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Initiatives to reduce size, pay of Cleveland City Council are expected to be withdrawn

Cleveland City Hall
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 18:39:02-05

CLEVELAND — An initiative to cut the number of Cleveland City Council members and to reduce their pay may no longer appear on the ballot for the March primary.

The group behind the initiatives, Clevelanders First, along with the Cleveland Clergy Coalition and Cleveland business leaders, announced Friday it plans to ask the Board of Elections to withdraw these two initiatives from the ballot. Instead, the groups plan to commission an independent study to look at the makeup of city councils in similar cities.

A spokesperson for Cleveland City Council, Joan Mazzolini, said council members have not yet received the letter stating that a majority of the petition committee is withdrawing these issues.

At a press conference Friday, Pastor Aaron Phillips with the Cleveland Clergy Coalition said, "We don’t want to see a war in our city, a fight between east and west and black and white or the haves and the have-nots. This is about what’s in the best interest of our community."

That's what's behind tabling the initiatives, and Bill Ritter of Clevelanders First is on board. Group members collected more than 20,000 signatures to put these measures on a ballot and let voters decide.

"Clevelanders First wants one thing and one thing only," Ritter said. "What’s best for the city of Cleveland, what’s fair for the city of Cleveland."

Council President Kevin Kelley said he's been against the idea of cutting the size of council and council members' pay from the beginning. He believes a pay cut would make it difficult to attract good people to city council.

"If these were to pass, their work would double and their pay would get cut by 40 percent," said Kelley, who represents Ward 13. "And it would be a whole lot harder to deal with neighborhood issues."

The groups at Friday's press conference announced their plans to commission a private, independent study and to consider 2020 census data in deciding what they believe city council should look like. It's not yet clear how much the study will cost or who will pay for it.

Census data already helps determine the number of city council members in Cleveland. Mazzolini, speaking for Cleveland City Council, said that since 1914, Cleveland has had one councilperson for approximately every 25,000 residents.

Tony George, who lives in Westlake but owns businesses and restaurants throughout the Cleveland area, said he believes the city needs to change how it does business.

"If you do what you always have done, you’re going to get the same results you always have gotten," George said.

He supports the idea of looking at what other cities do to get a better idea of what Cleveland's city council should look like. He said Pittsburgh's city council is smaller and its full-time members make less money.

Cleveland City Council members dispute the fact that they're "part-time," noting the number of events and meetings they attend at night and on weekends.

While he lives outside the city, George said he has a big stake in the city of Cleveland, where he was born and raised and where hundreds of his employees work.

"Cleveland is the heart of Cuyahoga County," George said. "If Cleveland fails, the county fails. If Cleveland succeeds, the county succeeds."

Kelley said the city's government should be determined by people who live in Cleveland.

"It should always be a Clevelander’s decision in terms of what our council should look like, what our government should look like, and making sure that people feel that their government is working for them, that they have access to their government," Kelley said. "I think those are values we all hold."

The groups at Friday's press conference said that starting in the next few weeks, they plan to hold community meetings all across the city to ask Cleveland residents to give their thoughts on this issue.