Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Finance Director Ahmed Abonamah listen to Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr during 2023 budget hearings.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Finance Director Ahmed Abonamah listen to Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr during 2023 budget hearings. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

Travel agents

Cleveland City Council wants to scrutinize the cost of Mayor Justin Bibb’s frequent trips to other cities. 

The administration slated $52,300 for mayor’s office travel expenses in this year’s budget proposal. Last year, the office spent $47,433 on travel, the budget says. That doesn’t include the cost to taxpayers of the mayor’s security detail, whose hotel rooms and airfare are paid for out of the police budget.

During hearings on the city budget this week, Ward 10 Council Member Anthony Hairston asked to see how much it cost to send police officers out of town with the mayor. He also asked for a breakdown of Bibb’s plans to spend money on professional services for neighborhood events.

Ward 1’s Joe Jones added to that, asking about the purposes of Bibb’s trips, for accountability’s sake. Still, Jones seemed to defend the general idea of public officials hitting the road to build relationships and bring home money.

“Our city is moving like a snail’s-pace turtle,” he said. “If we’re going to move fast and quick, we need to be able to make relationships, go where we need to travel, take care of the proposition of strengthening this city.” 

Bibb’s travel costs make up a tiny share of the $710 million General Fund. But the mayor has made a point of taking the city on tour. By Signal Cleveland’s count, Bibb went out of state for work more than a dozen times in 2022, often to Washington, D.C.

Education tour stop

The U.S. Department of Education is coming to Cleveland later this month to highlight its “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative, which focuses on raising academic performance, improving student well-being, and increasing multilingualism in schools.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon said recently in a live online message that the city is one of eight stops on the department’s nationwide tour. Gordon said Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten and her team will visit schools and talk to teachers, students and parents. Marten will also host a roundtable with Ohio education leaders  during her Cleveland visit. 

Gordon said Cleveland’s inclusion in the tour gives “validation for our kids and our educators of what they’re doing every day in our classrooms.”

Student journalism 

Cleveland high school students tried reporting on public meetings this week at the school district’s annual Student Media Day. 

At the conference, students also got the chance to hear from reporters and editors from The Marshall Project-Cleveland, Ideastream Public Media, WEWS, and other local media outlets. 

Signal Cleveland Editor Helen Maynard and Signal Cleveland Education Reporter Paul Rochford taught students how to document a public meeting and fact-check their notes. Some students signed up to become Cleveland Documenters, who are paid to cover public meetings and whose work is featured on signalcleveland.org

Budget BINGO 

Cleveland budget bingo card
Credit: Camille Renner | Signal Cleveland Credit: Camille Renner | Signal Cleveland

Despite the high stakes tied to Mayor Bibb’s $1.9 billion proposed budget, council hearings about it can be dry affairs, with day-long meetings and council members posturing. That’s why Cleveland Documenters have created Budget BINGO!, a fun way to track the serious and not-so-serious things that happen during budget hearings. Simply check off squares that correspond to what you see and hear. (Did the longest-serving council member, Mike Polensek, tell a story from “back in the day?” Did his colleague Joe Jones give out his phone number? Did someone ask a question that’s really a comment?)

But we also cover the more serious details, with a team of Documenters watching every minute and our Signal Cleveland reporters, led by Nick Castele, highlighting key discussions on police and other topics. You can find all things Cleveland budget here.

OSU alum donates congressional papers

Though former U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s political career was relatively short, it left waves. The former Ohio State University wide receiver voted to codify the Respect for Marriage Act and to impeach former President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The Republican from Rocky River, who served in congress from 2019 to 2023, has donated his official congressional papers to the university. The papers will be available beginning next year, according to a recent news release.  

“Drawing from experience in the classroom, on the gridiron and in the high-tech sector, Rep. Gonzalez made a significant mark as a policymaker in a short period of time,” Ohio State President Kristina Johnson said in the release. “His congressional papers will be an important and meaningful addition to the Ohio Public Policy Archives, and I greatly appreciate his decision to honor his alma mater in this fashion.”

There’s an old sheriff in town

 Former Cuyahoga County Interim Sheriff Steven Hammett, who resigned after eight months in the role, has a new job.  

Cuyahoga Community College announced this week that Hammett will lead the school’s police academy. Hammett’s more than 35-year career in law enforcement included time as the police chief of University Heights. Now he’ll oversee the education of a new generation of officers. 

Meanwhile, County Executive Chris Ronayne has named Joseph Greiner as the new interim sheriff. The county’s parade of appointed sheriffs has some asking whether the job should be returned to the voters, as the Marshall Project’s Mark Puente reports.

Hospital fires back 

MetroHealth System filed its response Friday to fired CEO Dr. Akram Boutros’ lawsuit that claimed the hospital board of trustees defamed him and wrongfully fired him in November.

Boutros claimed in the lawsuit – filed in December, the second of three he has lodged against the hospital – that in firing him the hospital cost him $8 million in lost compensation and severance and $20 million in harm to future job prospects. 

The hospital fired Boutros after learning he had received $1.9 million in unauthorized bonuses. Boutros, who has repaid the money, maintains that he had the authority to take the bonuses and that his dismissal was retaliation for complaints he was making about other hospital board actions. 

The hospital says in its latest filing that Boutros “engaged in fraud” and that the board never knew of the extra compensation, nor did he have the right to award it to himself. The hospital also rejected the claim that the board was retaliating against him. 

“Boutros never raised any such issues until after he was notified of concerns regarding his unauthorized compensation,” the response says. You can read the response 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 cleveland.com. 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.

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.

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.