Supporters of a participatory budgeting charter amendment launch their campaign at Cleveland's Public Square.
Supporters of a participatory budgeting charter amendment launch their campaign at Cleveland's Public Square. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

Supporters and foes of Cleveland’s participatory budgeting amendment will wage dueling campaigns after an eleventh-hour compromise attempt hit a dead end Wednesday. 

The People’s Budget campaign and Council President Blaine Griffin this week considered an idea to swap the charter amendment for a compromise proposal, representatives from both sides said.

The campaign for the amendment accused council of being unwilling to negotiate. Council spokesperson Darryle Torbert said the issue was timing: There wasn’t enough time to hash out a new plan before a Friday deadline to finalize charter amendments for the November ballot, he said.

Griffin “was doing this in good faith,” Torbert said of the talks. 

“PB CLE welcomed dialogue and collaboration with City Council and the administration,” campaign leader Molly Martin said in an emailed statement. “PB CLE felt it was important to pursue a collaborative approach with council as the issue heads to the ballot in November. We are confident that the existing charter amendment going before voters is one the city can plan for.

Ward 12 Council Member Rebecca Maurer acted as a go-between for the two parties. She told Signal Cleveland that council and the campaign considered a smaller dollar amount that didn’t tap into the city’s general fund.

The collapse of compromise talks ensures that voters in November will decide on whether to change the way Cleveland spends its money. The People’s Budget amendment would set aside 2% of the city’s general operating budget, or about $14 million, to be distributed based on a neighborhood voting system. 

Backers of the amendment say it will give Clevelanders more hands-on control of their government by letting them weigh in directly on city spending. 

Although Mayor Justin Bibb has taken a stance against the amendment, Griffin is expected to lead the campaign to defeat it. Council members have argued the measure takes spending power out of their hands and siphons money from other priorities. 

Several Cleveland labor groups also oppose the amendment. On Wednesday, police and fire unions came out against the measure, joining the building trades and North Shore Federation of Labor. 

Bibb and a few council members supported an earlier proposal to spend $5.5 million in federal stimulus dollars trying out the idea of participatory budgeting. But that idea died in committee, and supporters chose to gather signatures for a ballot issue.

Maurer, a first-term council member who backed the original stimulus-dollar idea, said Wednesday evening that she opposed the charter amendment on November’s ballot. 

The amendment diverts too much money from Cleveland’s tight budget and doesn’t include enough safeguards if city finances go south, Maurer wrote in a statement outlining her position

“I am ultimately frustrated that this conversation has gotten so entrenched on both sides,” Maurer wrote. “As we fight over the specifics of this charter amendment, we lose the bigger conversation about the endless money the City seems to find for new stadiums or tax breaks for big-time developers downtown. Fundamentally, I want to challenge both my colleagues on Council and the Mayor’s administration to find real ways to increase public participation in our city’s budget.”

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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.