CLEVELAND — Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration has yet to release records about how much taxpayers spent to send Bibb and his team out of the state for conferences and other meetings. News 5 Cleveland's legal representation is now calling the city out on multiple violations of the Ohio Public Records Act. Our attorney has sent the City of Cleveland a letter demanding the city produce these records in adherence with the law.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Bibb talked a big game about openness and transparency. “That’s why I’m going to make sure we can expedite public records requests,” Bibb said in August 2021. But now that he’s Mayor Bibb, the unfulfilled public records requests keep piling up.
News 5 investigator Scott Noll has been pushing for months to get those records, filing a stack of records requests concerning the cost of city travel. Noll made requests for things like expense reports for the mayor’s travel, and reports showing how much members of the mayor’s security team are making in overtime when on those trips.
A former city attorney says such stonewalling shows a concerning lack of transparency.
“That should be deeply troubling to every taxpayer, because we need our governments to be transparent,” said attorney Subodh Chandra, who was Cleveland’s law director from 2002-2005. “I’m not suggesting that money is being spent properly or improperly. What I can firmly say to you is that we all have a right to know how it’s being spent.”
And we know it is being spent – tens of thousands of dollars.
According to city records, social media and other internet posts, Bibb took at least ten out-of-state trips in 2022, hopping planes to places like Washington DC, New York City, Miami, and Austin, Texas, for the South-by-Southwest conference.
In some cases, the mayor was accompanied by members of his cabinet, as well as a Cleveland Police security detail. In at least one trip to Reno, Nevada, that was three officers. But in other cases, we’re not sure who packed their bags and hit the road with the mayor. The city blacked out the names of travelers, citing security concerns, even though those trips happened months ago, and, you, the taxpayer paid for the flights, hotels, food and rental cars.
To date, the city has only released expense records for seven of the trips, and already the total bill, not including, overtime, tops $50,000. Without all the records, the total cost of Bibb’s journeys remains a mystery.
“We often see politicians make promises of transparency, and then we often see government and governance that isn’t consistent with that,” Chandra said.
Ohio’s public records law requires requests to be fulfilled in a “reasonable period of time.”
It is News 5’s belief, as well as Chandra’s, that four, five and six months with no response is not a reasonable period of time.
All of this comes as the City Council debates whether to approve the mayor’s request to spend even more tax money on travel in 2023.
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