A ruling by a Cuyahoga County judge Tuesday shot down East Cleveland's plans to merge with the City of Cleveland.
Judge Michael Russo found that multiple annexation papers submitted last fall were 'legally insufficient.'
Russo said the hundreds of signatures collected do not represent every person living in East Cleveland.
It's unclear whether East Cleveland will make another attempt.
Read the press release from the East Cleveland city council below:
On April 4, Judge Michael Russo of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas agreed with East Cleveland City Council that the much-publicized municipal annexation papers submitted to it last Fall were legally insufficient. He granted judgment in favor of City Council, entirely vindicating its position.
From March through early July of 2015, Michael Smedley, who is East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton’s chief of staff, circulated a petition (along with Mayor Norton and others) calling for East Cleveland to be annexed by The City of Cleveland. In July 2015, Smedley submitted that petition, together with a certification from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, to East Cleveland City Council. Smedley assumed that these papers would be sufficient under Ohio law to initiate the municipal annexation process.
Those papers were not sufficient.
Sensitive to its obligation to follow the law and that it must represent all residents of East Cleveland, including those who favor annexation and those who oppose it, East Cleveland City Council insisted that the proponents of annexation must comply with the letter of the law. After reviewing the petition and the BOE’s certification, though, City Council detected problems with both. City Council notified the BOE of its concerns. It also publicly expressed its view that the papers did not satisfy all of the law’s requirements and, therefore, that the municipal annexation process had not been triggered.
In response, Smedley sued East Cleveland City Council. He accused City Council of not fulfilling its duty under the annexation law. He sought a court order directing City Council to appoint commissioners to begin annexation negotiations with The City of Cleveland.
East Cleveland City Council opposed Smedley’s lawsuit for several reasons.
Among other things, it told the Court that the BOE’s certification was insufficient to trigger any duty for City Council to act under the annexation law.
On Monday, the Court agreed with City Council -- and repudiated Smedley. The Judge concluded that “it appears beyond doubt that Relator [Smedley] cannot prove any set of facts entitling [him] to the requested relief”, concluding that the BOE’s certificate “is insufficient as a matter of law.” The Judge denied the writ (court order) that Smedley had sought.
City Council is gratified that the Judge agreed with its interpretation of the municipal annexation law. City Council also is disappointed that Smedley needlessly caused East Cleveland to incur the time, effort, and legal fees necessary to defend against his meritless lawsuit – time, effort, and legal fees that would have been avoided if Smedley and his supporters had fixed the problems with the annexation paperwork, instead of running into court and falsely accusing City Council of not doing its job.
Now that the distraction of Smedley’s failed lawsuit is behind it, City Council once again is turning its full attention to its initiative: To raise funds from third party donors with which to pay Conway MacKenzie, a nationally recognized turnaround consulting firm. Conway MacKenzie has indicated that it is willing to review East Cleveland’s situation and to prepare a full report explaining whether a path forward exists for East Cleveland to satisfactorily address its financial, service, and infrastructure shortcomings and once again to become a viable and productive community, or whether annexation is East Cleveland’s only option. City Council will continue efforts to move forward in the best interest of the City of East Cleveland and its citizens.
City Council implores Mayor Norton and others in City government and in the community to support this initiative. Once completed, Conway MacKenzie’s report will give the residents of East Cleveland – and of The City of Cleveland – a truly independent, dispassionate, and thorough assessment of East Cleveland’s prospects, so that all of them can make a fully informed decision about East Cleveland’s future.