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Cleveland City Council skeptical of Mayor Justin Bibb's plan for violence prevention fund

Cleveland Foundation officials and Sonya Prior-Jones from city of Cleveland sit at a table in Cleveland City Council chambers.
Cleveland City Council
Cleveland Foundation General Counsel Ginger Mlakar, Cleveland Foundation Vice President of Grantmaking and Community Impact Dale Anglin and Cleveland's Chief of Youth and Family Success Sonya Pryor-Jones take question from Cleveland City Councilmembers on the violence prevention fund proposal.

During a Cleveland City Council Safety Committee meeting Wednesday, Ward 5 Councilmember Richard Starr expressed deep skepticism about Mayor Justin Bibb’s plan to award $10 million to the Cleveland Foundation to create a fund for violence prevention grants.

Starr spent years working at the Boys and Girls Club at the King Kennedy public housing complex before defeating the previous councilmember’s handpicked successor, Delores Gray.

Starr told representatives from the mayor’s administration and the Cleveland Foundation that he knew exactly who would be lining up for the grants.

“Them old heads that’s all in the videos, dancing on the records, always at the table with their hand out to get a contract,” Starr said. “And they don’t want to come in King Kennedy, they don’t want to come on 30th, they don’t want to be on Case Court, they don’t want to do the work in the Valley, but they steady getting a check every two weeks. They definitely should not be included.”

Under the violence prevention fund proposal, which was sent to council in April and received its first hearing Wednesday, $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding would be invested by the Cleveland Foundation.

Every year, nearly all of the estimated average earnings of that fund, about $500,000, would go to violence prevention grants in Cleveland. The foundation would keep one-half of a percent of the earnings, or about $74,000, as its fee.

Cleveland’s chief for youth and family success, Sonya Pryor-Jones, said the city wants to create a violence prevention fund that would always be available.

“We want to make sure we have financial resources and interventions for all the types of violence to reduce and prevent violence in our community,” Pryor-Jones said.

If council approves the fund, money would be available to address root causes of violence identified by the city, like mental health, employment, education programs and youth development.

The Cleveland Foundation would have final say over grants and the initial investment of $10 million would, according to the proposal, never be touched. Only investment returns would go toward grants.

Ward 2 Councilmember Kevin Bishop, whose ward includes the Mt. Pleasant and Union-Miles neighborhoods on the East Side, said he supported the idea of creating a source of funding that will always be available.

“We’re trying to solve a long-term conspiracy that keeps our young people in peril,” Bishop said. “I think we lack the plan on the end of – Who gets the money, where the money goes, to what groups the money goes.”

Under the proposed ordinance, an advisory board would be created with representatives from city council, the mayor’s office and community members. That board would make recommendations to the Cleveland Foundation on grants but the final decision would stay with the foundation.

According to the proposed agreement between the city and foundation, there’s no clear way for the city to get the $10 million back from the foundation.

“We ain’t got time to just experiment,” said Councilmember Starr. “If we don’t get this right right now we’re going to be looking at this table a year from now, two years now talking about this $10 million we just wasted.”

The safety committee will resume discussion of the fund at its next meeting.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.