members of City Council were present for the Monday meeting. An official told Council President Blaine Griffin that, due to the excused absences, they would not be able to pass any legislation that evening. Council Members Joe Jones, Brian Kazy, Rebecca Maurer, Jenny Spencer, Jasmin Santana and Richard Starr were absent.
Left wondering: Documenter Karima McCree-Wilson asked, “What, if anything, has Bibb done to better understand and acknowledge the perspective of local Palestinians?”

Makeover planned for downtown Cleveland’s Erieview Tower

Byline: Dakotah Kennedy and Cleveland Documenters Timothy Zelina and Marcy Clark
Members of the Development, Planning & Sustainability Committee meet with Building and Housing staff on Oct. 17. (Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube)
Vacant no more: City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability committee approved the next step in a project to breathe new life into Erieview Tower in downtown Cleveland. The project will cost $217 million and include improvements to approximately 300,000 square feet of office space.
James Kassouf, the developer whose family owns 25 acres of downtown real estate, is requesting a tax increment financing plan (TIF) to help fund the project. Approval of the TIF will require a separate piece of legislation.
The estimated value of the TIF is $1.6 million, according to Robin Brown, a project manager for the City of Cleveland.
“We have an opportunity to largely convert this building from 80% vacant into a hotel, residential, and office, which is consistent with reimagining the downtown plan,” said Brown.
Previously used as office space, the new plan includes luxury-branded hotel rooms, apartments, a spa and a revitalized Galleria. Construction is set to start in early 2024, according to the project team.
Staffing troubles: Ward 10 Council Member Anthony Hairston asked why the headcount remains down at the Department of Building and Housing despite budgeting for new positions.
Sally Martin O’Toole, department director, said that it’s been a “tremendous challenge” to attract and retain staff because of low pay. If Residents First legislation passes, the department can hire more inspectors, according to O’Toole.
Settling for citations: Officials expressed concerns about the lack of accountability for business owners failing to take care of their buildings.
Right now, the city can issue citations but not fines, according to Chief Building Officer Tom Vanover. If businesses ignore citations, court proceedings begin and judges can issue fines. But out-of-town landlords often don’t show up to court, O’Toole added. Residents First would also let the city issue civil fines upfront, Vanover said.
Cleveland police provide staffing, budget updates
Byline: Anastazia Vanisko and Documenter Lauren Hakim
Oct. 11 – Safety Committee, Cleveland City Council

Members of the Department of Public Safety – led by Director Karrie Howard (right) – at the Oct. 11 Safety Committee meeting. (Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube)

Positions to fill: Cleveland City Council is getting a head start on budget season by conducting operational reviews of city departments. The Safety Committee’s Oct. 11 review of the Cleveland Division of Police confirmed that the city has still not filled all the positions that were budgeted for.
Although fewer positions are filled now than at the end of 2022, fewer officers have left the force, officials said. In 2022, 168 officers left, as opposed to 133 so far in 2023.
Overtime: There was another budget upset revealed during the committee’s review: According to Daniel Fay, deputy chief of administrative operations, the city has spent $20 million on overtime for officers. Only $13 million was budgeted.

Community members speak against building new county jail; City Council OKs up to $500,000 for upgrades to trauma center

Cleveland Public Meetings Report – The week of Oct. 9

The Public Meetings Report is produced by Signal Cleveland and Cleveland Documenters. Here’s what happened last week in local public government meetings covered by Cleveland Documenters.

Residents ask for community investment, not another jail
Byline: Dakotah Kennedy and Documenter Aaron Skubby

Oct. 10 – Cuyahoga County Council

Caption: LaTonya Goldsby, president and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland, speaks during the Cuyahoga County Council meeting on Oct. 10. Credit: Cuyahoga County YouTube.

Challenging the status quo: 
During public comment, several residents spoke out against the recent purchase of land in Garfield Heights for a new jail. “This proposed jail is a tax on our future and evidence that our county leaders’ bold vision for our future is more mass incarceration,” said LaTonya Goldsby, president and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland.

Goldsby also called attention to the people who recently died in custody at the Cuyahoga County Jail. On Oct. 6, a man died following a medical emergency. He is the third incarcerated person in three months to die at the jail.

