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News 5 investigation: Playing politics with Cleveland road repairs?

Posted at 6:14 PM, Dec 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-20 18:44:12-05

On Your Side investigators continue to uncover fundamental problems with the way Cleveland streets are maintained and repaired as part of News 5’s exclusive and continuing “Broken Roads, Broken System” investigation.

The Mayor’s Office said it now has the right formula when it comes to road repaving, but in interviews with On Your Side Investigator Jonathan Walsh, some city council members have accused city management of playing politics.

INTERACTIVE MAP | See what grade the City of Cleveland gave your street

Ward 10 Councilman Jeff Johnson, who is critical about the road repaving system and referred to what he believes is a lack of transparency from the Mayor's Office, said he's run into issues in the past. 

“They circle the wagons," he said. "They’re very sensitive about criticism.”

While Johnson credited issues in the system, in part, to a lack of funds, he also pointed to the higher ups and decision makers.

“The other [reason] is management and the inability of the streets department to really get their arms around the major problems,” he said, adding he is upset with how money is distributed for road repairs.

In the past, wards would receive equal funds for road repaving. However, the city now provides unequal dollars based on what it believes are the worst streets in the city.

“I’m not shy about saying that I believe politics plays into it, too – the distribution of the money,” Johnson said.

But Mayor Frank Jackson denied these claims.

“The ones who are having a problem are the ones who can’t pick the streets they want, and would rather do a political favor than the pick the worst streets first,” Jackson told News 5.

Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown said the administration took over selecting which streets will be repaved in 2014. After decades of street repair questions, he said the city now has it right.

“And then all of a sudden, in 2014, we’ve found the model?” Investigator Jonathan Walsh questioned.  

“I can’t speak to the politics of the situation,” Brown replied. “I’m being honest with you. I’m telling you what the system was prior to 2014.”

GRADE YOUR STREET | Compare the City of Cleveland's grade to the grade you'd give your street

In an exclusive investigation in August, On Your Side investigators uncovered the city’s flawed system when it comes to street repair in Cleveland. Many “B” and “C” graded streets were repaved right after the last roads evaluation in 2009, but some “D” and “F” graded streets were fixed much later.

The investigation also found crucial issues with a 2009 roads conditions report that was supposed to grade all streets in Cleveland, including the fact that 72 streets that got paved since 2009 were never even graded in that initial study.

“We know the issues we faced around potholes. It has been a horrible few years, but we're really optimistic about coming into 2017,” Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli said.

This incomplete study cost taxpayers $400,000. A 2015 study that cost taxpayers $600,000 is expected to be released in late January. It was delayed because the engineering firm that the city hired to complete the evaluation used the wrong app to survey the streets, city officials said. 

Johnson said he is skeptical and still thinks the city is playing favorites with some on council.

“How else can you say that over $1 million goes to one ward, but around $300,000 goes to another ward?” Johnson asked.

Brown denied accusations that the city is playing politics with road repaving.

“I would say first of all, we don’t have that kind of time,” Brown said. “I got a million things on my plate to do. Spending time trying to figure out how not to do something? Really, that makes no sense.”