West Side Market pressure cooking

West Side Market under construction.
Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

Council President Blaine Griffin went on a media tour this week to tell his side of the West Side Market story – and to do some negotiating in public. 

That tour included an op-ed for the Sunday Plain Dealer, an appearance on the Outlaws Radio Show podcast and an interview with Signal Cleveland. 

Vendors, the Bibb administration and the Plain Dealer editorial board are putting pressure on council to approve $15 million in federal stimulus money for the Ohio City anchor. 

Griffin reiterated that council could back a smaller number of $5 million to $10 million. He said he and his colleagues want to see more American Rescue Plan Act dollars going to housing instead, especially to overlooked working-class “middle neighborhoods.” 

He expressed frustration that council was being pushed to roll over. (The PD editorial board would later call on Griffin to “silence divisions” in his caucus and end the “shortsighted politicking” over the market.)

“For years, people have said that council is a rubber stamp,” Griffin told Signal Cleveland, referring to his predecessor council presidents under Mayor Frank Jackson. “Now council’s doing our job. We’re asking hard questions. We’re making tough decisions…. Now people are telling us how dare we ask any questions.” 

A higher number on the market is possible – if the administration finds a different funding source or pulls back on other ARPA requests, the council president said. What kind of ARPA requests could the mayor pull back? Well, several Bibb education proposals – including contracts for ed-tech companies – have stalled after receiving a cool reception from council.

As for how to bring council members along on big expenses like the market, Griffin suggested that herding the 17 cats of council requires some give-and-take. 

“The one thing you learn in this business is how to count,” Griffin said. “So if they don’t feel like their neighborhood is being taken care of, they’re not going to come and try to plant seeds in some of the big-ticket items.” 

Although some of the mayor’s ARPA proposals have run aground – think participatory budgeting – Bibb’s team must see the West Side Market as a political winner. The mayor made the market the subject of a recent “chip in $5” campaign fundraising email. 

But the market dustup aside, Griffin downplayed tension with the administration. He said there’s been broad agreement on other ARPA items, such as money for waterfront development. 

“This ain’t about Blaine versus Justin,” Griffin said. “This is not about the mayor versus the council president. It’s not about administration versus council. I don’t see it that way. I know that that’s what sells newspapers and that’s what a lot of people like to see. I see it as me strictly just doing my job.”

Sizing up the stadium (again)

Cleveland is seeking an engineering firm to compile a new list of capital repairs at the city-owned Browns stadium. 

Under its lease with the NFL team, the city draws up a maintenance to-do list every five years. The 2018 study identified more than $35 million in needed repairs at the facility over the next decade.  

This new study comes as the Bibb administration and the Haslam ownership group consider a new lease – and renovations at the 24-year-old stadium. 

Health clinic silence continues

A federally funded network of health clinics that provides medical care and other services to residents throughout Cleveland doesn’t want to share much information about its operations with Signal Cleveland.

For weeks, the Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NEON) has ignored multiple detailed messages – and an in-person visit – seeking its tax return and a list of current board members, as well as answers to a list of questions.

NEON, which has not said much about its well-documented financial and management trouble, is celebrating a sad anniversary this month. It’s been two years since its anchor medical center in Hough burned down. It remains shuttered with no signs of progress.

In an interview this week with News 5 Cleveland, NEON CEO Willie Austin claimed he’s still negotiating with the insurance company and that the clinic could reopen within a year, though many questions were left unanswered about the delay and about its operations.

Among them is why NEON has not earned the trust of the City of Cleveland, which is sitting on $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act that was set aside for NEON by Cleveland City Council during Mayor Frank Jackson’s final year in office.

For perspective on the need for primary care options in the city, Cleveland Public Health Director Dr. David Margolius offered this comment: “We have a major shortage of primary care clinicians in our community (and across the country). Clevelanders who have called our healthcare systems or health centers in the last few months know it can be challenging to get a new patient appointment.”

Sweating for students

Mayor Bibb and Eric Gordon step off a porch in Woodland Hills.
Outgoing schools CEO Eric Gordon and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb go door-to-door to promote the district’s and the city’s summer education programs. Credit: Paul Rochford/Signal Cleveland

Mayor Bibb and outgoing Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon launched a campaign this week to promote both the district’s summer learning offerings and summer programs for kids and families at city recreation centers.

Bibb said families don’t realize the programs, which include arts and academic classes, even exist. That’s why he and Gordon went door-knocking Thursday in the city’s Woodland Hills neighborhood, the first of four planned canvases in the coming weeks.

The walk in the warm temperatures left the public officials a bit sweaty. It also exposed the challenge of reaching parents. Some residents were not home or ignored the friendly visit. 

The district is trying to reach families with billboards, mailers and a robust social media presence. It also offers an online sign up with information on transportation and special education options.

But the city’s plan to connect with families and students earns a lower grade.

Sonya Pryor-Jones, Cleveland’s chief of Youth and Family Success, told Signal Cleveland that City Hall plans to promote the program on social media and provide information on the city’s website. Yet, so far, there are no posts on the matter on the city’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram pages, and residents might need an advanced degree in computer science to find information on the city’s website, which offers no direct links to recreation center programming on its main page. Even the registration page for the new summer activities is difficult to navigate. Furthermore, there is no comprehensive list online showing the roster of programs offered at specific centers, and the list of recreation centers and pools doesn’t accurately reflect which centers are open.

Bibb has long said the city needs a new website, and City Hall plans to unveil one on June 14.

Take note

Documenter Giorgiana Lascu covered the latest Cleveland City Council Health, Human Services and the Arts Committee, during which members discussed racism as a public health crisis. You can find her Tweets from the meeting here and visit Documenters here for more information on the committee. 

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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.

Nick Castele, Government Reporter

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year 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.

Paul Rochford, K-12 Education Reporter

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covers K-12 education. Paul joins 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.