Weary Polensek Grills Council, But November Q Deal Referendum Unlikely

click to enlarge Councilman Zack Reed tries to explain Council's maneuvering to members of GCC, when referendum petitions were denied on 5/22/17. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
Sam Allard / Scene
Councilman Zack Reed tries to explain Council's maneuvering to members of GCC, when referendum petitions were denied on 5/22/17.
Cleveland City Council met Wednesday afternoon. It was the legislative body's final meeting before September 18, but four councilpeople — Mike Polensek, Zack Reed, Jeff Johnson, and Kevin Conwell — had written a letter to Council President Kevin Kelley earlier in the week asking that the next meeting be moved up.

If the next meeting were held on or before Sep. 6, the letter said, council would have an opportunity to vote to have the Q Deal referendum on the November ballot (provided, of course, that the petition signatures had been certified by the Board of Elections). This would eliminate the need for a costly special election in 2018.

"By doing so," read the letter, "the Democratic process is respected, and the citizens' right to vote is upheld. In addition, it will save the city of Cleveland over $700,000 for the cost of a special election, which would only anger the citizens even more than they are already over this matter."

But the issues addressed in the letter did not come up at the council meeting. Council passed a series of other pieces of legislation — including a big spending package targeted at neighborhood development — but if Mike Polensek and Jeff Johnson hadn't made comments during the meeting's "miscellaneous" portion, the Q Deal referendum would've gone ignored.

"I asked them if they were Democrats," Polensek told Scene in a phone call after the meeting. "Do you believe in democratic principles? Because I'm looking at this body and I don't recognize it anymore. What's the point of City Council if you're just going to do what the rich and powerful want done in this city?"

Polensek objected to what he viewed as deliberate stalling tactics by city leadership, and said that council meeting dates have been changed in the past.

"Who are they kidding?" Polensek said. "They might be fooling the newbies, but I was Council President. We've changed dates before, if there was a death in the family or another emergency. As long as everyone gets advance notice, you can set the date whenever you want with the concurrence of council."

Kelley, who did not respond to the councilman's comments at the time, had reportedly opened the meeting with remarks about Donald Trump and leadership. He'd issued a statement earlier in the week denouncing white supremacy in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. Polensek said Kelley and council should use this opportunity to distance themselves from Donald Trump.

"Show real leadership," Polensek said, growing agitated on the phone. "Send a message that we stand with the people. How many ridiculous arguments are you going to make? How many roadblocks are going to throw in front of the citizens? It's embarrassing."

Kevin Kelley, when reached by Scene, said that even though Mike Polensek might no longer recognize the body, he recognized a council that "appropriated millions of dollars to invest in neighborhoods that have been largely abandoned by the private sector in an effort to leverage additional private sector investment; a Council that appropriated over $2 million to the Cleveland/Cuyahoga Office of Homeless Services; and a Council that passed legislation to further our efforts to attack the opiate crisis."

Regarding the Q Deal, Kelley said there was nothing to comment on until the submitted petitions have been certified, "other than that we will follow the directive of the court and the provisions of the Charter."  

Polensek held that the directive of the Ohio Supreme Court was already clear — the citizens have a right to vote, and council should facilitate that vote in the most efficient, fiscally responsible way. But he said he's expecting leadership to ignore the issue.

"They're going to put [the Q Deal] on the ballot in the dead of friggin' winter," he said. "They're hoping the snow is three feet deep and you'll have to ride a friggin' dog sled to get to the polls. This is a wonderful bunch." 

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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