A week of Bibb blowback
Though Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has been raising the city’s profile and his own with frequent out-of-town trips to friendly national conferences, he continues to have trouble on the City Hall homefront.
The latest example is a fight with some City Hall unions, which could lead to a possible strike by snowplow drivers this winter.
On Thursday, members of Teamsters Local 507, Laborers Union 860 and others inflated three giant rats next to City Hall to draw attention to a stalemate over contract negotiations representing about 400 city workers. Among those workers are waste collectors and snowplow drivers, who want a pay raise equal to what the city recently offered police and other safety workers.
In the past, administrations have offered the many city unions the same deal in what is referred to as pattern bargaining.
This year, the city is offering non-safety unions substantially less, Bobby Mendel of Laborers 860 said. Mendel added non-safety unions are equally “essential” and they are threatening to go on strike in January – around the time the city should get some big snow – if a deal isn’t reached by then.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who enjoys rock-star treatment among unions, is adding pressure. He sent a letter this week to Bibb, whom Brown endorsed in the mayor’s race last year.
“These front-line workers have been particularly hard hit during the recent pandemic and work to provide essential services,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Signal Cleveland. “I ask that you redouble your efforts to secure a settlement quickly that honors the dignity of work, and I encourage both parties to continue negotiations to avoid a strike.”
A Cleveland Public Power substation transformer that serves the Cargill salt mine under Lake Erie failed in the wee hours of Oct. 27, slowing the production of winter road salt, Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele reports.
The city utility, which has a long history of “failing” equipment, doesn’t have a spare transformer on hand, so it’s spending $265,000 on a new one. The city said the transformer “didn’t display any maintenance issue” that would have triggered its replacement, according to a memo about the incident.
Cargill Spokesman Daniel Sullivan told Signal Cleveland, “The failed transformer powered our production hoist, which lifts salt from the underground mine to the surface.”
The company is CPP’s largest private customer, paying $10.5 million in electric bills over the last 12 months.
As Bibb searches for a new Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO, he’s been speaking with students. On Thursday the mayor met with a group of students to share the results of his administration’s community listening tour on education and youth opportunities, Signal Cleveland’s Paul Rochford reports.
Bibb also met privately with 35 CMSD high school students last month to talk about violence prevention, a follow-up to a discussion at CMSD’s Oct. 6 Student Advisory Committee. Signal requested minutes from this private meeting, but they have not yet been provided.
But the elephant in the classroom remains Gordon’s pending departure.
Gordon surprised many last month when he announced he will step down at the end of this school year. Bibb fueled speculation he was eyeing a change of leadership when he did not mention Gordon in his March State of City speech and by not meeting with him as regularly as the previous mayor did. (Bibb’s predecessor gave Gordon high marks.)
Bibb and Gordon will be hanging out publicly on Dec. 9, when they headline a just-announced City Club of Cleveland forum titled “Passing the Baton: Leadership, Public Education and Cleveland’s Future.”
Falling on his rake
The Bibb’s administration riled up residents and Cleveland City Council on Tuesday when it announced it wouldn’t be vacuuming leaves from tree lawns this fall.
About a third of the city – the leafiest parts of town – enjoyed this service. All other residents had to bag leaves for pickup. That unfairness was the administration’s stated reason for curtailing the service, which would leave everyone bagging their leaves.
Ward 2’s Kevin Bishop immediately called for a hearing on the matter in the Municipal Services and Properties Committee, which he chairs.
“The timing could not have been worse, because all the leaves are on the ground,” Bishop told Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele.
But the Bibb administration reversed course Friday morning, announcing it would pick up leaves curbside and explore ways to expand the service across the city.
Council members are still complaining they received little notice of the changes. Bibb promised to be more transparent and to communicate better with council than his predecessor did.
Documenter Emma Sedlak noted at a recent Cleveland Board of Control meeting that Dr. David Margolius, the city’s health director, argued his department needs to extend a contract with a staffing agency to help fill several key positions, including a pharmacist and lab technician. You can learn more here.
Down ticket: Commercials from state and national candidates are dominating the airwaves. But local judicial candidates are all but invisible, which is why Judge4Yourself is a valuable tool. It’s a non-partisan group made up of a half dozen bar associations that rates judicial candidates.
Among the contests in play is one between incumbent Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Wanda C. Jones and former Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley. Jones, a Republican appointed last year to fill a vacant bench seat, received a better rating than Kelley, who lost his bid for mayor last November, from five of the six lawyer groups. Kelley has been campaigning non-stop and enjoys the backing of the Democratic Party, which has a healthy advantage in countywide elections.
Speaking of campaigning: Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s City Club of Cleveland appearance this week hit a sour note with local GOP officials. Many view her as a traitor for her vote to impeach ex-President Donald Trump and for her role investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. But one friendly Republican was there: State Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls.
The moderate-sounding conservative surprised many with his third-place finish in this year’s crowded primary, falling to author J.D. Vance and landing less than one percentage point behind former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Dolan told Signal Cleveland Cheney deserves support and should not be vilified.
“We have to recognize she is a conservative,” he said, noting his concern that blind loyalty to Trump will hurt the party in the long run. “I want Republicans to have a big tent.”
Dolan and Cheney disagree on who should be Ohio’s next U.S. Senator. Cheney backs Democrat Tim Ryan because she dislikes Vance for echoing the false claims that the 2020 presidential race was stolen. Dolan, who remains active in party politics, said he is supporting Vance.
Higher ed headaches: COVID-19 exacerbated already declining enrollments at Northeast Ohio colleges and universities. Recently released national data points out that at the undergraduate level the declines are continuing, albeit at a slower rate than in earlier points in the pandemic.
The reasons behind the enrollment roller coaster are complex and include a bustling job market, the state’s shifting demographics, and, for some, a changing attitude towards higher ed in general, reports Signal Cleveland’s Amy Morona, who wrote about this for Crain’s Cleveland Business and Open Campus last month.
Cleveland State University saw roughly a 5.5 percent enrollment decline this semester compared to a year ago, according to publicly available figures. Total overall enrollment dropped to 14,579 this fall, down from 15,434 in fall 2021. The hits were felt across the board at undergraduate, graduate and law schools. There are slightly fewer new first-year students this year, too.
Morona will be diving deeper into enrollment issues later this month for Signal Cleveland.