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Interference allegations add to West Side Market frustrations

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Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 18:43:32-05

CLEVELAND — Allegations that Mayor Frank Jackson's administration interfered with the recommendations of a consultant are adding to the frustrations of some vendors at Cleveland's West Side Market.

That consultant, David O'Neil, was hired by the city in February to look at the market's operations and recommend changes after years of complaints of city mismanagement by tenants.

But both Cleveland City Councilman Kerry McCormack and the President of the United West Side Market Tenants Association said the city told O'Neal not to consider any plan that would turn over operations of the market to an outside group.

"All of a sudden he's telling me that the city, the mayors like 'that market is not going to a non-profit, it's staying in the city's hands and that's the end of the debate, so write your report on that only," said tenant's association president Don Whitaker.

Whitaker, who has lobbied for the city to maintain ownership of the 109-year-old market, but to turn over operations to a group that can focus on the market's needs, said he was frustrated by what he heard.

"He was hired under the impression, this was my impression, my opinion, that what's best for the West Side Market, not what's best for the Jackson administration," said Whitaker.

He accused the city of playing politics with the market.

"They don't like giving up all their good assets, you know?" said Whitaker.

McCormack called the situation sad.

"Let's be clear, the city has failed at managing the West Side Market properly," said McCormack. "The citizens of the city of Cleveland should be able to see every single one of his recommendations and his full report on the West Side Market. So it's really disappointing that the administration essentially directed him not to put that recommendation in."

Contacted by phone Wednesday, O'Neil said, "I think at this point I'd better keep my mouth shut," when asked about the allegations of city hall interference.

However, in a draft report, he noted the city's management of the market is severely understaffed and has limited resources.

It also found the market is experiencing the highest levels of vacant stalls in its history.

Whitaker is hoping a new administration in city hall will finally bring the change he and other tenants say is needed at the market.

Mayor-elect Justin Bibb who takes office in January has said he supports turning over management to an outside operator.

Potentially bringing relief to what Whitaker said felt like years of banging his head against a wall dealing with the city.

"It’s not that they’re bad people," said Whitaker. "It’s just the system is not condoned to manage this right, you know?"

A city spokesperson has not responded to a request for comment on the allegations of interference.