During a Cleveland City Council committee hearing intended to update members on a resolution passed this summer
which authorized an investigation into the HB6 scandal's local ties, one councilman warned his colleagues to be wary of FirstEnergy and their financial contributions this year.
Councilman Mike Polensek, who routinely mentions that he has more Cleveland Public Power customers in his Ward 8 than anyone else, was unequivocal in his message about the character of FirstEnergy.
"Should any of us be surprised?" He asked, after Council President Kevin Kelley had finished summarizing publicly available documents to demonstrate that FirstEnergy had funneled money to Consumers Against Deceptive Fees, (CADF), a nonprofit created to discredit CPP. "No, not at all. [FirstEnergy has] embarked upon a campaign for decades to gut CPP."
Polensek invited his colleagues to review FirstEnergy's history and suggested that the same tactics that the company had used in the past — contributing to political candidates, pressuring members of the corporate community, lobbying to achieve self-serving legislative ends — would be on display once again in 2021.
"We're talking about dark money, and it will be used this year," Polensek warned. "It's all coming. It's a reality. It's a concerted plan to destroy CPP. It's been one action after another." He referred to FirstEnergy's actions as "clandestine," "dastardly," and "devious" at various points in his remarks, and implored his colleagues to recognize that FirstEnergy had not changed. They have always been, and will continue to be, focused on eliminating the municipal utility.
"So let us be very careful this campaign year," he said. "They will try to undercut and destabilize our body in councilmatic races and in the mayor's race. We need to be very wary."
Polensek's speech occurred during the Q&A portion of the meeting. Kevin Kelley's initial presentation was a straightforward accounting of the known financial link between FirstEnergy and Consumers Against Deceptive Fees. That group, which had received a $200,000 lump sum from another nonprofit exlusively funded by FirstEnergy, had showered Cleveland with social media ads and flyers about CPP's poor service and high rates. In late 2018 and early 2019, it met with Cleveland council members and drafted legislation that Kelley said would have proven fatal to CPP.
The Q&A period covered a number of related topics, including the ongoing woes at CPP and the unresponsiveness of the Jackson administration. Councilman Blaine Griffin asked why council had not yet subpoenaed FirstEnergy in its ongoing investigation.
Kelley said that subpoenas and other legal remedies were being actively considered. But he said the fundamental question of council's summer resolution — did HB6 entities funnel dark money into operations adverse to the City of Cleveland? — had been conclusively answered in the affirmative.
Councilman Charles Slife wondered whether anything might be done about the publicly owned Browns stadium, which bears the name of FirstEnergy. He lamented that this company which had sought to undermine a public utility was deriving "substantial marketing revenue" from a publicly owned facility.
"The good news," Kelley replied, "is that FirstEnergy Stadium is powered by Cleveland Public Power."
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