#CLEDocsAnswers: Will CDPH administer more vaccines to homebound residents via its “ice cream truck” model?

Documenter Kathryn Johnson attended the April 12 Health and Human Services Committee meeting. She learned that the Cleveland Department of Public Health (CDPH) used an “ice cream truck” model to distribute vaccines to 24 homebound residents. Kathryn wondered about plans to do more.

This edition of #CLEDocsAnswers shares what we learned.

Nancy Kelsey, then with the mayor’s office of communications, said the mobile vaccination service is available by request. Cleveland residents may call 216-664-2222 to reach the CDPH Vaccine Help Line and request a mobile vaccination.

The City of Cleveland said CDPH’s mobile vaccination program includes three clinical staff members and is part of the county workgroup referenced in this column by Leila Atassi. Cuyahoga County residents may request mobile vaccination by calling the Western Reserve Agency on Aging at 216-621-0303.

When Cleveland Documenters asked if there is a particular number of doses available for this program, the city said CDPH is currently able to provide a vaccine to “residents who requested service and meet the criteria for homebound.”

What’s the city’s criteria for homebound? Here’s what we learned:

CDPH has administered vaccines to 30,643 people overall as of May 15, according to last Friday’s COVID-19 Watch report.

Read Kathryn’s notes to learn what else the Health and Human Services Committee discussed on April 12, and visit our website for all Cleveland Documenters meeting notes and live-tweet threads.

#CLEDocsAnswers: What is the city’s no chase policy, as brought up by Councilman Jones?

Council Member Joe Jones mentioned a Cleveland police ‘no chase’ policy during a Cleveland City Council Safety Committee meeting on May 12 where committee members discussed violent crime and policing efforts. That prompted Documenter Margaret Mahoney to ask:

The Cleveland Division of Police updated what’s called the vehicle pursuit policy in 2015, in the aftermath of a 60-car chase that ended with two unarmed residents, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, being shot and killed by police.

The changes limited the conditions when police can chase vehicles to apprehend suspects in violent felonies or if a driver is intoxicated. Officers and supervisors are also supposed to weigh the danger the chase poses to the public. 

Public Information Officer Jennifer Ciaccia shared the policy. Read it here.

In March, some council members called on the department to loosen the restrictions, according to ideastream.

Find the notes of the Safety Committee meeting here.

#CLEDocsAnswers: How will the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections ensure Midwest Direct’s conduct is unbiased?

This #CLEDocsAnswers stems from questions that Documenter Mary Paxton asked after attending the April 5 Cuyahoga County Board of Elections board meeting. In that meeting, the board approved an $861,000 contract with Midwest Direct for supplying election ballots.

Some context: Midwest Direct made news for delayed ballot delivery during the 2020 Presidential Election and for flying a Trump flag at its Cleveland headquarters in the months before the event.

The board had an earlier contract with Midwest Direct that didn’t include an unbiased-conduct clause. The new contract runs through the end of this year. Want to see the new contract in its entirety? Here’s a link: https://bit.ly/2ROUF3i.

A screenshot of the unbiased-conduct clause.

Mary asked, “How is the Board of Elections monitoring Midwest Direct’s work moving forward and their adherence to the unbiased-conduct clause? What are the consequences if they do not adhere to that clause?”

Mike West, manager of community outreach for the board, told Cleveland Documenters, “If vendors that do business with the board violate terms of contracts or agreements, the board will take whatever action they feel is appropriate.” Cleveland Documenters asked how the board would monitor Midwest Direct’s conduct to make sure it was unbiased. West said via email, “We monitor all of our vendors and contracts, but it is routine and not newsworthy.”

The board did not answer why there wasn’t an unbiased-conduct clause in the previous contract. Linda Walker, an administrative assistant with the Democratic Board Office, said the clause is now a standard element in all the board’s contracts.

Want all the details from the April 5 board meeting? Check out Mary Paxton’s notes here. You can also read Documenter Dan McLaughlin’s live-tweet thread of that meeting.

Comb through all Cleveland Documenters meeting notes and Twitter threads right here.

#CLEDocsAnswers: How does public comment work at Civilian Police Review Board meetings, and how long do cases take?

