Cuyahoga County prosecutor race picks up heat

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley pressed his case against his Democratic primary opponent at a community meeting Tuesday night. 

Standing between O’Malley and a third term is law professor Matthew Ahn, who has earned a couple of  mentions in this column and promises to bring a more progressive perspective to the county criminal justice system. 

At a gathering in Cleveland’s Ward 6, O’Malley zeroed in on Ahn’s criticism of discretionary juvenile bindovers, when prosecutors decide to charge minors as adults

The prosecutor cited two recent juvenile bindovers: a Strongsville 19-year-old sentenced to life in prison for killing two people, and a 15-year-old who received a 21-year sentence for a string of carjackings and a shooting.

Had they been tried as minors, they would have faced much shorter sentences, O’Malley said. 

“These are not easy decisions,” O’Malley said, “but I can tell you, I will work with low-level offenders. I will try to get people on the right track. But I am not going to stand for people terrorizing Easton Avenue. I am not going to stand with them terrorizing the Larchmere neighborhood. I am not going to let it happen, period.” 

Ahn had a chance to address residents next. He didn’t rebut O’Malley’s remarks directly but promised to “think big” about the job.

Credit: Mark Naymik/Signal Cleveland

“You’ve heard some claims about my record,” Ahn said, “but what I can tell you is that I am here to run for prosecutor because I believe we can target the crimes that harm our community, build an office in the people’s interest, work to break the cycle of trauma, and support rehabilitation through services.” 

Voters will choose between O’Malley and Ahn in the Democratic primary next March.

Faces behind utility bills

The stories of Cleveland-area families who face utility shutoffs got some attention recently at the Ohio Statehouse. 

State Sen. Kent Smith, a Democrat from Euclid, organized a briefing to talk about the introduction of a trio of utility-related bills, including one that would prevent gas and electric companies from turning off services to homes where small children, pregnant women, seniors and people with a medical disability or illness live. 

If Senate Bill 150 passes, utility companies would not be allowed to disconnect service for the inability to pay, but they would be able to put payment plans in place. The proposed bill doesn’t cover water services.

Genevieve Birkby, who manages Rainbow Connects – a program at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Ahuja Center for Women & Children that helps patients with non-medical needs such as diapers and clothing – talked about the tough choices mothers with small children face when it comes to keeping the heat and lights on.

Birkby described a single mother who called her last winter crying. She couldn’t keep up with her electric bill. She had been trying to apply for assistance, but the appointments were always full. The family’s electricity had been turned off the night before, and she and her two kids spent the evening huddled under blankets to stay warm. The mother was also pregnant. “I don’t want my kids to be cold,” she said.

Birkby said that call was just one example of the emotional and physical stress utility shutoffs cause. UH provided research in support of the bill about how the struggle to pay utilities affects infants’ weight and susceptibility to illness. 

Currently in Ohio, utility disconnections can be halted for 30 days at a time if a doctor signs a medical waiver.

There is a caveat for some Cleveland residents. If the bill does win approval, it would only apply to gas and electric utilities regulated by the state, not systems that are operated by municipalities, such as Cleveland Public Power.

Cuyahoga County executive holsters support for gun range

Cuyahoga County this week signed off on $10,800 to train gun range safety officers at the Parma Armory Shooting Center. 

But that may be the last time the armory sees county aid.  

The grant is part of the county’s SkillUp program, which reimburses small businesses for the cost of training their workers. A year ago, the armory trained nine safety officers and bumped their pay from $14.22 to $15.22 an hour, according to the county Board of Control agenda.  

Including this latest payment, the armory has received $38,266.20 in county SkillUp money. 

Katie Gallagher, a deputy chief of staff to Democratic County Executive Chris Ronayne, indicated the administration would grandfather this latest payment in, since it was already promised to the armory. But the county isn’t interested in subsidizing gun ranges in the future.   

“This is not something, typically, the executive would have approved of,” Gallagher told the Board of Control. 

Small CSU student enrollment uptick

Cleveland State University reports its fall 2023 enrollment headcount is running above projections. That’s according to materials from a recent board meeting.  

The university projected 13,838 students would be hitting the books this fall, but 14,118 enrolled, about a 2% bump. Much of the growth came from the university’s global programs, its graduate programs and similar offerings. 

But the numbers didn’t provide all good news. The university expected 1,628 new traditional first-year undergrads to head to campus, yet only 1,455 enrolled as of the beginning of this month — a nearly 11% hit in that demographic.

Take note

Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Neighborhood Pets CLE, a Slavic Village resource center that offers free or low-cost pet supplies to financially strapped residents, got some love during a recent Cuyahoga County Council meeting, Documenter Joanna Tomassoni notes. Two council members praised the resource center for offering more than pet care. You can find the details and more about the other agenda items here.

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.

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.

Higher Education Reporter (she/her)
Amy, who’s worked in both local and national newsrooms for nearly a decade, previously covered higher education at Crain's Cleveland Business in partnership with the national nonprofit news organization Open Campus. A first-generation college graduate, Amy is committed to highlighting the voices of students in her coverage.