When Cleveland City Council members resign, voters are often silenced

Posted at 10:21 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-16 23:42:57-04

Critics of a Cleveland City Council rule, allowing resigning members to recommend their replacement, argue it protects established political interests and limits dissent.

Five of the 17 members of city council got their start, not from winning an election, but by getting recommended by the person they replaced. They include Ward 1 Councilman Terrell Pruitt, Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, Ward 10 Councilman Jeff Johnson and Ward 16 Councilman Brian Kazy.

On Monday, Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin was added to that list, replacing Mamie Mitchell, who resigned.Mitchell had also been appointed to her seat.

Griffin is no stranger to city government. He’s served in Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration for the past 11 years.

Resigning council members, with less than two years on their term, can recommend an appointment, which is then subject to a vote by the full body.

Those choices are almost always approved, thanks to something called The Unit Rule. Members are all required to vote in favor of the pick, or risk losing their appointment privileges if they, themselves, ever choose to resign.

Voters actually approved the change in 2008, during a routine review of the city’s charter, but Cleveland voter Dan Moenkhaus thinks it’s wrong.

“It’s kind of like a buddy-buddy system,” he said, “Where you can chain along your friends into the system without any kind of intervention.”

Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins, who himself defeated an appointed councilman, said the system makes it more difficult for dissenting voices to emerge.

“We have a two party system in this country,” Cummins said, “And clearly those political parties want to maintain power and authority and that’s why they have these systems.”

News 5 reached out to every member of council and Mayor Jackson. Cummins was the only one to agree to an on camera interview Tuesday.