Cleveland City Council continues its General Fund budget hearings today. On the schedule to present budgets are the city’s municipal and housing courts and clerks office as well as the Office of Sustainability and the offices of Urban Analytics & Innovation and Equal Opportunity.

Also on the schedule are:

  • Office on Aging
  • Civilian Police Review Board
  • Office of Professional Standards

Follow Cleveland Documenter Dan McLaughlin’s Twitter thread from the hearings.

‘Let Jeff go!’

Cleveland City Council’s hearing room was packed Friday morning as the city’s municipal court judges and other administrators presented their budget requests.

City Council President Blaine Griffin prefaced the presentation telling council members to only ask questions specifically pertaining to the budget and warned those in attendance that he would remove members of the public for “outbursts.” 

Cleveland Housing Court Judge Moná Scott opened by criticizing news media and “people behind keyboards,” a reference to coverage and pushback on social media posts about Scott’s jailing of a 60-year-old Cleveland photographer whose family home had unresolved housing violations.

Cleveland Housing Court Judge Judge W. Moná Scott on her staff and its critics

Scott recently sentenced Jeffrey Ivey to 90 days in jail for not repairing housing violations, including a hazardous chimney, at his home on East Boulevard, near the Cultural Gardens.

A brief protest interrupted the budget hearing just before noon, as Scott was finishing her presentation. About 10 people walked out of the room chanting, “Let Jeff go!” 

After the protests, Rev. Emmitt T. Caviness, pastor of the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, said he and other community activists have been trying to talk with the judge about Ivey’s case, but she “refuses to talk to us.”

Ivey inherited the home and had been working to restore it, Caviness said, adding that Ivey is a “staple in our community.”

He said Ivey should not be in jail and is losing wages that could have been used to help fix the home.

“Nothing that he has done or has not done merits being put in jail for 90 days,” Caviness said. 

Many of the houses in his neighborhood, Glenville, are old and in need of repairs, he said. 

Ivey  “is languishing in jail when he should not be there,” Caviness said. “[The judge] should have some empathy and sympathy for the situation and allow him to get out so he can fix the house. The longer he’s incarcerated, the less opportunity he has for working on the house.”

Budget Terms to Know: Cleveland Housing Court

During the presentation, council members, including Ward 8 representative Mike Polensek and Ward 1’s Joe Jones, also pressed Judge Scott on the lack of accountability for out-of-state property owners and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) charged with housing violations that create unsafe living conditions for tenants.

Polensek told Scott he was “not happy with the Law Department” on prosecutions of these entities, calling them “extremely weak.”

“You can’t arrest an LLC because it’s not a person,” Scott told council members. 

Despite Griffin’s warnings, council members didn’t stick to questions about the budget line items, instead asking questions about housing violations, hoarding, home repair assistance and the out-of-state property managers.

The court is looking to spend an additional $11,000 to replace out-of-date computer equipment, including webcams and headsets for magistrates, who are continuing to hold hearings, including for eviction cases, on Zoom. 

In 2022, the Housing Court piloted the use of kiosks that allow residents to attend hearings virtually if they don’t have computers at home. The first kiosk was installed at the Cleveland Public Library’s South Branch in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. The court got a grant for the equipment, including a five-year warranty. The court is covering the maintenance from its budget. 

Scott said the court plans to make new kiosks available at more Cleveland library branches, including:

In October, council approved the elimination of three Housing Court positions and the addition of two others — chief of information technology and chief finance officer. The 2023 budget increased staff by one. The court has nine vacancies in the department.

Urban Analytics outlines plans to clean up ‘dirty’ data and help departments problem solve

Elizabeth Crowe, Cleveland’s director of Urban Analytics and Innovation, walked council members through the work of the office, which has a revamped mission. The office has a proposed budget of $1.74 million, 16 full time employees and two part time employees. 

Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele wrote about the office and its mission to boost city services and not just collect numbers.

Crowe talked about how the office previously known as Quality Control and Performance management had a reputation more for auditing with “clipboards and a whistle in the corner” than identifying problems with city processes and helping to fix them.

Elizabeth Crowe, the director of the Office of Urban Analytics and Innovation
Elizabeth Crowe, the director of the Office of Urban Analytics and Innovation Credit: City of Cleveland

Find more about the office here:

Crowe gave an example of the office’s role in the Nuisance Abatement Task Force the city formed.

The Urban Analytics team realized that the different city departments involved in addressing nuisance properties didn’t understand what role other departments had in the process. Now, they are mapping out the processes and figuring out how to work more efficiently to make decisions and resolve complaints.

