Scene & Heard

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Led to Councilman Brian Cummins' Last-Minute Flip-Flop on the Q Deal?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Councilman Brian Cummins
  • Councilman Brian Cummins
And just like that, the Gateway Six became the Gateway Five.

With his head down, Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins voted YES Monday night on a piece of "companion legislation" (469-17) that would add three new provisions to the existing Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal.

Shortly thereafter, in accordance with rumors, Cummins also voted YES on 305-17, the Q deal itself, which will commit a projected $88 million of city money from 2023-2034 to the project. Cummins' vote pushed the final count to 12-5, a super-majority that grants the ordinance emergency status and puts it into effect immediately. It also complicates the possibility of a voter-led referendum, though that effort should still technically be possible.

Cummins was one of six councilman — dubbed the Gateway Six by Mark Naymik on WTAM Monday morning — who had firmly opposed the deal in earlier votes and hearings. Cummins' opposition was largely philosophical. He'd told Cavs and City Council leadership to their faces that he "just couldn't get there." Among other things, Cummins found it outrageous that after the NBA's negotiation of a major new network deal (worth about $24 billion), a deal that is expected to lead to enormous increases in team valuation, Gilbert could come asking for a handout with a straight face.

The other opponents in the resistance were Jeff Johnson, Zack Reed, Mike Polensek, Kevin Conwell and T.J. Dow. Despite Cummins' objections, he was thought to be somewhat susceptible because he's a newer member of council leadership — he chairs the health and human services committee — and was the lone opposing councilman from the city's west side.

Council Chambers were packed last night with resident opponents who more than once erupted in chants directed at Cummins and Council President Kevin Kelley. "Hey hey, ho ho," etc. (Note: Supporters of the Q deal, including many representatives from the labor unions, were also in attendance.) Yet despite the vocal opposition from citizens and councilmen, the Q deal has been ratified virtually untouched.

Never once did an elected leader at the city or county level attempt to scrap the current deal and re-negotiate on behalf of their constituents. County Councilman Jack Schron merely wanted to postpone the deal to assess it in the context of state budget cuts. County Councilwoman Nan Baker made one alternative suggestion, that the Cavs themselves bear the burden of the financing, but did so in somber final remarks that were shrugged off as a fantasy. There was never any "creative" negotiating, as Armond Budish has repeatedly bragged; a seven-year lease extension represents the one publicized perk for taxpayers.

But in a last-ditch effort to "polish the turd," in the words of one observer, the deal was subject to a "major announcement" Monday afternoon. The Cavs said they'd sweeten the deal by refurbishing 22 gym floors at rec centers citywide and refurbishing gym floors at CMSD high schools. The other two announced provisions were insignificant public-relations gestures. Though Kelley bristled at the suggestion Monday night, the entire afternoon event seemed oriented toward the city's predominantly black east side community, where opposition to the deal is concentrated.  

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"Q Deal Will Provide Jobs for Blacks," read one sign that framed the lectern on the steps of City Hall. "Vote Yes!!"

According to Frank Jackson, it was Kelley himself who worked this weekend to negotiate these additional community benefits.

The gym floor promise is nice, but it bears no resemblance to a negotiated community benefits agreement that organizations like Greater Cleveland Congregations have proposed. As a point of clarification: GCC's position all along has not been to reject the deal outright, but to renegotiate the deal with specific community benefits attached — they've proposed a Community Equity Fund. (The "CBA" touted by the city is in fact merely a labor agreement. That's crucially important, but according to the GCC, ensuring baselines in local and minority labor should happen anyway.)


These final amendments were evidently sufficient to persuade Brian Cummins to change his mind. It is well-known by now that the Cavs and their team of negotiators had been lobbying the council opposition hard all week. Dan Gilbert himself even called Councilman Zack Reed to try to turn him. In a conversation Tuesday with Scene, Cummins said that the new provisions were important.

"It's hard to say whether they're substantial," Cummins said, "but the admissions tax piece — over the last five years, that's been on average, about a million per year. And that's a lot better than where we were at two weeks ago."

Not just an insignificant public-relations gesture, in other words.

But it was clear, in talking with Cummins, that political pragmatism played a far greater role in his decision-making than these new alleged benefits (to which no specific dollar values were attached, as Mike Polensek noted last night). Cummins said he hated that he was forced to make this difficult decision, but ultimately, preserving his relationship with council leadership and the mayor's administration was a more beneficial approach for his ward.