Documenter McKenzie Merriman attended the April 13 Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) meeting. She noticed that David Lima, of Showing Up for Racial Justice, made comments about the Cleveland Police vehicle pursuit policy and the investigative process concerning the 2019 pursuit that killed 13-year-old Tamia Chappman. McKenzie wondered how public comment works at CPRB meetings. For this edition of #CLEDocsAnswers, we reached out to Roger Smith, director of Cleveland’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS).

OPS houses a team of investigators who look into civil complaints that people make against Cleveland police officers. OPS investigators report their findings to the CPRB in a public hearing. Its members then vote on whether to recommend that Chief of Police Calvin Williams discipline the involved officers. Here’s what Smith told us about public comment at those meetings:

  • Anyone who wants to make a public comment can call OPS at 216-664-2944 and request to do so
  • People can also email the office at clepolicecomplaints@city.cleveland.oh.us
  • People can speak for up to three minutes

McKenzie also wanted to know, “What is the typical timeline between a complaint being filed and the OPS investigation reaching the CPRB?” Here’s what we learned:

Smith said factors that can impact the investigation’s timeline include:

  • Can the complainant be reached?
  • Is the officer available for an interview?
  • How quickly can investigators get evidence?

If a complainant doesn’t initially provide enough information for investigators to act on, OPS investigators seek a follow-up interview, according to Smith. Some complainants lose interest after filing, which affects the timeline.

Officers can suffer work injuries or might be on military leave, making it hard to schedule interviews. If the complaint is tied to a criminal incident, that can limit officers’ availability, too, according to Smith.

People can find options for filing a complaint with OPS here. One way to file a complaint is to submit this online form.

In the April 13 CPRB meeting, OPS Investigator David Hammons presented his findings regarding a complaint against officers involved in the vehicle pursuit that killed 13-year-old Tamia Chappman. McKenzie’s notes have the details, including a recap of Lima’s comments. You can read those here.

Give us a follow on Twitter for more #CLEDocsAnswers. In the meantime, you can find notes and live-tweet threads on city meetings on the Cleveland Documenters website.

Voices on the Vaccine: Cleveland Documenters Interviewed Community Members About Vaccines

Throughout March and early April, more than 20 Cleveland Documenters conducted 42 interviews to better understand how Clevelanders were approaching the coronavirus vaccines. The result of that work, Voices on the Vaccine, appeared last week as a three-story series in The Cleveland Observer.

The project was the first of its kind for Cleveland Documenters, which trains and pays people to document local government meetings. For the project, Documenters asked friends, family and other community members about their hopes and hesitations regarding the vaccines. Documenters also learned about what influences Clevelanders as they make vaccination decisions.

Cleveland Documenters hoped Voices on the Vaccine would feature voices that aren’t typically heard in media. Here are a few graphics showcasing the range of people interviewed.

A diverse group of interviewees brought a diversity of perspectives. Some residents were eager to get a vaccine.

Heather Russell, a 52-year-old Jefferson neighborhood resident and head of the Cleveland State University music school, had this to say to Documenter Leslie Bednar:

Other Clevelanders weren’t so sure.

Manuel Santiago, a 35-year-old Ohio City resident, told Documenter Kevin Naughton that people can fight viruses naturally. But, he worries he won’t be allowed to work, travel or dine out without being vaccinated.

Santiago also said that he agrees with how Ohio prioritized vaccine access. He said people with weakened immune systems, like his diabetic mother, should be able to get vaccinated first if they wish.

Beyond learning about Clevelanders’ vaccine intentions, Documenters learned about what influenced people. Science, history, and lived experience were three common factors. Rev. Leah Lewis told Documenter Kathryn Johnson that she based her decision on science.

Wondering what other Clevelanders had to say? Check out the Voices on the Vaccine stories in The Cleveland Observer:

Why Some Clevelanders are Still on the Fence or Not Getting Vaccinated


Clevelanders Share About Why They Got the Shot


Science, History and Lived Experiences Influences Choices of Clevelanders

Documenters who contributed to Voices on the Vaccine include Dorothy Ajamu, Leslie Bednar, Courtney Green, Sheila Ferguson, Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, Kathryn Johnson, Giorgiana Lascu, Sharon Lewis, Daniel McCarthy, Dan McLaughlin, McKenzie Merriman, Alicia Moreland, Kevin Naughton, Rosie Palfy, Angela Pohlman, Andy Schumann, Tina Scott, Janenell Smith, Chau Tang, and Candice Wilder.

