East Cleveland Annexation Debate Spills Over Into Court

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by Nick Castele

Supporters of annexation talks between Cleveland and East Cleveland have gone to court in an attempt to force the suburb’s city council to act on the plan. The move comes as state auditors warn that East Cleveland's path out of fiscal emergency will require steep layoffs. 

Earlier this summer, the Board of Elections ruled East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton had gathered enough petition signatures to start annexation talks with neighboring Cleveland. Councils from both cities must appoint negotiators, but East Cleveland’s council hasn’t done so. 

“East Cleveland city council has serious questions about annex petitions, related certification, and has declared the petitions to be invalid,” Council President Barbara Thomas said at a meeting of officials overseeing the city's budget. 

Thomas said some council members have approached the county prosecutor with their concerns.

A top aide to the mayor sued city council last week, saying council members have no choice under the law but to start the annexation process. A judge has yet to rule on the question, and no court date been set. 

East Cleveland’s income tax collections have been tumbling for years, and state auditors project city revenues will continue to fall through 2019. Nita Hendryx, a financial supervisor with the Ohio auditor's office, presented a forecast for the city's budget.

“The city has lost revenue—just lost a considerable amount of revenue from various sources—and has attempted to reduce expenditures,” Hendryx said. “But the expenditure reductions aren’t keeping up with the loss in revenue.”

At the meeting, state officials offered the city several roads out of financial trouble—a mix of borrowing money, negotiating unpaid bills and cutting 20 to more than 40 percent of its workforce over the next few years. 

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