Cleveland council moves ahead with mayor's COVID stimulus spending plan

Cleveland City Council is moving ahead with Mayor Frank Jackson’s proposal to send $26 million in new coronavirus relief funding to the public safety department.

The Safety Committee approved the administration’s legislation, which allocates almost $122 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to public safety, economic development and building and housing.

Under a detailed copy of Jackson’s plan for the public safety sending part of that larger bill, released for the first time publicly at Wednesday’s meeting, $10 million would go to police. The biggest ticket items would be retrofit work on two helicopters, the purchase of more than 100 cars, a SWAT vehicle, riot gear, bicycles, motorcycles and two boat engines. About $11 million would go to fire and EMS combined, for equipment. And an additional $4.5 million would be spent on new surveillance cameras.

Safety Committee Chair Blaine Griffin expressed concern about some of the department’s choices before moving the proposal through.

“I love the helicopter upgrade, the retrofitting and those kinds of things,” Griffin said. “But I see a lot of equipment being built up basically for civil unrest.”

An after-action report on Cleveland police response to the May 30 protests in Downtown Cleveland found the department lacked resources to properly respond when the rally turned into a confrontation between police and protesters.

But council’s decision to move forward with the legislation appeared to be in conflict with the creation of a working group, supported by 12 council members at a meeting earlier this month. The group will craft a proposal for the city’s nearly $512 million in ARPA funding.

When it came time to vote on the legislation, only three of the seven members of the committee, Griffin, Mike Polensek and Jasmin Santana, were present to vote. They lacked a quorum, but Councilwoman Delores Gray, who was present at the meeting even though she is not a member of the safety committee, was allowed to cast a fourth vote.

“We absolutely should not be hearing the mayor’s legislation at all,” Councilman Kerry McCormack told Ideastream Public Media after the meeting. “Twelve members voted to set up a working group. This completely flies in the face of that.”

McCormack spearheaded the creation of the working group, which has held one meeting so far. Community groups laid out proposals for how to fund economic development, new housing, and health programs that were much more detailed than anything proposed by the Jackson administration.

Griffin said during the committee meeting that passing the mayor’s spending plan would not bypass council’s working group.

“We now have a working group that’s meeting every Monday,” Griffin said. “However, we also said that all of these recommendations and proposals that have been proposed by the administration will be vetted by each of the committees.”

The legislation, Griffin said, would be considered by council in the working group and finance committee before passage.

“So I wanted to make clear today is not the final bite of the apple we will have with these funds,” he said.

According to McCormack, it’s unclear how a spending proposal created by council can occur at the same time the mayor’s proposal is making its way through council.

“Council should establish its own priorities as a separate and co-equal branch of government,” McCormack said. “It baffles me that this is continuing to move through council.”

In a previous council meeting, Jackson’s chief of staff, Sharon Dumas, said $108 million has been allocated to cover the city’s revenue losses during the pandemic. Council has approved $5 million to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank for construction projects and also set aside $20 million for citywide broadband, though it’s unclear how much that project will ultimately cost.

That leaves $379 million of the total amount coming to the city. Cleveland has already received half of the $512 million and the mayor’s $122 million proposal would allocate what’s left of that first batch of money.

Council set a deadline of November 1 to come up with its own plan for spending the relief money.

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