It’s day seven of Cleveland’s budget hearings.

Today, the following departments will present their budget proposals:

  • Department of Human Resources
  • Civil Service Commission
  • Community Relations Board
  • Public Utilities
  • Capital Projects

Council questions city’s efforts to divert children from the justice system 

The Community Relations Board has a proposed $2.4 million budget, up about $600,000 from last year. The additional money is mostly for contracts for specialists to help with residents who have experienced violence and lost loved ones to homicide. 

Several council members had questions about how effective the diversion program was in preventing future crimes. 

Budget Terms to Know: Community Relations Board

Ward 16 Council Member Brian Kazy asked how the program works. Charisse Dawson, the diversion program’s administrative manager, said she and two case workers develop a plan for each child who enters the program. The children are referred by Cuyahoga County prosecutors and the Juvenile Court’s Early Intervention Center. Case workers follow through with visits to homes, offices, schools, and other interventions.

Kazy said he wants the city to take a fresh look at the program, and he requested the recidivism rate – or the rate at which someone reoffends – of any child who has gone through the program since 2020. Council’s Safety Committee discussed the program with the Community Relations Board at a Feb. 1 meeting. Learn more from Documenter Marvetta Rutherford)

Council members also turned their attention to two vacancies among the board’s Community Relations representatives. Part of that job entails being a community liaison for each police district. Ward 7 Council Member Stephanie Howse said not having a Community Relations representative for the Third Police District has been tough, and Ward 8 Council Member Polensek said the same is true for the Fifth Police District

Community Relations Board Director Angela Shute-Woodson

Angela D. Shute-Woodson, director of the board, said one challenge with filling those positions is that when some applicants learn what the job involves, they do not want to go forward. The city needs people who are interested in the work and familiar with the neighborhoods they would serve, Shute-Woodson said. She also agreed with Ward 14 Council Member Jasmin Santanta that the pay – a maximum of about $22/hour for entry level representatives– also poses hiring challenges. 

Howse also asked for an update on the Cleveland Commission of Black Women and Girls, which, City Council established in June 2022. Interviews are ongoing and the city hopes to have an announcement in March, Shute-Woodson said.

Cleveland tests job applicants for marijuana

Cleveland Council Member Rebecca Maurer, who represents Ward 12, questioned the city’s human resources director about the city’s policy on testing job applicants for marijuana.

Cleveland Council Member Rebecca Maurer asks Human Resources Director Paul Patton about the city’s policy for testing job applicants for marijuana.

Human Resources Director Paul Patton acknowledged during Cleveland City Council’s budget hearings Thursday that the city conducts drug screens as part of the employee background check.  

Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration has worked to expunge minor marijuana convictions and has touted that work recent campaign emails.

Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele has more on that issue here.

Cutting vacant positions, explained

Throughout the budget hearings, council members have asked administration officials about the vacant positions Mayor Justin Bibb proposes eliminating to balance the city’s budget. Those positions are mainly in public works, the building and housing department and the police department. On Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Ahmed Abonamah explained – again – what that means.

Hiring issues? Administrators dispel ‘rumors’

Chief Finance Officer Ahmed Abonamah told council members late Wednesday that he wanted to dispel some pervasive rumors that there is a city policy against posting a position before it becomes vacant. 

Abonamah said he didn’t know how posting positions was handled in the past but it seemed that some unwritten, informal policy had somehow turned into an “immutable” law in the minds of some city employees. 

Cleveland Director of Human Resources Paul Patton Credit: City of Cleveland

Council Member Jenny Spencer told Human Resources Director Paul Patton that it seemed as though even some in the mayor’s cabinet didn’t seem aware that the hiring process was being streamlined. 

“The bottom line is, there’s a major disconnect,” Spencer said. 

Budget Terms to Know: Cleveland Department of Human Resources

Patton said at least one of the issues brought up at the budget hearing table has been resolved. But Patton said there is general confusion about hiring because some positions have civil service requirements or competitive examinations and the city also has classified and unclassified positions.

Housing code enforcement reforms on the way

In her opening presentation late Wednesday, Building and Housing Director Sally Martin O’Toole said the department plans to unveil “a lot of reforms” to the city’s code enforcement process before the end of the quarter. The slate of changes is expected to help Cleveland get a better handle on investor-owned properties. 

The department will also play a role in a new development strategy for the East Side that the Bibb administration plans to announce, she said. As part of the preparation for that strategy, Martin O’Toole and other city officials traveled to New York last week for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. 

Martin O’Toole said the department is also changing how it enforces city code. Rather than allow complaints to drive the process, the city plans to inspect properties and issue violations proactively. To get ready for that change, city workers are surveying property across Cleveland

The goal is to rank the condition of every property in town, score parcels based on their lead paint risk, and determine how many properties need to be demolished. Detailing staff to that survey has also slowed down complaint response time for the moment, Martin O’Toole acknowledged. 

The survey should be complete by early April, she said. 

Martin O’Toole also told council that the city had $21 million to demolish homes but that the city’s strategy had changed and that it was looking to fill housing gaps and move some of those properties into home ownership.

Economic development money hasn’t ‘moved the bar’ 

While discussing the proposed $1.9 million 2023 budget for the Department of Economic Development, Director Tessa Jackson told council members she had concerns about the city’s use of tax increment-financing (TIFs).

From 2017 to 2022, the department asked for approval of  about 20 TIFs – about four per year – Jackson said. Comparatively, the administration has brought four to council’s table in the last three months.

Jackson called TIFs complicated, and she said the impact of incentives the department has provided in the last 15 years – totaling about half a billion dollars touching four or five wards – has not had the impact on Clevelanders that it should.

“When you look at historic poverty rates, historic unemployment rates, that money really hasn’t moved the bar,” Jackson said. “You can’t spend half a billion dollars on economic development and not move the bar for anybody, for the people in this community.”

Jackson said the city is looking to rightsize the TIF and not give blanket 30-year agreements. 

About half of those TIF projects in recent years have been in maybe four or five city wards, she said. 

“There’s a huge disparity in how the department has deployed its resources and incentives,” Jackson said. 

Look up information on TIFs in Cuyahoga County.

Jackson also talked about how the department is busy reviewing different type of loans the city has on its books to make sure the promised jobs have been created and other agreements have been met. The city isn’t looking to go after small businesses, she said, but will be looking to collect from businesses that owe the millions.

Economic Development Director Tessa Jackson talks to Cleveland City Council members during budget hearings Wednesday.

What would your General Fund budget choices look like?

Refund Cleveland created a simplified view of the mayor’s General Fund budget proposal as a way for residents think about how they would set budget priorities. See what Mayor Justin Bibb’s budget priorities are, then decide how would you spend taxpayer money? Check it out here.

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.

Day 4: Council members heard from the municipal courts and its divisions, as well several other departments. In the morning, an audience protest disrupted housing court’s budget presentation demanding Judge Moná Scott, “Let Jeff Go!,” referring to a 60-year-old man Scott sent to jail for 90 days over housing violations. The protesters were removed from chambers and hearings proceeded. Council also heard from:

  • Office of Sustainability
  • Office of Urban Analytics
  • Office of Equal Opportunity
  • Department of Aging
  • Port Control

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Day 5: The departments of Law and Public Works presented their proposed budgets before City Council. Find a recap of that discussion here.

Signal Cleveland staff members Candice Wilder, Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Anastazia Vanisko contributed to this report.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.