City budget hearings — better than NyQuil or your money back! —
are getting underway over at City Hall. And in an introductory session Tuesday morning, council members addressed Mayor Frank Jackson directly with some of the city's biggest challenges.
Though issues like building and housing code enforcement and vacancies in city staffing bubbled up to the surface, council members continually returned to questions about the DOJ report and ongoing negotiations therefrom
On that score, Jackson parroted earlier claims that the systemic failure in question lies in the criminal justice system at large, not within the Cleveland Division of Police. He said he refuses to make decisions to appease individual advocacy groups. Those solutions, he said, would be a "facade."
Anything less than "real, systemic, substantive, lasting" change, Jackson said, would be a failure. But his responses to council members' direct lines of inquiry felt like repeated dodges: He said that he won't be compelled to make 25-30 politically oriented decisions that he could
make (firing McGrath and Flask, say?) and instead would focus on 4-5 bigger root causes in the interest of widespread reform: education, economic equity, the criminal justice system.
Councilman Cummins wanted to know what role the community would play in consent decree negotiations.
Jackson responded, more or less, by saying that there were too many community groups with too many conflicting demands, that "everyone wants to be the one" involved. "I heard even the Plain Dealer
wants to help determine what the Consent Decree is," Jackson said. Once he and the DOJ have identified key groups, he said, then the community would know who would be involved, and presumably in what capacity.
Councilman Jeff Johnson, in remarks that served as the morning session's climax, took the Mayor's larger philosophy to task.
"It's not a facade," Johnson said. "It's not a 'gotchya moment.' It's not low-hanging fruit. I'm not trying to deceive anybody when I say that in city services, there is a service called the Police. And we need to do more. It's not a criminal justice problem. It's a city service problem, because they work for us.... It's not a panacea. It is living up to our responsibilities. We are failing to live up to our responsibilities."
Johnson took exception to those council members — his ire seemed zeroed in on Matt Zone — who continued to side with Jackson and his root cause red herrings
Jackson responded to Johnson with a few of his favorite talking points, suggesting that there were indeed areas where change must occur.
"I fully accept that there needs to be reform. There are some immediate things that need to be done and they will be done," Jackson said. "What I refuse to do... There are those who believe and promote the fact that just doing that, and then everything will be okay. That won't happen. This is the greatest opportunity to make change. I intend to not blow it. I will not create a pretense that all of a sudden everything is okay. Some of this stuff is going to be easy. Some of it's going to be difficult."