Ballsy East Cleveland Merger Proposal is "Non-Starter": UPDATE


One of our favorite East Cleveland memories: William Fambrough confronts the board, with police in tow, in January, 2015.
  • One of our favorite East Cleveland memories: William Fambrough confronts the board, with police in tow, in January, 2015.
East Cleveland City Council met last night and ultimately decided not to approve the memorandum in support of a merger with the city of Cleveland. Much discussion took place — including concerns that the memorandum (detailed below) was being interpreted by local news outlets as a list of demands. 

Council still intends to move forward down the path toward a merger.

Council President Tom Wheeler told outgoing WEWS reporter Homa Bash that they’ve never merged with another city before, so it’ll be a little touch-and-go for a while here.

The public will be gathering at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at East Cleveland Public Library to hash out further conversation on these points and many more.

Originally published Aug. 25

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley has rejected a merger ordinance presented last week by East Cleveland's annexation commission. The ordinance included a list of merger conditions so extreme that Kelley rejected the proposal out of hand, gently calling it a "non-starter." 

[Correction: The ordinance was drafted by East Cleveland's City Council, not by the three annexation commissioners. The annexation commission was created in the same ordinance that included the merger conditions, attached as a Memorandum of Understanding, elaborated below.] 

“I am committed to continue discussing ways toward a possible merger with East Cleveland,” Kelley said, in a statement. “But any movement must be fair and feasible to both cities."

In its current iteration, the proposed ordinance is not. A Cleveland city council spokesperson confirmed that Kelley will not be presenting the ordinance to city council; and, accordingly, council will not be appointing three of its own representatives to the annexation commission.

The merger has, therefore, effectively stalled out. Until East Cleveland presents a more reasonable proposal, or until, improbably, 25 percent of Cleveland voters petition to force Cleveland city council's hand, discussions won't be moving forward.      

Perhaps East Cleveland's strategy was akin to open-air-market haggling, kicking off negotiations with ludicrous demands, hoping to arrive somewhere in the middle. If so, Kelley (as vendor) has called their bluff.

What East Cleveland proposed doesn't even resemble a merger. They'd like to to remain a "semi-autonomous" ward within the city of Cleveland, retaining its name, its red light traffic cameras (which Cleveland voted down in 2014), and its city council. The proposal calls for current East Cleveland city council members to keep their salaries while managing a new all-powerful community development corporation, which would have rights to every publicly owned parcel in the ward. They would also like to absorb parts of University Circle, thank you very much! 

The list is frankly outrageous. It requests a one percent annual income tax credit for all East Cleveland residents (or 1.5 percent credit, presumably, if Cleveland were to pass its income tax hike in November), $20 million from the State, via the Cuyahoga County land bank, for home rehab loans, and $10 million as a "merger incentive payment" to cover city debts and capital repairs. 

In a further and yet more profound misunderstanding of the word "merger," the new ward of East Cleveland wants to keep its own municipal court, become its own police and fire district, and outsource maintenance of all ward parks to the Metroparks system (what??). 

The ward of East Cleveland also pretty clearly intends to keep Gary Norton in power. Envisioned by the annexation commission is a councilperson to be "elected from an election of standing elected government officials." 

Mad props to East Cleveland for the melon-sized cojones in submitting the ordinance. But as Kevin Kelley is only too pleased prove, East Cleveland is in no position to be making demands of this magnitude (or any demands at all).

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