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Ken Silliman has had a behind-the-scenes view of some of the biggest and most expensive undertakings in recent Cleveland history. 

An attorney, Silliman worked for Mayor Mike White during the building of Browns stadium and the buildings then known as Gund Arena and Jacobs Field. He was Mayor Frank Jackson’s chief of staff during the 2010s political battles over paying for renovations at the pro sports facilities. 

Today he serves as chair of Gateway Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit entity that oversees the basketball arena and ballpark. 

Silliman tells Signal Cleveland he’s self-publishing a book about – what else? – the stadiums. The work comes in at about 330 pages and is expected to be out later this year, he said. 

It will be titled Cleveland Sports Facilities: A 35-Year History.

Speaking of Cleveland stadiums

Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The building's nonprofit landlord uses collections from a tax on alcohol and cigarettes known as the sin tax to pay for major repairs at the facility.
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The building’s nonprofit landlord uses collections from a tax on alcohol and cigarettes known as the sin tax to pay for major repairs at the facility. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Cuyahoga County’s alcohol and cigarette tax collections – which pay for repairs at the three major-league stadiums – have been coming in strong.

In fact, county data shows that the pandemic put no stop to our sinning. At almost $14.5 million, 2020’s collections are the best on record since voters extended the tax in 2014. And numbers for 2021 and 2022 are also above pre-COVID figures. 

But not all sins are the same. Cigarette collections are cooling, while liquor revenues are spilling over. 

The county will need every penny. Signal Cleveland reported this week that the Cavaliers are reaching the bottom of the glass of their sin tax allotment. 

The team is requesting $28 million in repairs to the publicly owned arena – repairs that Cuyahoga County (via Gateway) has historically paid with sin tax proceeds. The Cavs are also renovating the arena’s dressing and locker rooms – but at the team’s expense.

Come fly with me

Politicians across Ohio filed their annual ethics disclosures with the state this month. Among the information they have to cough up on ethics forms: travel expenses paid by outside organizations. 

Mayor Justin Bibb reported that four of the conferences he attended last year helped pay his way, for a total of about $4,490. That includes the Aspen Ideas Festival, which paid about $1,840. (Last year, Bibb shared a stage with the mayor of New Orleans at the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference in Miami Beach.)

Council President Blaine Griffin disclosed that City Council paid about $7,250 for travel to the National League of Cities. The conference is council’s marquee annual trip out of town, and many members attend.

And Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne reported about $7,230 in travel costs covered by the Cleveland Foundation. Last year, the Cleveland and Gund Foundations paid to send him to the COP 27 climate summit in Egypt

As it happens, Bibb, Griffin and Ronayne are traveling together this weekend. They flew the new Aer Lingus route to Ireland on what’s being billed as an “economic development mission.” Sláinte.

Care response advocates

Back in Cleveland, Bibb will pay a visit in early June to Magnolia Clubhouse to learn more about the organization, which serves people with mental illness. 

Magnolia Clubhouse hopes Bibb will follow through with plans to set up a care-response 911 option, which would dispatch social workers and EMS instead of police to people in a mental health crisis. 

Lori D’Angelo, executive director of Magnolia Clubhouse, said her main focus for the mayor’s visit is to have him understand the Clubhouse model and Magnolia’s leadership role in expanding the model across the state. 

The Clubhouse model is structured to end isolation and help people return to school or work. Members work alongside staff to operate the clubhouse.

In February 2021, more than 40% of adults in Ohio reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to data compiled by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio. 

National data shows one in four people with a serious mental illness have been arrested at some point in their life. About 40% of adults in jail have a history of mental illness. In the juvenile justice system, 70% of youth have a mental health condition.

Utility relief incoming

Cleveland City Council this past week approved $2 million in help for people behind on city water and electric bills. 

The city will offer debt forgiveness to Cleveland Water and Cleveland Public Power customers who are already on payment plans and whose unpaid bills date back no further than the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Now residents are hankering to know if they’ll be eligible for the aid. 

“I know your offices are getting the calls,” Public Utilities Director Martin Keane told council members recently. “I know our operation is getting the calls.”

Keane said he would have more to share this coming week about how the amnesty program will work.

Long road to regionalism

The idea of Northeast Ohio communities collaborating, sharing services and reducing sprawl has been around for decades. But some public officials and civic leaders are not ready to give up on it.

Some of them are holding a symposium on the topic June 1 at Cleveland State University. It’s part of Northeast Ohio’s largest regional planning effort, Vibrant NEO 2040, which has been around since 2010. 

The symposium features current and former suburban mayors and Cleveland officials, including Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne, former Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers and former Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison. 

Organizers are promising to offer a look at current economic and demographic trends and at progress toward regionalism.

Trump accuser’s lawyer has Cleveland roots

The lawyer who successfully made the case that former President Donald Trump is liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll is from Cleveland. 

Roberta Kaplan, also nationally recognized for successfully challenging a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) before the U.S. Supreme Court, is a 1984 graduate of Hawken School in Gates Mills. 

She is close friends with Hawken classmate Steven Dettelbach, who is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and current head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to Hawken’s website, Kaplan and Dettelbach used to commute to school every day in the back of a small Honda.

Take note

Documenter Janelle James flagged a public comment at the latest Cleveland City Council meeting from Gary Hanson, the interim president of University Circle Inc. (UCI). Council will be weighing whether to allow UCI to create a special improvement district to fund the neighborhood’s private police force. Read more on that proposal here.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, 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.

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.

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.