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Jackson Touts Strength Of Cleveland In State Of City Talk

Packed shoulder-to-shoulder, nearly one thousand people crowded into a downtown Cleveland Hotel banquet room, to hear Frank Jackson's update on the condition of the regions' core city, his first comprehensive appraisal of the city's condition since Ohio's economy soured dramatically last fall; and the nation plunged into recession.

So addressing the money concern was where the mayor began his 32 minute talk, underscoring a huge success for himself and the city.

MAYOR FRANK JACKSON: "Cleveland is bucking national trends. At a time when cities across the country are struggling to fill deficits, Cleveland's budget is balanced."

Jackson described how the city under his leadership is providing loans to local businesses, is investing in its own neighborhoods, and in his words, 'is moving confidently towards the future'.

MAYOR JACKSON: "We are on track to balance the 2009 budget - without layoffs or reductions in service." APPLAUSE}

...and...Jackson explained that this is all being done at a time with city revenues are declining. The trick, he said, is that he anticipated revenue problems from the start of his administration and achieved savings in prior years. Those savings are now being used to bridge the gap between the city's current revenue and its spending.

Jackson did acknowledge that he is also keeping the city in a positive financial postion by imposing a hiring freeze on all but essential personnel. He's cut overtime pay, travel and energy use. He said the city has hired outside consultants to find further ways to trim spending without hurting services.

The mayor did mention some new initiatives which he is proposing, including providing more health care to those who can't afford it by giving them access to medical exams and help with paying for medications. He plans to use city clinics and EMS units as well as area hospitals to provide that care. Among those applauding the move was city Councilman Joe Cimperman.

JOE CIMPERMAN: "By utilizing the clinics, and our EMS units for non-emergencies but to do pro-active care, it's gonna save money for the hospitals, it's going to keep people alive longer, and it's gonna cut down visits to the emergency rooms. I think it's brilliant."

Jackson also touted Cleveland's reduced crime rate as well as several programs across the city designed to eliminate blight, add technology jobs, and attract employers into the downtown core.

On another key front -- education -- Jackson said he wants to achieve reforms that go beyond even what Governor Strickland has outlined.

MAYOR JACKSON: "Innovative strategies that are in place and already working for some of our schools must become routine in all schools throughout the district, so that every child has the same opportunity. What will help in this effort are: • Longer academic days;
• Longer school years;
• Increased professional development for teachers;
• Enhanced services for children with special needs..."

....and a list that continued on through what he called 21st century demands.

Jackson hopes the Governor's use of Cleveland as the initial district to adopt his education initiatives provides that impetus, and possibly some dollars.

The Mayor also called for higher standards and equalized spending across the region, though he specified that he is NOT advocating a regional school district.

Jackson later took a half-dozen audience questions - many of which focused on his education proposals.

Broadview Heights attorney David Shrine wanted to know why the school voucher program is not being expanded - and was disappointed when the Mayor essentially shot it down as not being a program he endorses. Shrine says parents he knows disagree, and feel Clevelands' school system is the barrier suppressing a desired population growth - a barrier vouchers would help to scale.

DAVID SHRINE: "I think that would greatly improve the education in the city of Cleveland, encourage people to move back into, and stay in the city of Cleveland."

Jackson responded that he dislikes the idea because it causes some people to pay their school taxes, in addition to paying for private or parochial schooling - and that it will take time to find an equitable method to spread equal payments for all people - using the schools or not - across the region.

Rick Jackson, 90.3.

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.