by Sam Allard
Despite ongoing questions about the future of East Cleveland — Is the fiscal emergency as calamitous as state auditor Dave Yost has claimed? Is a merger with the city of Cleveland on the horizon, or even on the table? — mayor Gary Norton’s annual state of the city address Saturday afternoon received almost zero media coverage. Scene attended as part of a larger East Cleveland project which will be published later this month.
To a packed auditorium at the East Cleveland Public Library on Euclid Avenue, Norton addressed the discord in city government which has stalled progress there for the past two years.
“Toxic political relationships have created unnecessary distractions,” Norton said. “Metaphorically, we suffered needlessly in a circular firing squad of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and then argued about who would drive us to the hospital for treatment.”
Norton trumpeted the work of his cabinet and their contributions in economic development and youth programming. Norton also highlighted East Cleveland’s progress in demolishing vacant properties and leveraging its location for profitable partnerships with University Circle institutions.
But despite his charisma, Norton couldn’t quite disguise or deflect a burbling anxiety.
Rancor between the mayor’s office and city council was quickly dismissed as water under the bridge — “some of those who accused me of theft in office are here today” — but the toxic relationships aren’t mended. They’re still poisoning the daily functioning of the city’s library and school boards.
And over at the seemingly always-troubled police department, Norton announced a shake-up - with a twist. "We laid off two police officers,” he said. “Everybody knows that. Channel 19 was happy to report it. But what you may not know is that we had a choice to lay off 10 police officers or to lay off two police officers. The reason why we only laid off two is because of a man named Ralph Spotts. The difference between those two numbers is if Ralph Spotts retired we could lay off only two. If he did not retire, we had to lay off 10.”
So, if you're keeping track, Spotts' salary was equivalent to that of 8 officers, at least by Norton's tally.
Beyond that, you didn’t get the impression that Norton and his staff were breaking their backs to fix East Cleveland’s problems, which — this cannot be overstressed — are extremely serious. Norton’s basic assertion that the ship was now righted, that bright new leaders were in place, that a merger would not be necessary, and that great economic advances were coming for his city in 2014, rang not only false but out-of-touch.