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Cleveland City Council pulls ordinance to use taxpayer money to oppose ballot issues

Keshawn Walker is critical of the way money moves through local government.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Keshawn Walker speaks during a PB CLE rally earlier this year. In July, the city's clerk of council determined the group submitted a sufficient number of valid signatures to qualify their "People's Budget" proposal for a charter amendment vote in November.

Cleveland City Council has killed a plan that would have allowed it to use taxpayer money to campaign against an upcoming charter amendment to give residents control of a portion of Cleveland’s budget.

Council leadership pulled the 54-word ordinance slated for introduction and passage just hours before it would go up for a vote at Monday night’s meeting.

The measure would have allowed council to use public funds to weigh in on any ballot initiative, tax levy or bond issue that would affect city operations.

Clevelanders will decide in November whether residents will be able to directly propose and vote on how a portion of the city’s budget is spent through a process called participatory budgeting.

The origin of the proposed ordinance, which has been pulled from city council's website and agenda, is a matter of debate.

While Council President Blaine Griffin was listed as its sponsor, the ordinance was recommended by the city's law department, council spokesperson Joan Mazzolini said. Griffin's name was listed as the sponsor because it would appear before the finance committee, which Griffin chairs, she said.

But Mayor Justin Bibb's denies the law department was behind the proposal.

"At no time did the City law department recommend or otherwise comment on the wisdom" of the proposed ordinance, city spokesperson Marie Zickefoose said in a written statement to Ideastream.

"Mayor Bibb was unaware of council's proposal to spend public funds on campaigning against Issue 38 (the People's Budget charter amendment) until earlier today," Zickefoose wrote. Bibb opposes using taxpayer funds for that purpose, she said.

Councilmember Rebecca Maurer said on social media Monday morning she was “appalled” by the legislation she called a “pure power grab.”

It is the latest development in the battle over a charter amendment to create a “People’s Budget” which would give Cleveland residents control of roughly $14 million of city funds for projects and programs through a process called participatory budgeting.

Members of city council strongly oppose the plan as do several unions and Bibb.

Maurer recently attempted to bring Cleveland City Council and
Participatory Budgeting Cleveland, known as PB CLE, the grassroots group organizing the ballot initiative, together to the negotiating table. PB CLE organizers said they were willing to consider a "significant" reduction to the amount allocated in their charter amendment proposal, but members of the city council declined to negotiate.

Maurer was among several council members who initially supported a participatory budgeting pilot program offered by Bibb and PB CLE that was rejected earlier this year.

In the months since PB CLE has worked to organize a ballot initiative to codify their participatory budgeting proposal in a charter amendment that will appear before Clevelanders on the November ballot.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.