Ballot Measures To Reduce Pay And Size Of Cleveland City Council Shelved

Cleveland City Hall
Instead of backing a ballot measure to reduce the salaries for and number of Cleveland City Council members, Clevelanders First and the Cleveland Clergy Coalition want a university to study the matter. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]

The group aiming to reduce the size and pay of Cleveland City Council will remove those two measures from the March ballot and will instead support a study from an accredited university that will make recommendations about the 17-member body.

Clevelanders First and the Cleveland Clergy Coalition brokered the deal that some on council support, but on which City Council President Kevin Kelley describes his stance as indifferent. 

"I had no objection to people doing a study, but I'm not going to commit to be bound by a study that I don't know who's doing it, I don't know what the scope is," Kelley said. "That would not be reasonable.

"If they choose to do it, I'll certainly look at the results. I will certainly consider what's a part of it as I would with any piece of academic research that deals with the city of Cleveland," Kelly said.

Those who were concerned the ballot measure would do more harm than good were happy a deal was reached.

"[The ballot initiatives] would cause harm to our city in terms of East and West, black and white and we did not want that," Rev. E.T. Caviness said. "So it's in the best interest of the citizens of Cleveland, Ohio. It's in the best interest of those who are left behind, left out and those who really need our assistance."

Kelly may be indifferent to the study, but he has been vocal in his opposition to the ballot measure and one of the groups backing it.

"This issue would have been very divisive to the community and I think it would have put Cleveland in a worse place," Kelley said Friday. "We have other more important issues that we should be focused on."

Westlake businessman Tony George funded the campaign to cut council's size from 17 to nine and reduce members’ pay by $25,000 to $58,000 per year.

"Let's remember over 22,000 people signed the petitions for these ballot issues and they deserve to be respected and heard now on the issue of city council reform and city government reform," George said.

"We need to bypass the leadership, do the study and present it to the people and let's see what the people say," George said. "It's going to be a lot different when you present the study and it's a reasonable study done scientifically."

George furthered his frustration with city leadership with what he described as two Clevelands.

"You got Little Italy, then you got Tremont, Ohio City, Playhouse Square, Kamm's Corner, Detroit Shoreway and in between, no disrespect because it's not the council people's faults, it's the leadership and the mayor's fault, you've got Afghanistan and Iraq," George said. "It's unsafe."

Kelley said George took the press conference as an opportunity to, in Kelley's words, trash Cleveland and its leadership.

"He called many neighborhoods, I guess including mine, Afghanistan," Kelley said. "It's unfortunate that, you know, we should all just be pleased that we're coming to some resolution and we're resolving what would have been a very divisive issue and we need to just move forward. But he just, he chose a different path and everybody's different."

Kelley also pushed back against blaming city leadership for the opinion that two Cleveland's exist.

"If you were to actually look at where the city of Cleveland invests it resources, it is very equitable," Kelley said. "Now, is private investment equitable? That's a much different conversation."

In 2008, voters in Cleveland passed a charter amendment tying the size of council to the population determined in the census, calling for one representative per approximately 25,000 people. Under that charter amendment, city council shrank from 21 to 17 members in the last 11 years. Another reduction, based on the 2020 Census, could come as early as 2021.

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