#CLEDocsAnswers: How many people in each ward use the city’s exterior paint program?

This week’s #CLEDocsAnswers is about Cleveland’s Exterior Paint Program, which gives eligible residents the supplies needed to paint their homes. The deadline to apply for the program is April 30. Residents can find the application here. Documenter Robert Rotatori attended a meeting about the program and left with a question. He asked, “How many individuals in each ward are using the paint program?” Here’s what we know!

Click or tap this tweet to see the whole #CLEDocsAnswers thread about the paint program.

The Department of Community Development does not have a list of the number of people in each ward who are using the program or used it in 2020. The department does have a list of applications received from each ward in 2020, and it has an overall breakdown of people who used the program last year. During a Cleveland City Council meeting, council members referenced a document about the program provided by Community Development. We got the document from Joan Mazzolini, who handles communications for council.

The document has the number of 2020 applicants from each ward and the funding needed to support them. Nancy Kelsey-Carroll, assistant director of communication for the city, confirmed that the chart lists 2020 applications received, despite the middle column being titled “approved.”

It also shows how many people completed the paint program in 2020. Of the 785 approved applicants, 297 finished painting their homes. Residents who received vouchers in 2020 are still eligible to finish painting.

There were still spots available in the program as of April 6, according to Neighborhood Services Commissioner Louise Jackson.

Want to learn more about the city’s exterior paint program? Check out Robert’s notes for details about the conversation! Follow us on Twitter for more #CLEDocsAnswers, and check out all notes and live-tweet threads on our website.

#CLEDocsAnswers: Why are the budget numbers reported as unaudited?

This marks the first installment of Cleveland Documenters’ #CLEDocsAnswers series. After attending and documenting Cleveland and Cuyahoga County meetings, Documenters share their follow-up questions. #CLEDocsAnswers is Cleveland Documenters’ effort to answer those questions.

Click or tap this tweet to see the rest of our #CLEDocsAnswers thread about unaudited budget numbers.

Documenter Seanna Jackson (@seandene on Twitter) was one of many #CLEDocumenters who attended Cleveland City Council’s budget hearings in February. In addition to her notes, Seanna had some excellent follow-up questions, two of which we got answers to. She asked, “Why are the budget numbers reported as unaudited? Why are audits not performed before a budget?”

Seanna’s question was about the unaudited 2020 budget numbers seen in the 2021 Mayor’s Estimate, the city’s proposed budget.

Audits won’t be completed until this summer, according to Gregory Cordek, manager of the Office of Budget and Management. He said “unaudited” doesn’t translate to “inaccurate.” Cordek said that people can read the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) later in the year to see audited 2020 budget numbers.

The city has issued the last seven audit reports in the summer. You can access them on the city website, and you can read Seanna’s full notes on the Feb. 22 budget hearing here.

Follow us on Twitter for more #CLEDocsAnswers. In the meantime, you can find all notes and live-tweet threads about local government meetings on our website.

City Council Agenda Guide

Ever read a Cleveland City Council agenda and ask yourself, “What’s that mean?” Check out our new City Council Agenda Guide! The guide is an annotated agenda.

The guide defines items that commonly appear on City Council agendas. It also reads between the lines and details procedures like “suspension of the rules” or what it means when council takes a vote on an “emergency” ordinance or resolution. We studied up using the City Charter and council rules to create this guide. Click on the yellow notes to learn what each term means.

There’s plenty more to learn from ALL the reporting Cleveland Documenters have done. Check it out!

Have any questions or comments? Want something added to the guide? Contact our Civic Reporter @Doug_Pitorak at DougBP@neighborhoodgrants.org.

Public Comment at Cleveland City Council — Explained

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money. Cleveland City Council passes laws (called ordinances). Its members are elected by citizens to represent them. Historically, City Council hasn’t provided residents a regular and formal space to comment on those decisions outside of committee meetings (and even that opportunity hinges on an invitation from a committee leader).

Updated May 25: Clevelanders for Public Comment sent Ward 10 Council Member Anthony Hairston a version of council rules on May 11 that shows what the rules could look like if they established the advocacy group’s vision for a regular public comment period at City Council meetings. You can view the document here.

Jessica Trivisonno, a Cleveland resident who drafted that version of council rules, said everything underlined in the document is proposed new language that would establish public comment. She said everything that is highlighted in yellow conflicts with what council proposed on May 10 (see more on that below). Trivisonno added that she met with Hairston, who chairs the Operations Committee, on May 20. She said it was a positive meeting, but there was nothing substantive to report.

