Cleveland Browns talk community investments

Cleveland Browns stadium
Credit: Jeff Haynes/Signal Cleveland

As the Cleveland Browns and the City of Cleveland head into negotiations over the future of the city-owned football stadium, the team’s contributions to the community are getting more scrutiny. During Monday’s Finance, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee meeting, council members asked youth football league officials how much money the Browns contribute to the program. 

The answer: $20,000 annually. 

The amount, declared Council Members Brian Kazy and Michael Polensek, is “an embarrassment.” 

“If there was ever a time in the city’s history that we need to support youth-related programs, it’s today with what we see in the streets,” Polensek  said. “The Browns got to quit being skinflints, and they got to step up to the plate.”

The Browns have been stepping up to the field, helping pay for artificial turf at 14 Northeast Ohio schools or recreation centers, six of them in Cleveland, said Peter John-Baptiste, the organization’s chief communications officer. He said the team also recently purchased 340 football helmets for high school players and youth league players. He added that the team welcomes discussions about increasing its direct investment in youth programs.

West Side Market math

The push and pull between City Council and Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration over how much federal money to spend on the West Side Market continues to generate media attention – and headaches – at 601 Lakeside. 

On the council side of City Hall, there’s a feeling that all the noise has drowned out talk of the millions that council has already OK’d for the market. 

Since 2019, council has approved $10.5 million in work at the century-old building in Ohio City, including money for elevators and emergency repairs. 

But the Bibb administration says the market needs even more. During budget hearings this year, Jessica Trivisonno – the mayor’s point person for the market – put the number at $20.2 million. Since then, that figure has grown to north of $30 million. 

Council has balked at the idea of spending $15 million to $20 million in limited federal stimulus funds on the market, given their neighborhoods’ many other needs. 

A smaller number could be possible. This past week, Council President Blaine Griffin said he was open to pitching in $5 million to $10 million from American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

County jail settlement nears

Cuyahoga County is nearing the end of long-running settlement talks in a lawsuit over the county jail. 

In 2018, a team of attorneys brought the suit in federal court on behalf of a group of people detained. This came after a string of deaths and the release of a U.S. Marshals Service report describing jail conditions as “inhumane.” 

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the county to overhaul jail policies on such issues as staffing, mental health treatment and emergency response. The complaint also asks for the judge to appoint a monitor for the jail. 

Settlement talks made little news as they dragged on through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last year, a criminal justice expert gave the parties a detailed report on jail conditions and recommended improvements. The county isn’t releasing that report to the public, citing attorney-client privilege. Nor is it commenting on the ongoing case. 

But the end may now be in sight. Attorneys for the county recently told U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver that a settlement could go before Cuyahoga County Council for approval as soon as May 23. 

Still unknown is what ramifications the case will have for the jail under new County Executive Chris Ronayne. Last month, he announced that county officials were vetting a short list of sites for a new jail.

New kid on the Rubber City block

The presumptive next mayor of Akron is Shammas Malik, the 32-year-old first-term council member who won the Democratic primary this past week. 

The parallels to Cleveland’s Justin Bibb are easy to spot. Both are new, Millennial politicians who came out on top in crowded, low-turnout primaries. Both also defeated more experienced opponents who had the backing of the outgoing mayor. (Unlike Bibb, Malik has worked in the city government he will likely lead.) 

Although Bibb didn’t endorse in the Akron race, he and Malik have supporters in common – like Conservation Ohio, an environmental super PAC. (One of Bibb’s campaign consultants, Cleveland-based Burges and Burges Strategists, worked for second-place finisher Marco Sommerville, however.)

Bibb, who makes a point of networking with his fellow mayors, congratulated Malik on Twitter Tuesday night, writing, “Looking forward to moving Northeast Ohio forward and building a stronger region together.”

Take note

Documenter Janelle James has a lot more details about youth football participation and the league’s needs in her notes from the Finance, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which also backed funding for a boutique hotel.

This story was updated to clarify that the Browns refurbished 14 fields in Northeast Ohio. Six of them were in Cleveland.

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

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.