Mo' Money, Mo' Problems: Kelley Secures Increased Funding for Roads, But Council Members Still Object

click to enlarge City COO Darnell Brown, approaching the conference table to answer some nitty gritty questions of curious council members. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
City COO Darnell Brown, approaching the conference table to answer some nitty gritty questions of curious council members.
In what initially seemed like a non-controversial, even celebratory, caucus Monday afternoon, City Council President Kevin Kelley announced that the city would be increasing its financial commitment to road resurfacing.

Kelley's proposal comes only after negotiations with a frugal, reluctant Jackson administration. Jackson's Chief of Staff, Ken Silliman, told council Monday that this increase hampers the city's ability to "leverage" dollars for further road repair via partnerships with organizations like NOACA.

But Kelley would not be bullied or swayed. He openly said that the current system is not working. His new proposal would have the city spending up to $10 million per year on the city's worst roadways beginning in 2016. Currently, Cleveland shells out about $4.4 million each year, distributed equally among its 17 wards. 

East side councilmen Jeff Johnson and Zack Reed hotly contested the proposal, raising their voices in the council conference room to express anger at what they perceived to be a solution that creates even more problems.

"The system that is going on right now works for me," Johnson said, estimating that he's able to repave about three residential streets per year. "The problem with the resurfacing program in this city is that we don't have enough money. It's because the chickens have come home to roost, it's because we gave $19 million for a scoreboard, $10 million for a walkway." 

Kelley and Councilman Terrell Pruitt tried to talk Johnson down, assuring him that the proposal is indeed an increase in resurfacing dollars, and that though there won't be specific ward-by-ward allocations, everyone should have much more to work with. 

"It's almost mathematically impossible for you to have less," Kelley told Zack Reed, who took Johnson's line. 

Reed wasn't convinced by mathematics. He said he needed a guarantee that he'd be getting money for street resurfacing. And in fairness, his anxiety (and Johnson's, and others') comes from "promises made and promises broken," in Councilman Polensek's words, with regard to parks and recreation dollars.  

Polensek, a former council president himself, even advised Kelley as the caucus concluded that a minimum threshold for each ward would be a good idea; it would help quash the accusation that certain areas could get overlooked.  

"There's a perception you might not get anything at all," Polensek said.  

Kelley stressed that the new approach would be "scientific" and "data-driven." Though in 2015, repairs will be based on a "windshield survey" conducted in 2009, by 2016 a comprehensive study should be complete which will have ranked every roadway in the city. If the city resurfaces 5 percent each year, as Kelley proposes, every street in town will be resurfaced every 20 years. 

Some council members voiced the fear that the division of streets' ranking system might handcuff their ability to nominate alternate roads for resurfacing — roads that aren't the worst, but that are used by a much greater number of people, for instance. But Kelley said that council would still have the opportunity to amend resurfacing decisions, in the same way that they do now. 

The funding increase will strictly be used for resurfacing, though, not filling potholes or sealing cracks or generally maintaining shitty roads. On that score, councilwoman Dona Brady suggested that the city conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not a "Pothole Killer" of their own might be a worthwhile investment, especially given the skyrocketing cost of asphalt. 

And, as always, there's nothing like intra-council passive-aggression during meetings: 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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