CLEVELAND — Pledging a process of change and a new era of transparency and effectiveness, Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin accepted the city council president position after an informal caucus vote by the newly-elected members of city council on Friday morning. Griffin, a close friend of outgoing Mayor Frank Jackson, said the landslide victory of Mayor-elect Justin Bibb was a “mandate” for change and vowed collaboration with the incoming administration while maintaining the council’s steadfast independence.
Upon accepting the president position, Griffin acknowledged the difficult tasks and decisions that the council faces moving forward. Although much of his speech focused on the future, Griffin was candid about his relationships with Mayor Jackson and soon-to-be former Council President Kevin Kelley.
“Frank Jackson is my best friend. I make no bones about it. I had a great working relationship with the past council president, I make no bones about that. But I am Blaine Griffin,” Griffin said. “I’m not either one of those guys. We are going to have our own identity.”
Friday’s caucus meeting only included newly-elected council members. Those who did not seek re-election or were defeated at the polls, including Kevin Kelley, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor, Tony Brancatelli and Basheer Jones, were not part of the caucus meeting.
Councilman Brian Kazy was not in attendance.
The caucus meeting began with a vote on whether to enact the Unit Rule, a long-standing tradition for the city council and Democratic Party. Councilman Mike Polensek, the so-called ‘Dean’ of the council, said the unit rule is solely used to name council presidents as well as appoint replacements in the event that a council member dies or leaves office. The unit rule requires council members to vote unanimously when a formal council president vote is taken in January. If a particular member runs afoul of the unit rule, he or she can be barred from future caucus meetings.
The topic of the unit rule drew criticism from Councilwoman-elect Rebecca Maurer (Ward 12) when caucus summons were issued earlier this week. Although Maurer ultimately voted in favor of the unit rule because the procedure had more than enough votes to pass, she and Councilwoman Jenny Spencer reiterated their hope that the rule and other council traditions will be examined and discussed under Griffin’s tenure.
“The voters really want to see transparency. The voters want to understand how their government is going to be working for them. Excuses are the tools of the incompetent,” Griffin said. “But I want to make sure that the public and everybody else knows this — change is not an event, it’s a process.”
Griffin and other council leaders will be meeting over the coming days and weeks to dole out committee assignments as well as formulate the council’s agenda moving forward. Other events and training are in the process of being finalized in order to help catch freshman council members up to speed.
Griffin told reporters after the caucus meeting that his priorities for the upcoming term include public safety and housing insecurity.
“The new mayor and this administration is going to have a lot to deal with. We need to be a good partner in order to move this city forward. It’s going to have to have a strong council. There are new dynamics at play right now and we need to make sure that we rise to the challenge of what people want to see,” Griffin said. “We can no longer run around and talk about how we are the poorest big city in America. We really have to make substantive change. We can’t just talk about it we have to be about it.”