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New Lorain City Leaders Face Old Challenges

Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley (center) stands to address resident questions at Speak Up & Speak Out event. Police Chief James McCann (left) and Interim Lorain Schools CEO Greg Ring (right) sit beside him. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley (center) stands to address resident questions at Speak Up & Speak Out event. Police Chief James McCann (left) and Interim Lorain Schools CEO Greg Ring (right) sit beside him.

Lorain is under new leadership and for the city’s new mayor, that meant asking someone to let him in the city hall door.

“Our chief here has also been very helpful. He got me actually into the building on January first,” said Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley referring to the new police chief sitting beside him. “And so, it’s been a learning experience.”

Mayor Bradley, Chief James McCann and Lorain Schools interim CEO Greg Ring answered questions from residents at the 20 th annual Speak Up & Speak Out forum at Lorain City Hall Saturday afternoon.

Of the three men, McCann has been in office the longest, having been sworn in just over a month ago on Dec. 2. Bradley's inauguration was Jan. 1, and Ring replaced former CEO David Hardy Jr. when his contract ended on Jan. 3. Saturday was the first time the mayor and the new head of the school district met.

All of the men said 2020 will be a time of listening to residents, staff and students to determine how to move the city and its schools forward.

Leadership in Transition

“My number one job coming into the position is to listen,” Ring said. “I think there are some concerns across the district with staff and probably with parents as well.”

Beginning Monday, the CEO will start a tour of all Lorain school buildings and meet with staff to address their main concerns.

Ring will serve in the CEO role until July, while the Academic Distress Commission (ADC) searches for a long-term replacement.  

As the interim CEO, Ring said he does not expect to make major changes in the district. He is, however, concerned about the district’s budget, which is expected to see a $2.5 million deficit this year. There are plans to conduct a staffing audit,  Ring said, including comparing Lorain with similar districts such as Elyria or Canton. The findings, he said, could result in layoffs.

“We have an obligation to look at our expenditures in comparison statewide to districts that are kind of like us, and I think inevitably it will end up in some reductions,” he said.

Unlike his predecessor, Ring plans to attend all school board meetings.

“I will communicate with this board,” he said. “They will know what’s happening in this school district, and I think it’s very, very important that we continue to have great relationships with our elected board.”

Under House Bill 70, the law that regulates state takeover of failing school districts, the elected school board has only the power to place levies on the ballot. The CEO has the power of a superintendent and school board. When a new ADC took control of the Lorain city schools in 2017 and hired Hardy as its CEO, he and the board frequently clashed.

“It’s a new time in the school district in terms of collaboration,” Ring noted, pointing out that the commission held a joint meeting with the school board in December the night he was hired.  

“In the past, I’m not sure how much the Academic Distress Commission and the board have worked together. That’s changing. That’s changed already.”

The ADC put out a request for proposals this week for a search firm to find candidates for the CEO position and expects a hire in the spring. Ring does not plan to apply.

Staffing Challenges Limit Lorain Police

“My philosophy at Lorain PD is, how do we get to yes? If someone brings something to us and it’s feasible but it’s hard, how do we get to yes?” said Police Chief James McCann.

But with his department down by more than a dozen officers, McCann laid out the limits of his staff.

“The gangs are coming back. It’s all based on staffing. Right now we can’t be proactive,” he said. “We have minimum manning every single night.”

The goal is to reach 107 officers in the next year and a half, McCann said. There are currently nine officers in training but remains six officers short of reaching 100.

“I think we’re safe,” he said. “My first philosophy when I came in is to take all the inside staff people like the sergeants, like the jail supervisor, records room, radio room, stuff like that – all the sergeants and all the people who were inside, who are sworn police officers -- I picked them up and put them on the road.”

Once he reaches his staffing goal, McCann said he hopes to bring back the street crimes unit, manned by four officers focused on problems such as burglaries, gun violence and gang violence.

Engagement is another one of McCann’s goals for the department. A full-time public liaison officer has been assigned to attend neighborhood watch meetings to figure out the needs of the community, and he’s encouraging his patrol officers to engage especially with young people.

“When my officers are on road patrol, if they’re slow — Lorain’s not always slow; Lorain’s sometimes very busy when they go call to call to call — but if they see a group of kids out playing football or playing basketball I want them to get out of the car. Go shoot some hoops. Go play with kids,” he said.

To engage with adults, McCann wants to continue the Citizen’s Police Academy, created by his predecessor Chief Cel Rivera. For three hours a day, one day a week over ten weeks, residents learn some of the operations of the police department such as firearms, driving and foot pursuit, to give them a better understanding of the job.

McCann, who has served on the force in Lorain for 28 years, said he wants to do a better job of being open with the community about the work of his officers.

“Over the past 28 years, we have failed to sell ourselves to the community. We have failed to come to you and say, ‘This is what we do; these are our challenges; this is what we need,’” McCann said. “When we come and ask for a levy, when we come and ask for new cars, when we come and ask for new weapons, we haven’t done our job. We have not opened up and shown you why we need what we need and my goal is to do a better job of doing that to the people in the city. We spend your tax dollars. You have a right to know we’re spending them the right way.”

“We need to be more like Chick-Fil-A.”

Jack Bradley won the mayoral race with 59 percent of the vote. Now the former teacher and criminal defense attorney is going through piles of paperwork to learn the intricacies of his new job.

Bradley said he was learning about issues big — charging structures and ordinances for water rates — and not so small — city cell phone bills.

“We actually had some flip phones that were turned in this week that were still on our bill,” he explained of the process to cut telecommunication costs by identifying unused phones.

Bradley said he’s working to make the city more user friendly and has met with department heads, encouraging them to be courteous and responsive servants to residents and businesses.

“I told them that we need to be more like Chick-fil-A,” he said. “That is, when we talk to our citizens, our final word to them should be, ‘my pleasure.’”

He also encouraged positivity with the city’s young people.

“We need to start saying nice things to our young people because they get criticized a lot,” Bradley said to audience applause. “And we just need to make sure that they understand that there’s good in all of us.”

In response to an audience question asking if the city would open a pool this year, he said he supports the idea and wants to see every Lorain child learn to swim before starting kindergarten.

“I hope that we can get the city council and my staff to put some ideas together with the help of the community to at least have one pool where we can teach our youth how to swim and how to survive if they were to fall into water.”

Dressed in a tuxedo, Bradley left shortly before the end of the Speak Up event to attend his inaugural ball.

Speak Up & Speak Out was sponsored by the Lorain Negro Business & Professional Women’s Club, the Lorain County Section of the National Council of Negro Women and the Lorain NAACP.

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.