Cleveland wage increase

Some Cleveland employees — though it’s not clear how many — will get a pay bump as of Oct. 1 thanks to legislation City Council pushed through during its second marathon meeting this summer.

Council amended the city’s “Fair Employment Wage” law to set the required rate at $15.33 an hour and include yearly adjustments to keep pace with inflation.

Nearly all city employees are paid at least $15 an hour, a change that fulfilled a pledge former Mayor Frank Jackson made during his final run for the city’s top job. The city adjusted pay for some trainees and interns earlier this year in the spirit of that promise.

But Cleveland’s law, which also applies to people hired by city contractors, had been stuck at $10 an hour since 2006, when it was frozen during an economic downturn. The state minimum hourly wage has since exceeded that and is now $10.10.

Ward 17 Council Member Charles Slife, who during this year’s budget hearings questioned the low wages paid to temporary and seasonal workers, and Ward 11 Council Member Danny Kelly spearheaded the legislation. (Also, Guardians for Fair Work began pushing for a wage fix in January.)

In recent years, Cleveland paid at least  $17 million to contractors to clean up city lots, fill potholes and dig graves in a city cemetery. Some of those workers made as little as $13 an hour. The city said the contract for those workers extends through April 2024 and they wouldn’t get a pay bump until new ones are inked.

In the past, wage issues were addressed by the city’s seven-member Fair Employment Wage Board, but it has no members and hasn’t met in recent years. The city hopes to appoint a new board by September, a city spokesperson said. The candidates could be vetted at the next meeting of the Mayor’s Appointments Committee. That meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.

World record holder seeks office

Matthew Ahn, a former public defender and visiting law professor at Cleveland State University, officially launched his campaign for Cuyahoga County prosecutor last week. His kickoff didn’t earn much notice because this Democratic Party activist has been running for a while, attending community events, raising money and snagging some early media attention. Also, he gets ignored because he’s a longshot to unseat incumbent Michael O’Malley in next year’s race, so some Democrats see Ahn’s bid as a vanity run. 

But a couple of things about Ahn deserve attention. He raised $113,000 for his campaign through the first half of this year and also spent more than half of that, according to the most recent campaign finance report. He tapped supporters in Ohio, California, New York and Washington, D.C. Ahn said in an email his updated fundraising total is $182,000. (O’Malley raised $80,000 and has $194,000 on hand, according to his latest report.)

Ahn also produced a two-minute social media ad about himself that refreshingly ignores the tropes of many biographical spots that focus on patriotism and tough-on-crime rhetoric. Ahn leans into his youthfulness and light-hearted personal pursuits. He foreshadows his interest in policy discussions around bail reform and other criminal justice reform. He told Signal Cleveland he’ll release substantial policy papers in coming weeks. 

As of today, Ahn has O’Malley beat in one regard. In 2016, Ahn set the Guiness World Record for achieving the fastest time to travel to all of New York City’s 469 subway stops (21 hours, 28 minutes and change), which earned him a profile in the New York Times. 

City clerk endorsement

Cleveland Clerk of Courts Earle Turner supporters march in Cleveland's 2022 Labor Day parade.
Cleveland Clerk of Courts Earle Turner supporters march in Cleveland’s 2022 Labor Day parade. Credit: Mark Naymik / Signal Cleveland Credit: Mark Naymik/Signal Cleveland

Longtime Cleveland Municipal Court Clerk Earle B. Turner, who has two challengers in the November election, has snagged the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party endorsement, which almost ensures him an easy re-election. He won it narrowly, beating out Cleveland Council Member Brian Kazy, who did not get wide support from council colleagues (even though many grumble privately that Turner has overstayed his welcome. Turner has been clerk since 1996.)

Former Cleveland City Council President Martin J. Sweeney, who is also running for clerk and is currently a Cuyahoga Council member, pushed the party to remain neutral in the race.

Turner’s office has been sending Cleveland residents robo calls about its services, which always get more notice during election time.

Kazy has been campaigning more actively than Sweeney. Kazy also insists he’s cut no deal, dismissing the conspiracy theory that he or Sweeney is a straw candidate secretly working with the incumbent to thin the anti-incumbent vote.

City public records response tested

In its latest audit of the city’s books, the Ohio auditor’s office dinged the City of Cleveland for a few slow public records responses.

Auditors tested 17 public records requests, finding three “where the response was not made in a reasonable time frame,” Auditor Keith Faber wrote to city officials in a June letter. It took the city 10 months to fulfill one of those requests, the letter says. 

City Hall spokesperson Tyler Sinclair wrote to Signal Cleveland that the city handles tens of thousands of records requests per year. It turns around simple requests in an average of six days — faster than the federal government, he wrote. 

“It’s pretty evident, through these numbers, how hard our team works to ensure compliance — something that is not depicted in an audit that looked at merely 17 requests out of more than 31,000,” Sinclair wrote. 

As it happens, this month Cleveland City Hall posted a job opening to fill a vacancy on the public records team.

Faber’s letter also noted some security issues in IT and errors in how the city tracks federal grant costs — all relatively minor. Overall, the audit found no serious problems with Cleveland’s finances. 

The city produced a balanced budget this year and saw Fitch upgrade its bond rating, thanks to federal stimulus and sizable reserve funds.

Issue 1 winner

One thing lost in all the analysis about the big defeat of Issue 1, the ballot initiative that would have made it harder to change the Ohio Constitution, was the work of Ohio’s boards of elections. These key institutions, which have to keep track of voters, recruit poll workers and stay atop of directives from sometimes manic state officials, managed a smooth August election that generated a healthier-than-expected turnout.

Case in point: Cuyahoga County’s Board of Elections pulled out all the stops — or, rather, binder clips — to ensure voters knew where to park in its cramped lot, as you can see from this picture.

It’s worth noting that the board is looking for a new location with more space. 

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.

Community and Special Projects Editor (she/her)
Rachel leads our special projects work on topics that demand deeper coverage, and works with Cleveland Documenters and Signal staff to report those stories for wider understanding and accountability. She is our liaison with the Marshall Project in Cleveland where she focuses on including residents' voices in criminal justice reporting. Rachel has reported in Cleveland for more than two decades on stories that have changed laws, policies, hearts and minds. She was part of the team that helped launch Cleveland Documenters in 2020, and she was a John S. Knight Community Impact Fellow in 2021. Dissell is a two-time winner of the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for narrative stories about teen dating violence and systemic failures with rape investigations.