Cleveland City Council Chambers
Monday night, Cleveland City Council is expected to pass legislation that will authorize $2.3 million in spending for a Motocross track on the city's east side.
It's a costly project promoted by Mayor Frank Jackson that many residents nevertheless look upon with skepticism, if not outrage. Some councilmen, who've expressed reservations about safety and a lack of funding in other areas related to parks and recreation, consider the dirtbike track yet another example of council "carrying water" for Mayor Jackson's administration, especially given the nature of its (likely) passage.
At a council meeting two weeks ago, after some very fishy maneuvering in committee hearings earlier in the day, it became clear that Council President Kevin Kelly wouldn't be able to secure the two-thirds "super-majority" necessary to pass the dirtbike track measure as an emergency ordinance. At the meeting, Kelley called up the city's law director, Barb Langhenry, and they whispered for several minutes — presumably about procedural matters. Mayor Jackson watched quietly, fingers steepled over his mouth.
It was determined that the measure would be postponed and voted for passage on a third reading (tonight).
There has been no official meetings or further discussion about the dirtbike track since the Jan. 9 meeting, a council spokesperson confirmed — council did not meet last Monday due to MLK Day — so the only effect of the postponement is that fewer votes will be required for its passage, a regular majority.
If council does vote to pass the legislation, it will strike a discordant note with comments made at a Monday afternoon committee meeting. There, council members spoke about their priorities for the 2017 budget. Many spoke strongly about passing a budget "for the people."
Councilman Mike Polensek said it was council's responsibility to draw a line in the sand with the administration.
"We just passed a tax increase — residents' paychecks are less than they were last year," Polensek said. "They are not happy with city services. They're disgusted and I'm embarrassed. This budget is going to be a test for a council. People are paying more than ever before, but quality of life issues...my parks have never looked so bad."
Polensek said that the previous council leadership ceded authority to the Mayor, but it's the council who has to deal with residents on a daily basis, and their needs must be prioritized.
"I didn't get elected to be a gofer, to be a complaint taker," he said. "I got elected to effect change. We've got to pass a budget that's reflective of the community, of quality of life issues. If not, I'm not going to vote for the friggin' thing."
Polensek appended that Frank Jackson was a "good man" in his view, but that a disconnect had developed between the Mayor and neighborhood services.
Councilman Kevin Conwell suggested that when council distributes funds this year, it should require progress updates to determine whether the funding has been effective. Councilman Brian Cummins piggybacked on that point and stressed that communication between the administration and council, and among city departments, must be improved in order to effectively communicate with residents.
"You feel powerless," Cummins said. "People say, 'Brian, you asked for funding six months ago. Whatever happened to that?' And I just don't have any answers."
Councilwoman Dona Brady reminded council that committee chairs have a great deal of untapped authority. She has been sitting in for councilman Terrell Pruitt as the chair of the Utilities committee, and she said that when she doesn't get information she requests, she refuses to pass legislation out of committee.
It was councilman Zack Reed who brought up the dirtbike track, and argued that the method by which it had advanced was improper. Both Polensek and Councilman TJ Dow mentioned specifically a lack of funding for parks and recreation in their wards — a recurring sore spot on council — yet $2.3 million will be spent on a hugely unpopular project.
"You pass a tax increase," Zack Reed told Scene
after the meeting, "and right out of the gate, you spend it on this?"
He shook his head.
The administration's recklessness with taxpayer money will be on further display at City Council's meeting tonight. Transit advocates will attend the meeting in opposition to Mayor Jackson's ongoing insistence on keeping Public Square closed, despite a looming $12 million FTA debt and compelling argument that his primary concern — the threat of terrorism on Public Square — is unfounded.
RTA CEO Joe Calabrese and a coterie (legal staff?) were seen entering City Hall before City Council's noon meeting.