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Monday, March 30, 2015

Listen: City Council Caucus Descends Into Madness

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 6:08 PM

It looked as though Monday afternoon's Cleveland City Council caucus would conclude without a Jeff Johnson outburst. And for that, one sensed, Johnson's council colleagues (if not the cameramen) were relieved.

In an earlier moment, Johnson had registered mild skepticism at a Greater Cleveland Partnership / Urban League plan to recruit young people into technical professions — he had a problem with the idea that though the tradesmen were claiming they wanted to recruit minorities, they also insisted that all applicants must have a driver's license and "reliable transportation" (aka, a car) — his opposition was nonetheless expressed in his inside voice.

But at 2 p.m., there had been nary a ripple in the council pond. This was unusual, especially after councilman Matt Zone's brief presentation on his listening tours' report, a report that will be distributed on Wednesday's safety committee meeting. It's a topic to which controversy has been lately magnetized, and the capacity crowd seemed almost sort of bummed that the proceedings had been so civil. 

Ward 10's fiery councilman, though, who almost certainly has a mayoral campaign in mind, had something up his sleeve. Johnson has repeatedly articulated the view that as an elected official, one of his jobs is to express malcontent. But the side-of-the-mouth sentiment among council members is that he's just angling for headlines.

They tend to feel the same way about councilman Zack Reed. Whenever Reed launches into a diatribe (about gun violence, say, or "two Clevelands"), most councilpersons begin checking their phones or literally having conversations with their neighbors. Though Reed can sometimes seem like a broken record, Scene correspondents have often been alarmed at what we'd consider pretty open disrespect.

When the bell struck two and council's finance committee meeting was scheduled to begin, the caucus was still wrapping up. Council President Kevin Kelley agreed to give Jeff Johnson time to make a comment, if he kept his remarks to three minutes or less. Johnson agreed. 

His preface alone took nearly five. He argued that when he gets angry, he never attacks people personally; he attacks policies and procedures. He then, however, proceeded to call Kevin Kelly a liar and accuse council leadership of trying to sneakily pass the city budget, and then defend a unanimous vote on a technicality. The next 10 minutes were as wild as anything we've ever witnessed in City Hall. 

Here's just a taste of the insanity. Councilman Terrell Pruitt is the high-pitched fellow trying his level best to spar with Johnson. Kelley's the guy citing rules and telling Johnson he's out of order. Councilman Polensek, when things really pick up at about 2:00, after the meeting has officially been adjourned, is the one slamming the table with his hands and asking, as we all were, "What's going on here?"


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