Sam Allard / Scene
Councilman Zack Reed tries to explain Council's maneuvering to members of GCC, when referendum petitions were denied on 5/22/17.
In a developing story, sources have told Scene that a group calling itself "Clevelanders First" may pull petitions today to gather signatures for a proposed city charter amendment that would significantly reduce the number of city council seats and city council salaries.
Local restaurateur and political financier Tony George, who is supporting the effort, told Scene by phone that that he thinks there will be no trouble gathering the required signatures. City charter requires 10 percent of the total number who voted in the previous mayoral election, (i.e. not much more than 6,000).
Clevelanders First, per George, includes Bill Ritter and John Kandah. Ritter is a former city council and state rep candidate who Scene covered, most recently
, after he accepted questionable "consulting" payments from candidate Marty Sweeney before this year's primaries. When Scene reached Ritter by phone Monday, he would not speak about Clevelanders First, the proposed initiative or whether or not he intended to pull petitions today. He said he was feeling under the weather, but would be happy to speak about this at a later date. A very strange call!
George described Ritter and Kandah both as "frugal, hard-working guys who care about Cleveland." He said his own role was merely to support the effort in whatever way he could. As a suburban resident, he is unable to be an official signatory, but said he backs the effort in principal because "as Cleveland goes, so goes the suburbs."
George was behind a similar effort to reduce the size of City Council several years ago, but said that the effort was ultimately unnecessary because then council-president Marty Sweeney vowed to reduce it himself and made good on his promise. In two contentious re-districting efforts. council was reduced from 21 seats to 19 and then from 19 seats to 17, where it stands today.
The new alleged amendment would cut the existing seats by nearly half, and cut council pay from about $87,000 to $58,000. George said he did not consider these reductions "dramatic."
"You've got to compare to other cities," he said. "Look at Columbus. They're a much larger city and they've got seven members and they all make in the mid-40s."
(Columbus city council members are all at-large members, meaning they don't represent individual wards, and they make $42,414
George said he doesn't know if the petition calls for city council members to become at-large members. But he repeated familiar complaints about the inefficiency of city services and the issues that arise when council members care only for their wards and not the city as a whole. (He didn't have to say Ken Johnson's name out loud
In general, George said the city was in need of fresh leadership and fresh voices who would actually keep a mayor in check. He said a petition for reducing council was an effective way to achieve that end.
Whether the petitions will be pulled, and whether "Clevelanders First" is a legitimate organization independent of Tony George that intends to follow through on the initiative, both remain to be seen.