The Ohio Legislature is Blowing up Home Rule, but Cleveland Helped Build the Bomb

click to enlarge Councilmen Kevin Conwell, Kelley and Brancatelli mugging pre-tour. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Councilmen Kevin Conwell, Kelley and Brancatelli mugging pre-tour.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, City Council President Kevin Kelley and leaders from the local construction trades held a press conference on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon blasting the Ohio Supreme Court for effectively overturning Cleveland's Fannie Lewis Law.

That law, named in honor of former councilwoman Fannie Lewis and passed in 2003, stipulates that on all local construction projects of more than $100,000, workers who reside in the city of Cleveland must be paid for at least 20 percent of the total hours. The law was designed, in part, as an anti-poverty measure and has helped ensure that residents get to participate in Cleveland's physical development. 

The state court's 4-3 partisan decision Tuesday sided with state lawmakers, granting them the authority to enact legislation that nullifies Cleveland's law.

"[The decision] really just kind of obliterates the concept of home rule," said Kelley, in comments reported by

(Scene would have liked to attend the noon presser, but we were alerted to it via City Hall media release at 11:45 a.m. and were unable to make it over in time.)

Kelley and Jackson are right to condemn the decision, which is a stunning reversal of clear-cut rulings by both Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo and by the Eighth District Court of Appeals, both of which correctly noted that the state's law would violate cities' "home rule" authority enshrined in the state constitution. 

But the state couldn't care less about home rule authority. And neither could  Cleveland's leaders.

Kelley and Jackson are peeved today because a specific law that they know is popular with their supporters — especially the politically powerful trades council — is being overturned. Kelley even told that the ruling "took a shot" not only at home rule but at "the ability of cities to help lift people out of poverty and establish careers."

This is the height of hypocrisy. Back in 2016, Kelley and Jackson were themselves instrumental in obliterating Cleveland's home rule authority as it pertained to another issue, one that also would have have given cities the ability to help lift people out of poverty and establish careers: a minimum wage increase. 

Thanks to the advocacy of Kelley and Jackson, (Democrats in very good standing, incidentally), the state banned Cleveland from setting a minimum wage higher than the state's. Local leaders were doing the bidding of the business community at the time, (obvs), and argued on its behalf that an increased minimum wage would "undermine the city's economic recovery." They pleaded with the neanderthals at the state to help them out in any way the could, and the minimum wage ban was ultimately (and unconstitutionally) appended to an unrelated piece of legislation. and other state outlets now routinely wring their hands over incursions upon the sanctity of home rule. Two weeks back, on the "This Week in the CLE" podcast, editor Chris Quinn could scarcely believe that a state agency would grant a Cleveland residential development project a lengthy tax abatement. How could this stand in Ohio, he wondered, a home rule state? (Never mind the automatic abatements and incentives which shoot from City Hall like coins out of a busted slot machine.) 

It happens all the time. And the fact is, guys like Jackson and Kelley are delighted to submit to pre-emptive laws when it suits their political ends.

But for the record: Every pre-emptive law that the state has passed which forbids cities from enacting specific regulations is an explicit violation of home rule authority. Every single one.

Kent Scarrett, the executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, wrote in the Columbus Dispatch last week that pre-emptive laws are on the rise nationwide, and they are affecting a "dizzying array" of policy areas.

"Twenty-five states now bar local government from increasing the minimum wage," he wrote. "Fifteen states prohibit local bans and/or fees on plastic bags and 10 states prohibit local regulation of e-cigarettes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg."

In Ohio, in addition to a law that would forbid plastic bag regulations (a zombie bill that's currently under consideration), we've got a law on the books that was passed in 2015 which forbids cities from taxing or regulating ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. It was literally written by an Uber lobbyist.

This is absolute trash government. These are "laws" written purely in the interest of specific companies who demand (and sometimes actually write) the legislation. In Ohio, the climate and ethos where this sort of government abides is known as "business-friendliness." And in the Orwellian language of someone like Cavs CEO Len Komoroski, it's known as "public-friendliness."

All of these state laws, to reiterate, are direct constitutional violations. Much more importantly, they are flamboyant contraventions of democratic principles, namely that people must be allowed to participate in how they are governed.

Jackson and Kelley will never be taken seriously as champions of home rule. That ship has sailed. But if they and other leaders across the state are beginning to coalesce around the idea that state lawmakers are going too far, they'll have to stop standing on their constituents' throats and start standing on principles.

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.

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...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

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