“It’s taking us time to identify the actual crux of the problem” and get to the to dos, she said.

But the same process should help other departments look at the roles of people and processes and address gaps, technology, vendor challenges and structural challenges.

“It’s taking us time to identify the actual crux of the problem” and make a list of steps to solve the problem, she said.

Crowe also answered questions about the city’s progress in making more data from its divisions and departments available to analyze and accessible to the public.

The goal is to create an open data dashboard, but first the Urban Analytics team is accessing what Crowe called the “pipes” that the data or “water” flows through, including how the data is gathered and how it is kept. Some departments, such as Building & Housing, have databases purchased from vendors, and others track programs and progress on internal spreadsheets. For data to be useful, it has to be properly collected and “clean,” not “dirty.”

Griffin said he was interested in data being collected on matters important to council, including:

Racism as a public health crisis

  • Racism as a public health crisis
  • Wealth creation
  • Housing affordability
  • Health disparities
  • Education and high school graduation
  • Geographic and interpersonal violence

Drilling into diversity at the airport

Council President Blaine Griffin brought up what he said was the “elephant in the room” related to a lack of diversity in staff and leadership at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Hopkins and Burke Lakefront Airport are run by the city and have a proposed budget of more than $173 million. The money is not part of Cleveland’s General Fund because the airports are among the city’s enterprise departments that generate their own revenue.

Terms to Know: Enterprise Departments

“Even as I look at the table here now … I don’t see where there’s diversity in the top leadership of the airport,  and if you have one complaint it’s an outlier, if you have ten, then maybe you’ve got an issue, but I will tell you there have been no shortage of 40 different complaints over the year.” Council Member Brain Kazy, who like his colleagues has received many emails about the issues at the airport, cautioned that since the messages were anonymous it’s not clear whether many people are complaining or just one person. 

Interim Director of Port Control Dennis Kramer acknowledged the issue and said they are working to create new job descriptions and pay classifications and are forming a committee to examine the diversity, equity and inclusion issues. 

Council Member Stephanie Howse suggested that the airport hire experts instead of relying on volunteers to fix a systemic problem. 

Griffin said that council, which has legislative oversight over city spending, would have a “serious conversation” about whether to pass the budget without knowing a plan to fix the diversity issues is being put in place.

What did Documenters cover?

Officials discussed the proposed 2023 budgets for the Cleveland Judicial Court and Housing Court. Check out this live-tweet thread by Documenter Dan McLaughlin:

Officials covered a lot of ground in the afternoon session. They discussed the proposed 2023 budgets of several city groups, including the Office of Equal Opportunity, Office of Sustainability, and Urban Analytics and Innovation. They also reviewed the budgets of the Office of Professional Standards and the Civilian Police Review Board. Documenter Preeya Shankar provided live-tweet coverage:

Budget hearing recaps

Day 1: The budget hearings kicked off with Mayor Justin Bibb walking Cleveland City Council through his 2022 accomplishments. Bibb released his $1.95 billion budget estimate and spending proposals on Feb. 1, which includes nearly $711 million to cover the city’s basic operations.

Bibb’s plan to balance the city’s budget relies on eliminating more than 250 city jobs that are vacant, including in Public Safety, Public Works, and Building and Housing.

Council members had the chance to ask the administration questions and bring up priorities for the wards they represent. Council members expressed concern over issues of public safety, education and housing. They also probed Bibb on campaign promises like East Side revitalization.

Council members have the final say in approving the budget.

Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele noted that while Bibb’s campaign slogan was “Cleveland Can’t Wait,” the mayor struck a more cautious tone when presenting his second budget, telling council members that “change does take time.”

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Day 2: Council members spent the day digging into public safety. Staffing, recruitment and the management of nuisance animals such as groundhogs were high on the list of council members’ concerns.

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Council also heard Wednesday about a proposal to spend $1 million to create a stronger pipeline for young Cleveland residents interested in public safety careers. Recruitment has been a consistent issue in recent years in the city, and across the country. Signal Cleveland’s Stephanie Casanova has more on that plan.

Day 3: Council members focused on the staffing and recruitment of police officers as well as the use of technology to help solve and prevent crime. Mayor Justin Bibb proposed balancing the city’s budget, in part, by eliminated vacant positions and many of them are in the police department, which its lowest level of uniformed officers in decades. That had council members worried about increased overtime costs. Council also vetted a request for additional money from the new Community Police Commission, which was seated in December and began its oversight and policy work last month.

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Abbey was the service journalism reporter for Signal Cleveland through February 2023. She joined us from the Akron Beacon Journal/USA Today Network, where she was a Report for America corps member covering the City of Akron and local government.