Report: Cleveland City Council Reduction Ballot Initiatives Will Be Pulled From March Ballot

click to enlarge Report: Cleveland City Council Reduction Ballot Initiatives Will Be Pulled From March Ballot
Cleveland City Council/Steve Miluch

WKYC's Mark Naymik reports this morning that the ballot initiatives concerning reducing the size of Cleveland city council and reducing the pay for councilmembers will be pulled from the March ballot by the group, led by Westlake restaurateur Tony George, who gathered enough signatures to get them on there in the first place.

Instead, Naymik reports, that opposition group — which called itself Clevelanders First but failed to register a PAC with the name, which led Cleveland city council to trollishly register the name for their efforts — will work with esteemed local clergy members, a group that opposed the drastic reduction, to study council size and pay.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections told Scene that as of this morning they had not been pulled yet.

Councilmembers Scene spoke to this morning said the news was a complete surprise.

This, on its face, is good news. The festering disapproval of Cleveland city council as a body — one that could be described as a feckless group beholden to the mayor that serves neither as a check on the leader of the city nor as a body that pushes for broad improvement across the city, instead securing their individual fiefdoms to maintain their seats — is strong. As we argued in a recent feature, those problems wouldn't be solved by whacking council from 17 members to 9, a scenario that we argued would make it easier for influential donors and power brokers to get councilmembers in their pocket. The ballot initiatives also struck many as dangerous simply because they were spurred by Tony George in a vindictive move to punish a body he didn't feel was working with him.

As we wrote, council has done themselves no favors:

"Ward 4 councilman Ken Johnson is still gainfully employed, for starters, and so is Ward 17 councilman Marty Keane, though no longer as a councilman. He resigned from his post in November, strategically timing the appointment of his successor (Charles Slife) to ensure the maximum term allowable without a special election. Slife will serve for two years and will enjoy the benefits of incumbency in 2021, having never run for the seat. In Ward 1, the major legislative campaign of councilman Joe Jones in 2019 was "bringing God back into City Council chambers." In Ward 6, the most memorable action in 2019 from councilman Blaine Griffin, the presumptive mayoral contender, was a combative floor speech this fall."

Add to that news that Dona Brady resigned her seat, which while good news for those that would prefer city officials not punish the homeless nevertheless means another appointed replacement who doesn't have to face voters for two years and a city council that will have just two female members out of 17.

A solution to many of these problems is simply to elect better councilmembers, and there's certainly hope on that front. But there should also be serious consideration for adding at-large members.

And, as Scene senior staff writer Sam Allard noted, using the initiative as leverage to demand relatively easy improvements that most people would readily support in the short-term — public comment, wage freezes — would be advantageous.

According to WKYC, Rev. E.T. Caviness, Rev. Larry Harris, and Rev. Aaron Phillips will speak on the matter today at 2:30 at a press conference at the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church.