$10 million for housing help: Council approved funds for emergency rental assistance to help Cuyahoga County residents who are at least 55 years old and meet income requirements. The funding will support Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP)’s efforts to provide financial counseling and assistance to residents.

ESOP is a nonprofit housing and counseling agency that is part of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. ESOP hosts free online classes to help residents navigate buying and selling property. Its classes also boost financial wellness and offer advice for aging homeowners.MomsFirst participation on the decline

Byline: Anastazia Vanisko and Documenters Janenell Smith and Alicia Moreland
Oct. 9 – Health Human Services and the Arts Committee, Cleveland City Council

Commissioner of Health Equity and Social Justice Lita Wills shares updates about the MomsFirst program. (Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube)

MomsFirst: Cleveland’s MomsFirst program is down more than 150 participants compared to the past two years. The program provides free support to parents until babies are 18 months old and pairs participants with a community health worker.
Council Member Kris Harsh asked about the reason for the drop. Lita Wills, Cleveland’s commissioner of Health Equity and Social Justice, attributed it to staffing. She said they had to shrink the staff size after they “right-sized” community health worker pay, increasing the hourly wage to be more comparable to what other organizations pay. Prior to these changes, Wills said there were “a number of positions with multiple vacancies.”
Despite the drop in participants, MomsFirst increased the number of visits where they provided a service to mothers, according to Wills’ presentation. Harsh said it appeared that participants were receiving more intensive care, which Wills affirmed.
Opioid settlement dollars: Cleveland will receive around $360,000 from an opioid settlement with drug manufacturers and distributors, Wills said. She said the money will be used to support addiction recovery. The services include individual and group counseling, rides to medical appointments, and training on how to use naloxone, a medication used to reverse opiate overdoses.
Brenda Glass Trauma Center set to get $500,000 grant
Byline: Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Cleveland Documenters Marcy Clark, Tim Zelina and Chanel Wiley
Oct. 9 – Cleveland City Council

Council President Blaine Griffin responds to a public comment at the Oct. 9 City Council meeting. (Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube)

Support for trauma care: Cleveland City Council passed 10+ pieces of legislation, including a grant of up to $500,000 for the Brenda Glass Multipurpose Trauma Center. The money is to assist with repairs and upgrades to the center, which offers trauma recovery services for survivors of violence.

Affordable senior housing: Council OK’d a grant of up to $1 million for the Northwest Neighborhoods Community Development Corp. The money — which comes from Cleveland’s pot of American Rescue Plan Act dollars — is to help construct 51 apartments for seniors in Detroit-Shoreway. The units would be for people age 55 and older. Eight units are reserved for residents whose annual income is $15,960 or less.

‘Don’t know what else to do:’ Isaiah Dixon made a public comment. He said he is experiencing homelessness and asked council for help. “I sleep on the ground pretty much every day. I dodge the rain as much as I can,” Dixon said. “But it’s getting cold, and I don’t know what else to do.”

Council President Blaine Griffin asked audience members to connect with Dixon to see what help they could offer.
Walk-up public comments at CMSD board meetings may end 
Byline: Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Cleveland Documenters Tina Scott and Marvetta Rutherford
Oct. 10 – Board meeting, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
District CEO Warren Morgan II and Board Chair Sara Elaqad at the Oct. 10 board meeting. (Credit: Cleveland Metropolitan School District YouTube)

12 o’clock rock: Residents may no longer have the option to just show up to speak at Cleveland school board meetings. They’ll have to sign up ahead of time — if board members approve new rules at their Oct. 24 meeting. Speakers would have to complete an online form by 12 p.m. on the day of board business meetings, which typically start at 6:30 p.m. They may also call the board’s office at 216-838-0030 to register, Board Chair Sara Elaqad said. The speaking time limits would remain the same: 40 minutes total for public comments and three minutes for each speaker.

On the agenda: The board discussed 10 other resolutions set for a vote later this month. One would let the district participate in a program to get its slice of property tax revenues from Cuyahoga County earlier than scheduled in 2024. It would receive two advances of about $20 million each, according to District CEO Warren Morgan II. Another resolution would put up to $1.6 million toward digitizing student records.

