Cleveland City Council
Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife
In a strongly worded letter Monday evening, Ward 17 Cleveland City Councilman Charles Slife criticized Mayor Frank Jackson and a proposed new ordinance to create a Division of Special Events, Filming and Tourism housed under the Department of Public Works.
Slife bashed the ordinance, calling it evidence of "mismatched priorities" at City Hall. He said it was a slap in the face to residents who have been trying for months to organize community events but have received no direction or updates on policy changes from city officials. Currently, neighborhood groups who wish to host events in their communities can't even begin the application process.
"As communities across Northeast Ohio are moving to hold events in parks, as movie theaters reopen and as bars extend hours, as vaccination rates increase and hospitalizations decrease, are we to believe that science is different in Cleveland?" Slife asked in his letter, (which you can read in full below). "That it is fundamentally impossible to accept and process paperwork?"
Slife criticized Jackson's proposed new division on multiple grounds, but said the ordinance, which is being announced the same week as the NFL Draft, gravely misapprehends the nature of the events problem in Cleveland. It communicated to residents, he argued, that the city was able to host a major nationally televised extravaganza like the Draft, "but that a movie night in [the] local park poses too steep a health risk."
Moreover, Slife said that the proposed events division was duplicative, as it would seem to overlap directly with the work of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission and Destination Cleveland, both of which are already funded, to varying degrees, by taxpayers.
"What added value would a new municipal functionary bring to their line of work?" Slife wondered.
The Jackson administration has not yet responded to Slife's letter or Scene's request for comment on his criticisms.
But event planners in Cleveland reacted with similar hostility. The Cleveland Bazaar noted in a Change.org petition
, as Slife did, that the city has not issued event permits during Jackson's Civil Emergency. It called on the city to start issuing permits again, and argued that this would benefit local small businesses, not visitors or outside filmmakers.
Shannon Okey, the Cleveland Bazaar's founder, told Scene that the past year has been incredibly difficult for her and other small business owners who derive a large portion of their income from events. She acknowledged the wisdom of the shutdown during the pandemic, but said that now that the state is easing restrictions, "the city is actively harming small businesses with their inaction."
As for the ordinance itself, and the proposed new division of special events, Okey told Scene she had no problem with it in theory, as long as key personnel and the institutional knowledge of longtime employees weren't discounted or gotten rid of with the new structure. She said she was surprised this was the administration's response after a year of economic woe.
"The biggest problem I have with all of this is that it runs contrary to what we have always been told are the administration's economic goals," Okey wrote in an email. "They want to fill empty storefronts. Well, where do you think those kinds of small businesses get their start? They launch at events like [the Cleveland Bazaar]. We provide year-round support and help to new businesses that they aren't getting anywhere else, and certainly not from the city. So if you shut down events, you have effectively shut down the business incubators that help produce the storefront businesses and payroll taxes of tomorrow. And we do this with zero help, zero funding from the city. All we need is the ability to open back up."
Emily Lauer, the Senior Director of PR and Communications for Destination Cleveland, told Scene that they looked forward to learning more about the city's proposed new division.
"Should the ordinance gain approval from City Council," she wrote in an email, "we’d expect to have a collaborative relationship with the Division as we work to advance Cleveland’s reputation as a destination city and change the narrative of Cleveland."
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