News 5 has learned that City of Cleveland's Director of Public Works, Michael Cox, has taken a leave of absence to assist with Mayor Frank Jackson's re-election campaign.
Dan Williams, spokesperson for the City of Cleveland, was not completely clear on Cox's employment status but said if he is on leave, he's not getting paid by the city. The department's assistant director, Kim Johnson, is serving as the acting director, Williams said.
Johnson told other city officials in a public meeting Wednesday that Cox would be out through November. An automatic out-of-office reply from Cox's city email address said he would return Nov. 20.
Mayor Frank Jackson told News 5 Friday morning that he asked Cox to take the leave of absence. When asked if he thinks it's selfish that he took Cox away from taxpayers, Mayor Jackson said: "No, I think it shows the depth of our department and our city employees. Kim Johnson has many, many years working with the department and she's been assistant director for many years. She knows what to do."
Watch the full interview above.
Cox has been the public works director since January 2011, overseeing eight different divisions including motor vehicle maintenance, parking, park maintenance, property management, recreation, streets, traffic engineering, and waste collection.
His office is also in charge of running the West Side Market, First Energy Stadium and all city parking facilities.
Why does this matter?
News 5 has reported extensively on problems and citizen complaints concerning some of the divisions he oversees, like street maintenance and waste collection.
Our year-long investigation — Broken Roads, Broken System — uncovered the city was using an outdated grading system to determine which streets would be resurfaced. In February, News 5 debunked a $600,000 study that graded the condition of city streets, finding that many of the roads given a '100' score were definitely not perfect.
In 2015, News 5 reported that the Cleveland Division of Waste was paying exorbitant amounts of money in overtime to garbage collectors. The budget was $471,000 but actual payments totaled nearly $1.3 million.
News 5 went to the mayor's campaign headquarters Thursday evening but neither Cox nor Mayor Jackson were in the building. The mayor's campaign spokesman, Joe Mosbrook, defended the decision to allow Cox to take several months off of work to help get Jackson re-elected.
"Employees, just like anybody else like you or I, or the companies that we work for, we get vacation time," he said. "We get personal time, however that arrangement is, if that's how they choose to spend their free time. It's not an inordinate amount of time being taken off. It's all by the book and by their employment code."
City of Cleveland ordinance states:
No person in the service of the City shall use his official authority to influence or coerce the political action of an person or body, or to interfere with any nomination or election to public office. No person in the classified service of the City shall act as an officer of a political organization or take part in political campaign, or serve as a member of a committee of any such organization, or circulate or seek signatures to an petition provided for by primary or election laws, or act as a worker in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
Meanwhile, Cleveland block club leaders throughout the city responded to the move. They say they don't think it was a good idea to take Cox off the job at a time when millions of dollars in key city projects are on-going this Summer and Fall.
Fulton West block club leader Rebecca Kempton believes Mayor Jackson didn't use good judgment.
"It's disrespectful to the residents of the city, it's not okay," said Kempton.
"My message to the Mayor is that if you are looking out for the best interest of the residents of this city, then you need to have your key people in place doing their jobs."