Fuzzy demographics: During a presentation about Riverside PreK-8 school, Principal Jessica Gamble said the school’s official racial and ethnic demographics — which show 52% of students identify as Caucasian — are a little skewed. Some races and ethnicities aren’t options on the demographic form, Gamble said, adding that many students who may otherwise identify as Arabic or Middle Eastern select Caucasian. Of the school’s 481 students, about 15% speak Arabic, according to Gamble. The school is in Ward 17 on the West Side.

Seat at the table: There is an open seat on the Board of Education. Lisa Thomas resigned from the board after 12 years, Elaqad announced. The term ends June 30, 2025. Check out the application.


Cleveland City Council OKs $3.5 million for police helicopters; Diversion center not working as planned, county official says

Cleveland Public Meetings Report – The week of Oct. 3

The Public Meetings Report is produced by Signal Cleveland and Cleveland Documenters. Here’s what happened last week in local public government meetings covered by Cleveland Documenters.

$3.5 million approved for Cleveland police helicopters

By Dakotah Kennedy and Documenters Dean Jackson, Lakeisha Smith and Alicia Moreland
Oct. 2 – Cleveland City Council
Caption: Ward 8 Council Member Michael Polensek speaking about crime in Cleveland during a City Council meeting. Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube.
Putting the cop in helicopter: Cleveland City Council approved $3.5 million to make repairs and upgrades to two Cleveland police helicopters. Council President Blaine Griffin and Council Member Michael Polensek sponsored the legislation. Ward 17 Council Member Charles Slife was the only council member to vote against the legislation.
Balancing rights: City Council is considering changes to its public comment rules after antisemetic and anti-LGBTQ statements at a recent meeting. Ward 15 Council Member Jenny Spencer suggested taking a look at the rules to prevent future incidents. Spencer also said she hoped for clarification on the exact circumstances when the council president could “gavel down” a speaker.
Commenters say: Several people spoke up about previous comments targeting the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities. “Our collective strength, including our allies– our Jewish brothers and sisters and siblings– should not be underestimated,” said Phyllis Harris, director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

Here to stay: Council members said that they do not want to end public comment. Public comment has been a practice in city council since October 2021, following a 90-year absence. Council President Griffin said he met with attorneys to find  the best path forward to protect free speech rights while also protecting communities from identity-based attacks.Not enough police use Cuyahoga County Diversion Center, official says

By Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Cleveland Documenter Barbara Phipps
Oct. 6 – Public Safety & Justice Affairs Committee, Cuyahoga County Council

Cuyahoga County Council Member Michael Gallagher asks about the Diversion Center. (Credit: Cuyahoga County Council YouTube)

Diversion needed: The Cuyahoga County Diversion Center is not being used as intended, County Council Member Michael Gallagher said. He took issue with how seldom law enforcement agencies refer people there. The center is at a building owned by behavioral health group Oriana House on E. 55th Street. Opened in May 2021, the center’s purpose was to keep people experiencing mental health issues out of  the criminal justice system and reduce the county jail population. Instead, it functions primarily as a mental health services center available to anyone, Gallagher said, adding that it needs buy-in from police departments.

Making calls: Brandy Carney, the county’s chief of Public Safety & Justice, acknowledged that law enforcement agencies have been slow to embrace the center. Carney, who also sits on a board that advises on the center, shared that 78% of all referral calls through July 2023 (2,827 total) came from community members, self-referral or other agencies. Twenty-two percent came from police. It is a culture shift that will take time, Carney said.

‘Pin’s going to get pulled’: In August, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office joined a state- and federally-supported initiative to help Cleveland address crime. Details of that effort — a downtown Cleveland safety patrol consisting of eight deputy sheriffs, one sergeant, and two canine units — were well-received at a September Cleveland City Council meeting. But at least one county official — Gallagher — isn’t as thrilled. “We’re eight weeks deep into this and doing Cleveland’s job for them with other partners,” he said to Sheriff Harold Pretel in this meeting. “We’re at a point where…the pin’s going to get pulled.”Helping a city:

Pretel came to the county this year after spending nearly 30 years with Cleveland’s police department. Pretel gave a sweeping presentation of the department’s operations, noting high staffing levels. The downtown initiative is about the county supporting a municipality, as it would if Rocky River of Maple Heights asked for help, Pretel said.