by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2017) Greater Cleveland Congregations has provided a much-needed moral voice challenging both Cleveland City Council and the Cuyahoga County Council to work with them to develop a fund to address the many needs of Clevelanders living in poverty. The group not only has given voice to the plight of the poor in Cleveland, but also seems to have the resources and resolve to follow up on its concerns.
Their advocacy is much needed. The needs of Cleveland’s citizens are great, and have not been addressed by political leaders with the urgency that they deserve. United States Census 2012 estimates, provided on the Case Western Reserve University’s Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (NEO CANDO) website, indicate that over 34% of Cleveland residents have income below the poverty rate. That amounts to an estimated 132,844 residents living in poverty. The poverty rate for Cleveland’s children is even worse, with over 50% of Cleveland’s children or 48,221 children living below the poverty level.
In its most recent battle, Greater Cleveland Congregations has joined with allies from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8, and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268. Together the groups collected 20,603 signatures calling for a public referendum on Ordinance 305-17 passed by Cleveland City Council on April 24th. The ordinance commits $88 million from the City of Cleveland to pay for expanding Quicken Loans arena to accommodate an enclosed area of bars and restaurants to allow for more pre-and-post event revenue for Cavalier’s ownership. In turn, the Cavaliers would commit to 7 more years in Cleveland from 2027 to 2034 and pay more rent for the larger facility.
By submitting more than the required number of signatures of Cleveland registered voters, Greater Cleveland Congregations and its allies would according to the City of Cleveland Charter require the Cleveland City Council to reconsider the legislation they passed that gives $88 million to expand the Quicken Loans Arena. If Cleveland City Council changes the legislation to the satisfaction of the petitioners, they can withdraw the petitions. (GCC would like to see a Community Benefits Fund created that would raise an equal amount of money to address the needs of the poor.) If not, Cleveland voters will have a chance to vote on accepting or repealing the legislation passed by Cleveland City Council.
On May 22nd, Greater Cleveland Congregations and their allies submitted the signatures to Cleveland City Council. Under the direction of Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, Deputy City Council Clerk Alan Dreyer refused to accept the petitions. The excuse was that accepting the petitions would violate a contract the city already entered.
In a letter to City of Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry, on behalf of a number of City of Cleveland taxpayers, lawyers Peter Pattakos and Sabodh Chandra refuted the City Council Clerk’s argument and called for the acceptance of the petitions by the City Council Clerk. The letter says, “Taxpayers request that the Clerk of Council accept the petition for referendum and certify it to Council for reconsideration, and if necessary, a vote of the electors of the City of Cleveland.”
Pattakos and Sabodh called for a response by June 7. If that response is not forthcoming, they promised to take the case to court noting the clear right of citizens to petition for referendum within 30 days of the passing of a new ordinance as spelled out in Cleveland’s City Charter.
Cleveland City Council should not only accept the petitions, but should also reconsider their ill-advised legislation. It is past time for Cleveland’s political leadership to show they are determined to make a concerted effort to tackle poverty in Cleveland and pay more attention to the needy rather than the greedy. Working with Greater Cleveland Congregations to create a Community Benefits Fund with dollars equivalent to the amount they are committing to the Quicken Loans Arena expansion would be an excellent start.