"I had to think hard and long about this," Cummins said, "but if I'm trying to garner funds from the mayor's administration, competing with 16 other wards, things like this matter. And that's just a non-debatable fact."

Cummins was frustrated. He said he maintains his objections to the deal on ethical grounds and reiterated that his leadership role on council was not explicitly threatened. But as a former Green party member who was ostracized for years, Cummins said he's had to work harder than most to rehabilitate relationships with council Democrats. It's been an "uphill battle."

"I'm not a lone wolf, but it's hard to always feel like you're leading the opposition," Cummins said. "It's a challenge, and quite frankly, it's tiring."

In the past week, Cummins said he spent more time gauging his constituency and said many of the people he works closely with in Ward 14 recognize that in order to accomplish the development goals that they have for the ward, political relationships are essential.

"As an elected leader, if you're gonna run for office," Cummins said, "you have to play the political game in a good way, to try to get more for the people you represent. This was a really difficult decision, but I was putting my ward first."

Cummins acknowledged the anti-democratic manner in which the legislation passed through legislative bodies at the county and the city, and said that it was extremely difficult to change the ordinance by the time it arrived on city council desks. (As in prior controversial political issues, the debate often hinged on tactics when it should have hinged on fundamentals). But without strong executive leadership from the Mayor and the County Executive, a small caucus of city council opponents could do very little to effect change.

"But if it's this difficult to influence current structures of government," Cummins said, "it's a sign that they need to be changed."

(Cummins said he would be releasing a full statement on his rationale this afternoon.)

Speaking of change, the city council challengers in Ward 14 (the Clark-Fulton and Stockyards area, home to the city's densest concentration of Hispanics) are pouncing on this opportunity to criticize the incumbent Cummins. As we've reported, city council challengers intend to use council support of the Q deal as a lynchpin in their campaigns.

In Ward 14, that's certainly the case.

"I am greatly disappointed that Ward 14’s City Councilman Brian Cummins voted to allow the residents of Cleveland be the LOSERS in this deal!" Challenger Jasmin Santana wrote in a statement, the first we'd received from her. She is one of three candidates, in addition to Cummins, who has pulled petitions (Control-F: "Ward 14"). All three are Hispanic.

"Councilman Cummins was the 12th and LAST vote needed to get the majority to approve the Mayor’s request to give away an additional $88 million of our tax dollars to the Quicken Arena sports palace," she wrote.

Santana contended that the deal was a "perfect example of income inequality" in Cleveland, and said she supported using those funds for services that residents "really need," things like job-training programs and solutions to drugs and crime in the neighborhood.

Santana wrote that she supported "putting the brakes" on the proposal and re-negotiating a better deal for Cleveland residents. Furthermore, she said she supported putting the Q deal on the ballot in November.

Former City Councilman and perennial challenger Nelson Cintron is another candidate in Ward 14. His campaign contacted Scene to alert us that Cintron was "shocked" that Council had passed the legislation, "especially with our schools and crime being among the worst in the country."

Pastor Omar Medina, the third and final challenger, said that he, too, has been opposed to the Q deal from the beginning. He felt that Cummmins' reversal actually would make it more difficult for Ward 14 residents to get their "fair share," something he said he would continue to fight for.

It's worth noting that while Cummins' reversal was indeed the most pivotal, as it facilitated the ordinance's emergency status, and was also a stark departure from his publicly stated opposition, 11 other city councilpeople also voted in support of the deal, none of whom (in this reporter's recollection) expressed any moral reservations whatsoever.  

In the meantime, Mayor Frank Jackson signed the Q Deal legislation into law on Facebook live. "I know this is a great deal," Jackson said, in one of very few public comments he has made on the deal to date. "This is one of the best deals the city of Cleveland has ever made in regards to investing very little of public dollars and getting huge returns in terms of public benefits."

Jackson repeated the lie that the Cavs would be covering all shortfalls on the project — the county will be covering those out of a dedicated reserve — and lauded the Cavs' generosity for covering cost overruns on the construction. In theory, this is true, but the costs of the project are not yet known and may be dramatically overestimated. The public will have no way of learning the actual costs, as the Cavs will manage the construction themselves and are not obliged to open their books. They never have in the past.

