Cleveland City Hall sits at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue and East Sixth Street.
Cleveland City Council announced Monday that $33 million worth of medical debt held by 16,000 Cleveland residents was canceled by RIP Medical Debt, the national nonprofit that buys patients’ debt from hospitals at a steep discount. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

It’s rare to find the mayor, council and unions all on the same side. But they are working together in their opposition to the People’s Budget Cleveland (PB CLE), which recently secured enough petition signatures to put a city charter amendment before voters this November to allow citizens to dictate how the city spends 2% of its annual budget. Right now, that would come to about $14 million. 

Union leaders have been rushing to City Hall faster than consultants after an administration change. They are talking about how to coordinate a campaign against the proposal, which political experts say enjoys wide support at the moment. 

Among those speaking on the record against the proposal is Cleveland paramedic Timothy Sommerfelt, secretary of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, which is the union representing EMS workers. 

Sommerfelt told Signal Cleveland he supported an earlier idea of letting residents direct how the city spends a portion of federal COVID relief money. But he doesn’t support letting citizens oversee budget dollars every year. 

“I think it shocked everybody when the coalition came out with the ballot language and it suddenly went to 2% of the budget, which meant $14 or $15 million,” he said. “We’re sympathetic to people wanting to be more involved in government, but what are we supposed to tell people who call 911, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have an ambulance to send for you because we’re giving the money to an experiment in democracy.’” 

He said redirecting that much money would impact the EMS department one way or another. 

“Are you going to sacrifice money needed to staff the ambulances or are you going to sacrifice the physical vehicle they drive in?” he said. 

PB CLE organizer Molly Martin has told Signal Cleveland that such arguments are “scare tactics to dissuade residents from having real power to make real decisions about how public money gets spent.” You can read a full story about the issue 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.