East Cleveland Council Votes for Annexation Talks with Cleveland

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton speaks at a meeting on city finances in May.
East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton speaks at a meeting on city finances in May. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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by Nick Castele

The city of East Cleveland has appointed three people to a commission to negotiate a merger with neighboring Cleveland, bringing the suburb one step closer to annexation. 

On Monday night, East Cleveland city council named Andrew Jackson, Chris Glassburn and Sandra Morgan to represent the city in negotiations.

Next, Cleveland city council will decide whether to appoint three commissioners of its own.

Jackson runs Elson’s International, a packaging company in Cleveland. Glassburn is a senior policy advisor to Cuyahoga County executive Armond Budish. Sandra Morgan is the director of external affairs for Ken State University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Morgan is also the only appointee who lives in East Cleveland.

More than 20 people applied for positions as commissioners, according to East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton. Council has spent weeks discussing them in executive session, meetings that were closed to the public. Norton defended the practice, but it faced vocal opposition from many residents.

Annexation Would Go to Ballot in East Cleveland

Together, the six-person commission would hold public meetings to work out the details of annexation. The question would then go to East Cleveland voters. Norton said that vote, if it took place, would likely be scheduled for the fall of 2017.

“We’d love to try an earlier election, but this process can take a long time,” Norton said. “And the community deserves an opportunity to fully digest this. So if it can be fully digested and discussed by spring of 2017, that would be a great thing. But if it can’t, this isn’t the sort of election that should be rushed.”

Cleveland council has the option of accepting the merger itself or putting the question to city voters.

Mayor Seeks Funding for Study and Staff

Annexation won’t happen for free. The merger commission will need staff, Norton said, and East Cleveland council is asking for an outside study of city finances.

Norton said he hopes to find philanthropic and corporate funding for this work.

Last year, the Gund Foundation contributed $100,000 to support Norton’s efforts to convene public meetings focused on city finances, according to foundation executive director David Abbott. 

The state auditor declared East Cleveland in fiscal emergency in 2012. Norton said his city’s experience could be an example for other communities in dire financial straits. 

“I think there will be some lessons learned and some things uncovered,” Norton said. “Because East Cleveland is not the only city to face the economic circumstances that exist today, and when the next city comes along, we need to learn from this experience.”

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