The Mayor characterized the recent amendments — the gym floor provision et. al — as "the best community benefits that I've ever witnessed in my life as a public official since 1990."


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Arrest Warrant Issued for Man Who Brought Cocaine to Lorain Courtroom, Dropped Cocaine in Lorain Courtroom

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:36 PM

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Police are looking for a man who decided on April 20th that when he made an appearance in an Lorain courtroom that he couldn't possibly do so without bringing a small bag of cocaine with him. Which isn't a great decision. Even worse when the bag, covertly stashed in his hat, fell to the ground after he took it off and fiddled with it.

It was discovered later that morning and tested positive as, ya know, cocaine.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the unidentified man, according to the Morning Journal.

Video of the oopsie-daisy moment below.



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Attorneys May Sue AT&T Over 'Digital Redlining' in Cleveland, Other Major Cities

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 12:09 PM

NDIA
  • NDIA
Florida-based attorney Daryl Parks sent a letter to AT&T top brass this week, hinting at a possible lawsuit over the company's documented exclusion of poor, mostly black neighborhoods in cities like Cleveland. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, AT&T skipped over neighborhoods like Glenville and Hough as it rolled out its U-Verse technology.

Because state legislators stripped away local telecom regulations over the past decade, AT&T was permitted to cherry-pick its customer bases. The internet was considered a utility in Ohio until 2010.

Daryl Parks' letter lays out concerns over digital redlining that were first raised by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance earlier this year, as Cleveland.com's Jane Morice reports.

(Clevelanders will remember Parks and fellow partner Benjamin Crump from their representation of Samaria Rice in the early days of her wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Cleveland.)

The digital redlining is not unique to Cleveland. As the NDIA points out in its reporting — and in data shared with Scene — that AT&T used state laws in Ohio and Michigan to systematically exclude the poorest residential customer bases in cities like Toledo, Detroit and Dayton as well.

Scene left a message with Parks' office this morning, and we'll update this story as his firm's intent becomes more clear.

Lucas County (Toledo) - NDIA
  • NDIA
  • Lucas County (Toledo)

Wayne County (Detroit) - NDIA
  • NDIA
  • Wayne County (Detroit)

Montgomery County (Dayton) - NDIA
  • NDIA
  • Montgomery County (Dayton)

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Cuyahoga County Heroin Overdose Crisis Threatening Medical Examiner's Office Accreditation, Budget

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 11:13 AM

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The heroin crisis has become so monumental in Cuyahoga County that the medical examiner's office could lose accreditation with a national organization. Pathologists' workloads have simply become too burdensome, and The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) has threatened penalties.

The office requested an additional $200,000 from Cuyahoga County; council will vote on the budget move this afternoon. The funds will allow the medical examiner's office to arrange contracts with pathologists and a toxicologist, and to reconfigure a DNA technician position.

NAME recommends that pathologists conduct no more than 250 autopsies per year. In 2016, three forensic pathologists in Cuyahoga County conducted more than 325 autopsies each — the threshold for penalties.

The toxicology lab has also exceeded a 90-day turnaround limit on lab results.

The ballooning workload is entirely attributed to the local heroin overdose crisis. Last year, the county saw more than 600 overdose deaths (from heroin and other various opioids). By all accounts, that number will almost certainly increase this year.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

This is Honestly the Best the Cavs Could Come Up With?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 4:59 PM

SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
Under sunny skies at City Hall, hours before a pivotal city council vote that will commit about $88 million of city money to a renovation project at Quicken Loans Arena about which enormous questions remain, a parade of civic leaders extolled the virtues of Dan Gilbert and economic growth.

In what was billed as a "major announcement," these leaders purported to "sweeten the deal" with three new provisions in the proposed financial arrangement.

