New Cleveland City Council leadership addresses public safety, ARPA spending, and West Side Market

Cleveland City Hall
Council President Blaine Griffin, Majority Leader Kerry McCormack, and Majority Whip Jasmin Santana discussed their priorities on the "Sound of Ideas" Tuesday. [Annie Wu / Ideastream Public Media]

The morning after officially taking over as Cleveland City Council president, Blaine Griffin addressed the ongoing pandemic in Cleveland, policing and public safety, and spending the second half of American Rescue Plan Act funding coming the city’s way during an appearance on Ideastream Public Media’s the "Sound of Ideas" radio program.

An early test of the relationship between Griffin and Mayor Justin Bibb will be the selection of new commissioners for the independent Community Police Commission. The CPC now has power over police discipline and policies after voters passed Issue 24, the police oversight amendment. 

Griffin supported Bibb's opponent in the November mayoral race and opposed Issue 24. He notably chaired a Sept. 29 Safety Committee meeting where members of the Jackson administration and public opposing the measure far outnumbered the amendment’s supporters.

Issue 24 gives the mayor the authority to appoint 13 commissioners, with majority approval from council. Griffin said those commissioners will have a harder job than most people realize.

“That’s going to be the administration’s opportunity to really present to us a team of people who will be fair-minded, who will uphold police reform, but also not overreach and not be biased towards their opinion,” Griffin said

Griffin appointed longtime Councilman Mike Polensek to chair the safety committee, which is likely to consider the mayor’s appointments to the CPC.

In recent years, Polensek has pressed for the hiring of more officers, for more neighborhood police presence and improved working conditions.

The patrolmen’s union said prior to November’s election that Issue 24 would hurt morale and lead to a mass departure from the department.

The New Year's Eve death of off-duty Cleveland Police Officer Shane Bartek during an alleged attempted carjacking in the Kamm’s Corner neighborhood in Cleveland rallied city officials, including Bibb, around the department. Since the election, he has stressed the importance of supporting police officers and hasn’t commented publicly on the steps he’ll take to put Issue 24 in place.

In response to a question about recent carjackings in the Little Italy neighborhood on Cleveland’s East Side and the shooting death of Bartek, Griffin also stressed the need to improve officer morale.

“I know that people all want accountability. I want accountability. But we have to make our police force feel like they are supported,” Griffin said. “We need to restore that trust between the police and community. And I know a part of that is police reform. But a large part of that is also looking at compensation of police officers and looking at whether they have the tools in place.”

As of the end of November, auto thefts were up 13 percent compared to the same point in 2020 and 17 percent compared to 2019. The publicly available data doesn’t show how many were carjackings as opposed to other types of car theft.

Griffin said expanding the use of surveillance technology, especially drones, video cameras and the gunshot detection system ShotSpotter, along with improved monitoring of violent individuals by the city, probation officers and the courts could help bring down violent crime.

Spending the ARPA windfall

Council recently approved a proposal by former Mayor Frank Jackson to spend $4.5 million from the city’s ARPA windfall of $511 million for new cameras around the city.

Mayor Bibb will make his own proposal for spending the second half of ARPA funding, which is scheduled to come to the city later this year. He said little during the campaign or transition about his spending priorities.

Councilman Kerry McCormack, who spearheaded an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in council to come up with its own plan for ARPA spending, appeared with Griffin on Tuesday’s program.

The near West Side and Downtown Cleveland councilman, and now majority leader on council, said the city needs to use ARPA money to address the “lifeblood” issues in the city.

“In 10 years from now, we’re going to be able to look back and see that the income gap among our residents has shrunk,” McCormack said. “Childhood lead paint poisoning has decreased significantly. Folks are going to be able to invest in their homes and build wealth.”

McCormack pressed for $17 million to support the Cleveland Lead Safe Coalition; only $5 million was included in Jackson’s plan. He also called for larger investments in down payment assistance and home repairs.

Griffin said council will work with Bibb’s administration to create a plan for additional ARPA spending.

“So we’re in the process of actually putting that together, the money has not been spent,” Griffin said.

West Side Market

One of the new mayor's priorities is making improvements at the West Side Market. Bibb has already appointed Jessica Trivisonno, one of his transition leaders, to serve as his senior strategist on the market.

McCormack said changes are needed in the way the historic site is run.

“Bottom line is I believe we need to transfer the market away from city management to an independent management structure,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve seen tons of markets across the country where this is a best practice. So the city, therefore the citizens, own the building but an independent operator comes in and operates the market itself.”

The Jackson administration argued the city should remain in control of the market, but vendors there have publicly complained about poor conditions and few new initiatives to attract customers.

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