The deliberations over Cleveland’s $20 million broadband contract with DigitalC have been sidetracked by a back-and-forth over a 2022 conference in Miami Beach.
At a committee hearing this month, Ward 13’s Kris Harsh asked DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds if he had attended a digital inclusion summit with Mayor Justin Bibb last year. Harsh was referring to the Smart City Expo, a municipal tech conference that featured Bibb as a panelist.
Edmonds said he had wanted to go but skipped it because he was sick. At the time of the September 2022 event, he was working for the City of Detroit but soon after was named DigitalC’s new leader.
Harsh followed up by asking whether Edmonds had known in advance that DigitalC would win the broadband contract when he took the job as CEO. Edmonds said he had not.
Bibb’s chief of staff, Bradford Davy, took umbrage at the line of questioning, viewing it as making a flimsy suggestion of impropriety. He let council know in an email.
It turns out that Edmonds did attend the Smart City Expo in Miami Beach. He sent a letter to council last week saying that he had confused the trip with a different Miami speaking engagement that he had canceled.
“I had a full schedule that I failed to recall at the moment of questioning,” he wrote. “I apologize for this error and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.”
Edmonds told Signal Cleveland that he didn’t cross paths with Bibb at the expo.
This may all turn out to be a tempest in a Miami cafecito cup. But the episode underscores the fact that some on council aren’t keen on the deal.
Council members are concerned that the nonprofit won’t be able to deliver on its big promises. Harsh said the size of the contract – $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars – necessitated the scrutiny.
“It’s something that we need to be diligent about, absolutely,” Harsh told Signal Cleveland.
Edmonds said he plans to meet one on one with council members to assuage their concerns. Plus, DigitalC is planning a public meeting in late June to drive home the message that the nonprofit has other partners and vendors on board, he said.
“We need to make it very clear that there’s an army of people who have a committed legacy of execution who are also standing and locking arms with us,” Edmonds said.