Legal team grows

Fired MetroHealth System CEO Dr. Akram Boutros recently added some legal muscle to his team arguing that the hospital board breached its contract with him and defamed his character.

Court records show that James Wooley and Kevin Spellacy joined the case earlier this month. Each has a distinguished legal career, especially in criminal and white-collar cases. Wooley is a former federal prosecutor who spent years at the mega law firm Jones Day, where he worked in the corporate criminal investigations unit. Spellacy has handled many high-profile cases involving public officials and police officers.

Boutros was ousted in November after the board said he gave himself $1.9 million in unauthorized bonuses, which he has paid back. Boutros contends he had the authority. He has filed three lawsuits against the board since being fired, though one was recently dismissed.

Boutros has not been charged with any crime. Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber is investigating Boutros’ bonuses and the hospital’s related compensation system. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office has said it will review the auditor’s final report for potential criminal charges.

Going green

MetroHealth CEO Airica Steed, who took over the county hospital last December, plans to march in her first Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Friday. She’s joining the city’s largest annual celebration at the invitation of Cuyahoga County Council Member Martin J. Sweeney, who treats the parade every year as his Super Bowl and delivered two green parade sashes to Steed this week. Steed came from Chicago, which knows a thing or two about St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Building up

Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing emerged as one of the big winners from this year’s budget process.

The department, which enforces the city’s housing code, is at the forefront of Cleveland’s effort to contend with the rise in investor-owned rentals. 

Like other departments, Building and Housing saw some vacant positions laid on the chopping block as Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration tightened expenses to balance the budget. 

But the final budget deal between the administration and Cleveland City Council gave the department $600,000 more to spend on staff. 

Council members – who get an earful from constituents about dilapidated homes in their wards – asked for the increase. Behind the scenes, a coalition of housing advocates known as the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council, or VAPAC, also lobbied for more funding. 

In late February emails to the mayor and council members, VAPAC Chair Frank Ford wrote that he supported Bibb’s push for a more proactive department. But accomplishing that vision will take more money, he wrote. 

“The increase of investors is creating greater insecurity for renters,” Ford wrote. “Now more than ever there is an increased need to ramp up lead safety and rental inspections.”


The extra money is aimed at doing that, paying for housing inspectors, lead-paint code enforcement and the city’s rental registry, Finance Director Ahmed Abonamah told council.  

East side strategy

Mayor Justin Bibb, left, and special assistant Trevon Edwards walk from the mayor's car to a press conference on March 8, 2023.
Mayor Justin Bibb, left, and special assistant Trevon Edwards walk from the mayor’s car to a press conference on March 8, 2023. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

Mayor Bibb is hiring a senior strategist to guide the city’s investments on the southeast side of Cleveland. 

Bibb, who launched his campaign with a video set at his grandmother’s southeast side home, has put a special emphasis on this part of town as mayor. 

He has called for a “Marshall Plan” for the East Side – evoking the rebuilding of post-war Europe and setting expectations high for anyone applying for the strategist job.

According to the job posting, the senior strategist “will be the City’s lead on southeast side revitalization, coordinating a cross-functional team across the City and with external partners on strategy, planning, code enforcement, incentive development, site acquisition and preparation, marketing, business attraction, community engagement, and real estate development.”

Bibb has hired several senior strategists to coordinate City Hall’s efforts on specific topics such as the West Side Market or lead paint. Think of them as Cleveland’s version of czars in the federal government. 

The posting closes March 21. The salary range is $75,000 to $105,000 a year.

Spending McKenzie Scott money

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District recently unveiled a new landing page on its website soliciting proposals for how the district should spend the $20 million donation it received from billionaire philanthropist McKenzie Scott. 

The page spells out how to pitch ideas. In short, any student, family member or community member can propose ways to spend the money as long as they have a letter of support from a district employee. 

Schools Chief Eric Gordon said proposals will be vetted first by a group of teachers and administrators. But a group of high school students will make the final call. Keep an eye on the district’s website for updates on the money.

Go with the Flo

Lorain County Community College is expanding its “fast track” education programs to now include insurance training. 

The new offering is supported by two power players: Progressive and Erie Insurance. The program will help students find work in the insurance industry and “effectively deal with the public as customers,” the school said in a recent news release

Fast track programs are tuition-free courses that, once completed in one or two semesters, lead to an industry-recognized credential or can be stacked for an advanced degree. The hope, of course, is that it’ll eventually lead to a job, too.

TAKE NOTE

Documenter Karima McCree-Wilson flagged a number of noteworthy items discussed during a recent Cleveland Board of Control meeting. Among them: a contract to help maintain and repair the city’s 2,300 surveillance cameras. At the moment, 85 are down, 63 of them due to construction projects. Far fewer cameras are offline these days compared to the past, officials said. Also before the board was a plan to increase the cost of a police escort, which anyone can request for such things as a funeral. The new fee schedule is $52.69 per hour for a patrol officer. You can read the entire meeting notes 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.

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.

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.