Updated May 11: Council President Kevin Kelley, Ward 13, shared a draft of potential changes to council rules that would allow for a 30-minute public comment period. City Council’s Rules Committee and Operations Committee discussed implementing a regular public comment period at full City Council meetings at a joint meeting May 10 but did not vote on the rules.

The change would allow citizens to make statements after roll call, when council members must be present, and before council begins to consider legislation. Each participant would have 2-3 minutes to speak.

Council staff researched how other cities handle public comment. Joan Mazzolini, chief of communications for council, shared that research with Cleveland Documenters. She also shared a draft of council’s public comment rules, which came weeks after the advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Comment proposed a city ordinance, or law, that would mandate public comment at City Council meetings.

Council’s proposed rule change includes the following requirements:

  • Speakers must live in the city or own a business there. 
  • They must complete an online form or sign-up sheet by 2 p.m. on Monday (The proposed rule change assumes council meetings return to their pre-pandemic time of Monday at 7 p.m. Currently, council meets at 2:30 p.m on Monday). 
  • Speakers must specify what ordinance or resolution they wish to talk about, meaning their comment must be about an agenda item.

Clevelanders for Public Comment’s proposed ordinance envisions a more broadly accessible public comment period, allowing “members of the public” to speak about agenda items and “subjects that concern the legislative, administrative, or public affairs” of Cleveland.

It is unclear whether any of the nine council members who endorsed the ordinance will move forward with proposing legislation or accept the rules change proposed by Kelley. 

In the joint committees meeting, Kelley asked, “Is there anybody who’s on the Rules Committee that would not support a recommendation that we add a rules portion, the sum of which has been described, to the Monday night meeting?” 

No one said they would not support that. Council Member Charles Slife, Ward 17, wanted to clarify if they were discussing a rule change or an ordinance. He said he sees value in implementing public comment through an ordinance because it would spell out the process rather than rely on oral tradition, a practice he said could be the reason why many people aren’t aware they can speak at committee meetings. 

Kelley said they’re discussing a rule change. 

“There’s clearly multiple paths to the top of this mountain,” Slife said in response. “I think that both are worthy of discussion in their own right.”

A council rule change is more flexible; council can vote to suspend its rules and remove public comment from any meeting. Repealing an ordinance requires more steps and would provide increased notice to the public.

The Rules and Operations committees did not hold a vote in their joint meeting. Instead, Kelley outlined the following next steps: 

  • The Operations Committee will meet with Clerk of Council Patricia Britt to iron out procedural details.
  • They will determine what the public comment process will look like.
  • Council attorneys will then draft a rule change for the entire council to vote upon.

Documenter Emily Anderson attended the meeting, and you can read her notes here. You can also watch the entire meeting on YouTube.

What is public comment?

Public comment is a way for residents to address government bodies or elected officials during meetings where they consider and vote on legislation. A public comment or participation period is often a forum for residents to share information or opinion on community matters.

What is the state of public comment at Cleveland City Council?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • City Council holds “regular” meetings, where all 17 members meet as council and do the business of the city by voting on legislation that creates or changes laws or approves spending money
  • City Council also holds committee meetings, where members meet to discuss legislation and decide whether it should be voted on; there are currently 11 committees
  • Occasionally, City Council will hold special community meetings to hear from residents on important issues

Public comment at regular council meetings

Except for a brief time in the 1920s and 1930s, City Council has not routinely held a space for public comment in its regular meetings. Conversation about the lack of public comment has grown.

Public comment at committee meetings

At committee meetings, council has a process for residents to speak. They must contact the council member who chairs or leads the committee and ask to speak. The chairperson ultimately decides whether to invite someone to speak.

Documenters’ notes indicate a lack of public comment

The work of the Documenters community indicates an overall lack of public comment at City Council meetings. Between Nov. 18, 2020, and March 12, 2021, Documenters attended 52 City Council meetings, including regular and committee gatherings. Rarely, if ever, has a member of the public not employed by the city — or an organization in or aiming to contract with the city — commented during those proceedings.

What does the law say?

Ohio law and Cleveland’s city charter mandate that government meetings be held publicly. But what does the law say about public comment at those meetings?

