EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — A battle over who should fill an empty seat on East Cleveland city council has sharply divided the five-member board.
“We’re here not to be on an ego trip, but to serve the citizen of East Cleveland,” Council President Nathaniel Martin said during a special council meeting Thursday night.
But that special meeting ended up not being a meeting at all after at least three members of the council didn’t show up.
It’s the latest in what’s become a deep division over the future of the Ward Three council seat, left vacant after voters recalled former council member Ernest Smith in November.
Watch our report from November on the result of that election below:
For weeks the council position sat empty.
Then, last week, a group of three council members met and appointed Lateek Shabazz to the empty seat, rounding out the five-member board.
But what seemed like a simple appointment has become anything but.
“The charter, which is our bible, tells us what we need to do, and they haven’t followed the charter,” said Martin. “It’s that simple.”
Thursday, East Cleveland’s law director issued an opinion stating Shabazz had not been legally appointed at all, claiming the council members violated open meetings rules and the city charter when they met to select him.
That's something council member Patricia Blochowiak, a Shabazz supporter, denied.
“We’re not hijacking anything,” said Blochowiak, “we’re voting. That’s the legal process.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Citing a provision in the city’s charter, Martin then made his own appointment to the Ward Three seat. Not once, but twice.
Thursday night, he introduced Jackie Goodrum as the new councilperson, only to announce Friday that Goodrum was not eligible to serve because she’s already a public employee.
Martin then gave the oath of office to former Cleveland city prosecutor Mark McClain.
But what about Shabazz?
“Everything was done legally, and it was done by the law,” said Shabazz.
He said as far as he’s concerned, he’s the councilman.
“Maybe officially Lateek may get on here, I don’t know,” said Martin. “But right now, they’re not following the proper process so he’s not on here.”
What happens next and how the situation gets sorted out is not clear.
But with two people appointed to one seat, it seems something has got to give.
“I like a good fight,” said Shabazz. “It’s going to be a good fight to keep the city, so yeah, let’s get it on.”