Per Council President Kevin Kelley:
  1. The portion of the Q admission tax that goes to the city's general fund will never fall below the portion that goes to debt service on the renovation. If it ever does (from 2023-2034), the Cavaliers will write the city a check for the difference, and Kelley said he had it in writing.
  2. The Cavs say they will refurbish every basketball court at rec centers across the city.
  3. The Cavaliers will donate 100 percent of revenue from its playoff watch parties to Habitat for Humanity with the goal of rehabbing 100 Cleveland homes. (Last season, per Len Komoroski, that amounted to about $750,000. The year before, it was considerably less).
These provisions made for tremendous last-minute PR, and were reportedly negotiated over the weekend, but they amount to very little for local residents. Here's why:

The money for the project will come from admissions tax revenue at the Q. The current structure puts 5/8 from Cavs games toward debt service on Gateway bonds and 3/8 to the city's general fund. For non-Cavs-events, the split is 6/8 and 2/8. Over the past couple of years, the revenues from these portions have been roughly the same. So the Cavs' guarantee is merely to ensure that that the amounts that are already nearly the same will be precisely the same.

Regarding Habitat: The Cavs have already been donating 100 percent of their watch party revenue to area charities. This afternoon's announcement was merely picking a recipient of these funds.

So the one real, new benefit announced this afternoon was the Cavs' promise to refurbish basketball courts at city rec centers. It's unclear if the Cavs will build new courts entirely or just, like, buff them. Either way, it's a pittance compared to the legitimate Community Benefits Agreement that the Greater Cleveland Congregations has been agitating for.

Recall that GCC wanted to create a Community Equity Fund that invested one dollar in the community for every public dollar invested in the Q. (That would amount to about $160 million.) They wanted those funds to be administered by an independent quasi-governmental body and spent on the immediate construction of mental health crisis centers, capital projects in Cleveland neighborhoods, and the creation of workforce programs that led to actual jobs (modeled after the Step Up to UH program).

And while a promise to "refurbish" basketball courts is a nice gesture, the scale is infinitesimal compared to what opponents desire.  

Nonetheless, government officials and representatives from the city's black civic community  approached the mic to forcefully condemn those who oppose the project — "Anyone against economic growth is foolish and unwise," said State Senator Sandra Williams — and to cheer on the majesty of corporate do-gooderism. What a spectacle!

Ken Silliman read a statement on behalf of Mayor Jackson. Kevin Kelley read a statement on behalf of U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge.

“The facts about what The Q means for all Cleveland residents are irrefutable," Fudge said in her statement. "The Q means jobs and growth, tax revenues and so much more. The building is a tremendous economic asset.”
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Jackson, Budish, Kelley, "Cavs Reps" to Make "Major Announcement" on Q Deal Hours Before Council Vote

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 2:35 PM

SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
City Council President Kevin Kelley, joined by Mayor Frank Jackson (or officials from his office), County Executive Armond Budish, and a slew of civic leaders and Cavs reps — including, perhaps, Dan Gilbert himself —- will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. on the steps of City Hall to stump for the Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal hours before the council vote.

(Update: A Cavs' spokesperson said Gilbert will not be part of the announcement.)

A press released touted a "major development" in the deal. If there is one, it will once again have been negotiated behind closed doors and without the input of the public. And a major development is frankly absurd this late in the game — if it is indeed significant, it ought to be debated in committee.

City Council has held firm at 11-6, with Councilmen Reed, Dow, Cummins, Polensek, Johnson and Conwell voting NO on the deal, which would commit an estimated $88 million from 2023-2034 from a portion of the Q admissions tax. Reed said that tonight, he'll ask his colleagues to put the issue on the ballot themselves, because a referendum is a foregone conclusion.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge was rumored to be attending, or at least to have been invited. Fudge's press secretary confirmed to Scene that the congresswoman was in D.C. on legislative business but that she would  be releasing a media advisory at around 3 p.m.

“The proposed Q renovation is an all-around good deal,” said Council President Kelley in the release. “But the deal just got better.”
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Cuyahoga County Jail Guard Arrested for Allegedly Dealing Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 1:04 PM

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Brian Salters, who's been a corrections officer at the Cuyahoga County jail since 2013, was arrested earlier this month by Cleveland police officers with the fifth district vice squad.

Arrest records show that Salters was caught with marijuana, heroin, coke and ecstasy, and that officers witnessed Salters doing hand-to-hand exchanges.

He's on unpaid leave from the county after charges were brought for drug trafficking. He was briefly in custody at the very jail where he worked but has posted bond.

Salters is the second Cuyahoga County jail officer caught up in drug investigations this year. Previously, Kamara Austin was arrested for allegedly smuggling heroin into the facility for an inmate.
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