CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Clergy Coalition made it clear it will continue its efforts to improve the effectiveness of Cleveland City Council, even though the ballot issues to reduce the number of council members and their pay has been put on hold.
Cleveland Clergy Coalition Executive Director Aaron Phillips, told News 5 Cleveland City Council has continued to be ineffective in addressing key issues in African American neighborhoods.
Phillips said too many council members aren't involved enough in solving the high crime rate, poor economic development and chronic housing issues that continue to plague low income areas of the city.
He said the coalition and the group Clevelanders First will begin the search for funding to commission a study that will create data and a guide on how to make city council more efficient and effective.
“People aren’t hearing from their elected officials on every level, so you have this voter anguish and anger," Phillips said.
“We know a couple things are going to happen. The 2020 census is coming and that will impact the size of our city and our communities, and so that will help measure what size our government should be."
Phillips said the coalition, which represents 100 area churches, started meeting with Clevelanders First several months ago and in Jan. both groups decided to put ballot issues on council size and pay on the back burner.
He said the proposal to reduce the number of council members from 17 to just 9, leaving just three council members on the East Side, would result in a disastrous reduction of representation in African American neighborhoods.
"Anytime you talk about cutting and reducing, it’s always going to hurt the black community even worse,” Phillips said.
“They were suggesting there would be five council members on the West Side, one for downtown and three on the East Side, that would directly have an impact on our representation."
“One of the chief reasons we got engaged, and said 'listen let’s come to a meeting of the minds' is because the last thing we need in the 2020 primary election is a race war in our community.”
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley defended the city council work record, and said the council hasn't been inefficient in responding to the cities toughest issues.
“Is there a piece of legislation, is there an issue that got stuck in council, killed in council, or was there something we moved too slowly on,” Kelley said.
Kelley fired back on the attempt to reduce the number of council members, and reduce the salary of council members from $83,000 a year to $58,000.
“If you cut it by $30,000, you get what you pay for in this world, and you’ll get people that aren’t going to be able to devote their full time to the job,” Kelly said
“If you reduce the number of council members, anybody who needs additional assistance from the city, and needs their council person to be their advocate, will all be hurt, whether they're middle class or poor.”
Kelley said census data already helps determine the number of city council members, and said the city needs to maintain one councilperson for every 25,000 residents.
Kelley told News 5 he's not sure how a study will help point out where city council can improve, because he believes comparing Cleveland to other cities isn't a valid comparison.
“I don’t know how a study would be done, because to me, no city is the same, so I don’t know how it would be done,” Kelley said.
Meanwhile, Phillips said the coalition is in talks with Cleveland State University, hoping it can help with the study into city council efficiency.
He said the coalition hopes to host public hearings on the subject starting in the late spring.
“We can’t afford to continue to have a divide, the clergy over here, our elected officials over here, community leaders over here, business community over there," Phillips said.
"We need to all come together and we have to put our egos aside, let’s role up our sleeves and solve these problems together.”