Cleveland Hopkins International Airport entrance
Starting Jan. 1, Cleveland will collect a 10% fee on the money made by companies offering peer-to-peer vehicle sharing services at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

New airport director landing soon

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport has been without a director for nearly 11 months. City Hall says a new director will likely be named next month. 

Former director Robert Kennedy, who gets credit for guiding the airport through the pandemic, increasing passenger traffic and helping craft a $2 billion makeover of Hopkins, announced his departure last April.

City Hall spokeswoman Marie Zickefoose said that the consulting firm Korn Ferry has been hired to find a new director and that several candidates working at similar-size airports have been interviewed. She said one internal candidate is in the mix. 

“We hope to make an offer to our preferred candidate in March,” she said. 

Throwing shade on popular tax break

Cleveland’s Director of Economic Development Tessa Jackson signaled during a budget hearing this week that it’s time to reassess the city’s use of tax increment-financing (TIF), an incentive that allows developers to redirect new property-tax revenues to paying off project-related debt. 

Jackson said the incentives provided in the last 15 years total about half a billion dollars and touch four or five wards, but tax breaks have fallen short of really changing Clevelanders’ lives. 

“When you look at historic poverty rates, historic unemployment rates, that money really hasn’t moved the bar,” Jackson said. “You can’t spend half a billion dollars on economic development and not move the bar for anybody, for the people in this community.”

You can read and see more from last week’s budget hearings on this special page managed by our Documenters team.  

Bossing the boss

Who is in charge of the Cuyahoga County sheriff? There’s general agreement that the county executive, who appoints the sheriff, is the ultimate boss. 

But County Council members still held a robust debate this week on the sheriff’s reporting structure. District 3 Council Member Martin Sweeney wants to add this clarifying language to county code: “The Sheriff shall report directly to the County Executive.” 

Voters approved a charter change in 2019 allowing council to fire the sheriff if eight of the 11 members vote to do so. Because of that charter change, county code should be revised to make clear whom the sheriff reports to, Sweeney argued. 

His proposal raised other questions from colleagues. Does the sheriff report to the person of the executive or to the office of the executive – in other words, could the executive put a cabinet member in charge of the sheriff? 

The debate at times approached Abbott-and-Costello territory. 

“My question to you: Does it specifically have to be to the county executive, or can it be to someone that the county executive deems he wants that [person] reporting to?” District 7 Council Member Yvonne Conwell asked. 

“I just need somebody to tell me who the sheriff reports to,” Sweeney replied. 

In District 11 Council Member Sunny Simon’s view, the proposal would amount to micromanaging the executive. 

While this all might seem like managerial semantics, the conversation danced around a bigger question: Should the sheriff become an independent, elected position again? 

Some council members are kicking around putting that question to voters in the future. 

Working on the road (yet again)

Mayor Justin Bibb was in Durham, N.C., this week, speaking to students at Duke University’s Polis: Center for Politics. 

In a fireside chat with Professor Deondra Rose, the mayor talked about his surprise 2021 election victory, the lessons he’s learned in office and his plans to spiff up Cleveland’s brand. 

Students asked him about heady topics like how to develop the city with an eye both to newcomers and longtime residents. 

A surprising number of people in the audience had Cleveland ties. That included one student from West Park with a question that was much closer to home – about a pothole in her neighborhood. 

“It gets my car every time,” she said, before moving on to another question. 

“Once you graduate, shoot me an email,” Bibb replied. “I’d love to have you come work at City Hall. You can help me fix that pothole.” 

Wages questioned

During a budget hearing this week, Cleveland City Council members expressed concern over the city’s heavy reliance on Snider-Blake Personnel, which recruits seasonal workers to cut vacant lots, dig graves, maintain city golf courses, patch roads and work as lifeguards at recreation centers. Members also asked city officials if these workers were being paid a living wage, which for a single person in Cleveland is $15.33 an hour.

City officials couldn’t immediately say what the workers are paid. But for perspective, Signal Cleveland reviewed Snider-Blake contracts from 2019-2022. These show the temp agency billed the city more than $15 an hour for filling some positions. After the firm’s cut, the workers themselves made a couple dollars less than that. 

Former CSU president back on campus

Former Cleveland State University President Harlan Sands is teaching at the institution’s law school this semester. Sands, who was suddenly ousted in April 2022 and quickly replaced by then-provost Laura Bloomberg, recently wrote about his return on his LinkedIn page

“After 22+ years of higher education administration, it’s great to be back in the classroom working directly with students,” Sands wrote in a post shared Feb. 20. “For starters, I am teaching professional responsibility/legal ethics to prospective lawyers – with a twist: a special focus on honesty and candor, and why setting a high bar for professional and personal ethics is the only pathway to a successful and rewarding legal career.”

This marks the first semester Sands is teaching since vacating CSU’s top spot. His presidential contract guaranteed him a lump sum of $928,200 – the equivalent of two years of his base salary of $464,100 – and a full-tenured teaching job that pays an annual salary of $348,000, according to a copy of his separation agreement. 

University officials tell Signal Cleveland the timing was coordinated between Sands and Lee Fisher, the dean of the law school.   

Clearing the field

Four years ago, Lakewood Mayor Meghan George won a narrow victory to claim the office once held by her late father, Tom George. 

Now, a bevy of West Side politicians is lining up to support her re-election bid. George is holding a fundraiser next month at Vosh, a swanky Lakewood bar and restaurant — and the invitation includes a guest list of well-known Democrats. 

Among those slated to attend are state Sen. Nickie Antonio, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne and Parma politicos Dean DePiero and Jeff Crossman.

It remains to be seen who will challenge George. The filing deadline is June 14.

College aid for opioid overdoses

Additional support for battling the opioid crisis will soon be available to the state’s public colleges. A new collaboration announced this week between three state agencies will allow colleges to have more access to Naloxone. The drug, also sold under the brand name Narcan, can be used to reduce opioid overdoses. 

Universities can get up to five cabinets filled with the drug to mount on walls in public spaces across campus via this voluntary program. These cabinets are similar to AED machines, state officials said. 

Officials at Kent State University, which enrolls the most students out of any institution in Northeast Ohio, said they’re reviewing this offering. The university’s police department currently has naloxone in cruisers. Its on-campus health center has naloxone for medical staff to administer.

At Cleveland State University, officials said the university’s police department and facilities team are reviewing locations across campus, including places such as resident halls and the library, to put these cabinets.

Courtroom storyteller passes

Defense attorney Angelo Lonardo has died. Known for having a personality as big as the high-profile cases he handled, Lonardo was among the most entertaining and well-prepared attorneys around. According to the obit published by his family, he was inspired to go to law school after his uncle, mobster Angelo “Big Ang” Lonardo, was indicted for aggravated murder. Attorney Lonardo died of a broken heart, two months after the passing of his wife, Darleen, his obituary says.

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.

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.

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.