Another call for a MetroHealth investigation

We first reported last week that Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber had launched an investigation into former MetroHealth System CEO Dr. Akram Boutros’ bonuses after seeing media reports about the controversy. 

But Cuyahoga County Council also called on Faber to scrutinize the public hospital. In a Dec. 14 letter to Faber, Council President Pernel Jones Jr. – in consultation with other council members and incoming County Executive Chris Ronayne – asked Faber to investigate. He wants two things examined: the bonus program and the hospital’s spending of its annual $32 million subsidy  from the county health and human services levy. 

“I believe it is vital that we have an independent entity conducting this review to safeguard Cuyahoga County’s taxpayer dollars and ensure the long-term integrity of the MetroHealth System,” Jones wrote. 

Beating the spread

Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr wants council to receive a bigger share of Cleveland’s casino tax revenue. 

Currently, 85 percent of the city’s cut from JACK Cleveland taxes goes to the General Fund. The city’s 17 council members divide the remaining 15 percent to spend on special projects in their wards. In 2022 – a flush year for gambling revenue – that allotment came out to $116,682.35 per member.

Starr is proposing a 50-50 split. 

But don’t bet on Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration going along. What goes to the council members as discretionary spending means less money to cover General Fund needs, such as safety and other city services. The administration and council are expected to hash it out at an upcoming caucus meeting. 

It’s worth noting that the sports betting mania will not sweeten the pot for Cleveland. Cities can tax big winnings, but the taxes on sportsbook revenues go to education, not local government. Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele explained this in an earlier story here.

Expert panelist 

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb at the FutureLAND conference in October.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb sits on stage at Tower City Center at the FutureLAND conference in October. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

Mayor Justin Bibb was back in Washington, D.C., this week. He spoke at the Milken Institute’s 2023 Public Finance Forum, joining Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) on a panel moderated by Michael Milken, the junk-bond financier turned philanthropist and think tank founder, who served time in prison for securities fraud. 

Bibb said he wants Cleveland to become a better place to do business and to net  benefits from the new Intel plant being built near Columbus.

“I believe this is the era of the mid-sized city, from Detroit to Cleveland to Tulsa,” he said. “If we maximize this moment coming out of the pandemic, mid-sized cities, in my opinion, will write the next chapter of America’s economic growth story.”

Bibb told the panel audience that tackling gun violence was a major priority, saying he had just received a phone call alerting him to the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old student outside John Adams College & Career Academy

“We need a national campaign and a national moment in this country to address gun violence,” he said.

Revenue roadshow

Cleveland’s finance director, Ahmed Abonamah, also had a speaking role at the Milken Institute. 

There, he said Cleveland would try something new this coming budget season. The city will hold five community meetings around town beginning Feb. 1. Those gatherings will offer an “open forum” for residents to ask questions about the city’s finances, he said. 

Abonamah said colleagues are skeptical of the idea.

“But I think it’s a way that we can make the work that we do feel more tangible and help our residents understand the very real constraints in which we operate in a city that is every year kind of making ends meet,” he said.

Campaign hype

As Bibb continues to travel the country to burnish his image and Cleveland’s, his campaign is pumping up the new mayor to exaggerated levels in fundraising solicitations. Take this one, for instance, sent in early January, that seeks at least a $5 contribution: “Mayor Bibb worked tirelessly to enable accountability, transparency and collaboration …  worked to decrease the city’s violent crime levels … And he revitalized the East Side – an often overlooked neighborhood.” 

By comparison, the City Hall press office has been careful not to claim victory just yet on any of these issues, especially declaring that the East Side, or any part of town, has been revitalized.   

Family feud 

Just like Republicans in Washington and in Columbus, Cuyahoga County Republicans are fighting among themselves. Republican Lee Weingart, who lost his bid in November to become county executive, is trying to unseat county GOP Chair Lisa Stickan. 

Stickan, who knocked out longtime GOP Chair Rob Frost in 2020, has the job until spring 2024. But with enough signatures from party insiders, Weingart can trigger an election now. He’s been working the phones to rally support for his challenge. 

Some Republicans are complaining the party has underperformed in recent elections, losing a couple of the few seats it holds in the Democratic-dominated county. Some GOP members also want to see the party with more money in the bank. But Stickan still enjoys healthy support, especially among the party’s pro-Trump wing. Watch for more on the family fight in the coming week or so. 

Unhappy campers

Unionizing workers at a local REI store could play a pivotal role in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s effort to organize employees at the  chain’s more than 150 stores nationally, the union says.

Some employees at the REI outdoor gear store at Pinecrest, the mixed-use retail development in Orange Village, filed with the National Labor Relations Board Jan. 11 to hold an election. The union represents workers at an REI store in New York City. Having two stores in neighboring states could build momentum, said RWDSU spokesperson Chelsea Connor.

“There’s power in bargaining collectively within the same regional financial area for REI,” Connor told Signal Cleveland, adding that stores in New York and California  are currently bargaining with the company. For more on recent retail union organizing, check out stories by Olivera Perkins here


Documenter Nick Ventura flagged an interesting project discussed during a recent Cleveland Board of Control meeting. The city wants to hire a consultant to help it produce a citywide parks and recreation master plan, something that could lead to a needed makeover to  neighborhood landscapes. The city wants to hire the design firm Olin Partnership, which has done work here and across the country. You can find more details and the city resolution about hiring Olin 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.

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.

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.