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East Cleveland Mayor Submits Petitions to Begin Annexation Talks with Cleveland

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton submits petition signatures to Board of Elections Director Pat McDonald. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton submits petition signatures to Board of Elections Director Pat McDonald.

by Nick Castele

The mayor of East Cleveland delivered voter petitions to the Cuyahoga County board of elections asking to start the process of merging the city with Cleveland. 

The state of Ohio declared East Cleveland in fiscal in 2012, after the city spent more money than it took in. Mayor Gary Norton says his city is being squeezed by costs and falling revenues— all while it fights a decades-long trend of falling population and shrinking tax base. The city slashed its budget, but is struggling to pay off millions of dollars in unpaid bills.

"Ultimately, cities exist to provide the services that are the backbone and the foundation of the American Dream," Norton said. "And we need reconsider and partner on ways that we can continue to provide those quality services."

Norton handed in 1,600 signatures, more than the 559 required. The board of elections will now work to verify those petitions.

The petitions call on East Cleveland city council to set up a joint commissioin with Cleveland city council in order to negotiate an annexation agreement. The question would then go to East Cleveland voters for approval or rejection. The decision could be accepted by Cleveland city council or sent to voters in that city.

Opponents of annexation question whether it would truly benefit residents or merely deliver a windfall for outside developers. 

"Cleveland is struggling to repair their own infrastructure, and they have money," longtime East Cleveland Councilman Nathaniel Martin said in a phone interview. "And still when you ride through Cleveland, you see potholes. So the question that is raised is, what can they do for us?"

It’s not clear what would happen if East Cleveland council members refused to comply with the petition. For his part, the president of Cleveland city council has said he’s open to negotiations.

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Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.