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The Worst of Cleveland: Cleveland City Council 

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Photo by Sam Allard

A serious question in Cleveland, Ohio, is whether the city's legislative body (city council) has any value at all. Other than fielding calls from disgruntled constituents, hosting pancake breakfasts for seniors and holding interminable committee hearings full of inane and/or self-serving questions, it's hard to come up with a single recent accomplishment that's not more directly attributable to another person or entity. They are the absolute worst.

Council is these days a rubber-stamp body of 17 small-minded electeds utterly subservient to corporate interests and the mayor. Like good, mindless sycophants, they await the rewards borne of loyalty and therefore refuse to rock the boat. Not a soul on council put out a statement condemning (or even questioning!) the egregious and ongoing misuse of council funds by Ward 4 Councilman Ken Johnson, for example. Was this because they were all doing versions of the same thing? Or was it because they've forgotten who they're supposed to be serving? To be honest, they couldn't even rock the boat if they wanted to, as they're governed by outdated party policies like the Unit Rule, which demands that all members vote unanimously. Outsiders are kept at bay by the strategic appointment of successors, and the public is kept at bay by "emergency" legislating, in which ordinances are passed on an accelerated schedule with no public comment and limited review.

In practical terms, city councilpeople care largely (if not exclusively) for their individual wards and with limited exception have abandoned the progress of the city to pursue a warped sense of ward equality. If there are any funds to distribute — for repairing potholes, say — hours of arguments break out to ensure that each councilperson gets to take home exactly 1/17th of the total funding. There is no evident concern, beyond the occasional symbolic floor speech, for the city's most urgent issues and worst injustices.  To the extent that there is, council doesn't pass policy. It designates some money for a nonprofit or a consultant to deal with it.

The body's petty, me-first attitude has predictable effects: namely, the total disdain for the citizenry that has been the hallmark of council under its current president, Kevin Kelley. Beyond the fact that they hold no regular public comment period at weekly meetings — and even sit with their backs to the public in council chambers, a structural arrangement that makes manifest their hostility — council and its staff spend concerted time and money ensuring that citizen actions are squashed. They have no interest in echoing and amplifying the voices of the people. They prefer to silence them. — Sam Allard


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