Thank God Former Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland is Okay!

click to enlarge Phyllis Cleveland, alongside council leaders Blaine Griffin and Kevin Kelley. - Cleveland City Council
Cleveland City Council
Phyllis Cleveland, alongside council leaders Blaine Griffin and Kevin Kelley.

Former Ward 5 Cleveland City Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland has miraculously recovered from the health issues that forced her to resign from council in May. reported Wednesday that she has now taken a six-figure job with the city's Department of Public Utilities, overseen by former councilman Marty Keane, who, until his own resignation, chaired council's utilities committee.

Cleveland started the $115,000-per-year job, according to, on June 14. That's a little more than a month after her resignation from council for health issues.

To state the obvious, she was probably never seriously ill. Like her colleagues, Cleveland just wanted to resign so she could appoint her own successor, Delores Gray, in a process despised and frequently criticized by the electorate but embraced by council regardless.

Martin Sweeney, Joe Cimperman, Mamie Mitchell, Martin Keane, Dona Brady and Matt Zone have all resigned in recent years to pick their own heirs. Doing so is considered a perk of the council gig. Never mind the will of the voters.

The frustrating thing in Cleveland's case is that the invented rationale — "health issues" — preyed on the sympathies of observers, (especially in light of former councilwoman Mamie Mitchell, who really did resign for health reasons, in fact long after her dementia had limited her ability to effectively govern, though the process was steered by council leadership.)

And it feels really shitty to hear someone say they're resigning for health issues and to have to go on record saying it's probably bogus. We alluded to this on the day Cleveland stepped down.

Phyllis Cleveland, to whom council ascribed unspecified "health issues" last week, may truthfully be very sick. Who can say? If she is, she has her colleagues to thank for the fact that most voters will regard the explanation as hogwash, given that it's arriving only a few months before the election in Ward 5. Even if she's suddenly so enfeebled that she has to retreat from regular meeting assignments, the summer recess is on the horizon and slack could be picked up by her colleagues and/or her assistant until a new representative is elected in the fall. But then, she wouldn't get the special privilege of sidelining voters to pick the ward's next representative.

Turns out, she was never sick at all. Maybe she was dealing with some seasonal allergies or, at most, a bout with Covid. Cleveland did allude to her "recovery" in a conversation with — "it makes you reflect on things," she said — so maybe she did get Covid. But that wouldn't have pushed her to step down if she weren't already predisposed to do so.

The implication of Cleveland's announcement on April 30 was that the illness was serious. If not life-threatening, these health issues would at least affect her physical mobility or mental capacities substantially enough to make serving on council a challenge. 

But lo and behold, now she's back at City Hall, with a much larger salary in a much easier job, liaising with suburban water departments and "assisting with legislation and other public utility issues." Citizens who believed her explanation will feel betrayed, and those who didn't will feel validated in their minimal confidence and respect for the city legislature.  

Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

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...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.