  • Ohio law neither requires nor bans public comment
  • Cleveland’s city charter neither requires nor bans public comment
  • The city charter gives council the authority to make its own rules

There is a bit of historical precedent for allowing public comment at Cleveland City Council meetings. The recently formed advocacy group Clevelanders for City Council Reform shared with Cleveland Documenters some information it gleaned from council’s city archivist, Chuck Mocsiran:

Here is a section of the 1924 city charter mandating public comment:

Mocsiran shared that, despite that mandate, he could not find any record of resident comments made to council during that time.

How do other regional legislative bodies handle public comment?

Clevelanders for City Council Reform is one group that recently started to advocate for a regular public comment period at City Council. It supports a proposed public comment city ordinance written by Jessica Trivisonno, the director of economic development for the Detroit-Shoreway and Cudell community development corporations (CDCs). As of April 20, 2021, nine council members support the proposed ordinance, according to reporting by Sam Allard for Cleveland Scene.

Trivisonno’s research for the ordinance showed that public comment is either mandated or regularly permitted in the legislative councils serving:

Details such as when the public comment period occurs in a council meeting, how long people are permitted to speak, and how many people can speak per meeting varies.

People wishing to address Cuyahoga County Council can fill out a specific public comment form. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the process shifted to submitting public comments via email. To address Columbus City Council, people can submit speaker slips online. And to address Akron City Council, people can complete a public comment form. During the pandemic, people can call and leave a voicemail no more than three minutes long.

What else did we learn?

Cleveland Documenters asked Clerk of Council Pat Britt, Chief of Communications Joan Mazzolini, and — via survey — all 17 council members (three of whom have responded since receiving the survey on March 2) about the process for public comment requests. The consensus answer was “contact the committee chairperson.”

What was clear was that the committee chair has full discretion on whether to invite a resident to the table (real or virtual) to be heard. This process isn’t clear to many residents, and it isn’t outlined on City Council’s web site.

To request permission to speak, a resident would need to:

1. Figure out which committee they want to address.

3. Identify the chair of that committee.

4. Figure out when the committee will meet. Here’s council’s calendar.

3. Contact the chair and ask to speak at a meeting.

There is a general contact form on the web site for residents to submit comments and questions. Each council member’s webpage has contact information for them or their assistants, as well as the submission form on the main contact page.

Does City Council track people’s requests to make public comment?

Britt told Cleveland Documenters that there are no records of anyone asking to speak at City Council regular meetings because public comment is not a part of those agendas. Regarding committee meetings, Britt said people could watch videos of the meetings to see if anyone commented. In lieu of watching every video, we rely on the Documenters coverage we referenced earlier. It is not a perfect account, but it is what we know right now.

What are the paths to creating public comment in Cleveland?

Public comment can become a required part of council’s regular and committee meetings in one of two ways:

1. Council passes a city ordinance mandating a public comment period

2. Council changes its own rules to require a public comment period

The city charter empowers City Council to make its own rules. The rules already permit residents to be heard.

To make a public comment period routine, council would have to change its rules, which it has full power to do.

Mazzolini said that council members make efforts to engage with their constituents outside of official meetings. Prior to the pandemic, each council member held public meetings in their wards, she said. Now, many council members hold these meetings via Zoom.

Council Member Kerry McCormack, Ward 3, more recently started to use an online form to gather questions and comments in advance of Health & Human Services Committee meetings. Still, the chairperson — in that case McCormack — decides which comments and questions to bring to the meeting.

City Council survey: Thoughts on public comment

Cleveland Documenters sent a short survey to all 17 council members on March 2. Three have responded: Council Members Blaine Griffin, Ward 6; Basheer Jones, Ward 7; and Mike Polensek, Ward 8. (We’ll add any new responses if they roll in.) Here are the highlights of their responses:

What are the options for public comment at regular and committee meetings?

Each respondee pointed to committee meetings as a potential space for public comment. Polensek added that public comment in regular meetings could occur via invitation by Council President Kevin Kelley, Ward 13. He said a citizen can speak at a committee meeting if requested by the chair of the committee.

Griffin said people can “sign up” to speak at committee meetings, though the chair ultimately decides whether to invite someone to a meeting.

Are you in favor of a regular public comment period in City Council meetings?

Polensek and Griffin said maybe. Jones said yes. Polensek said council would have to “greatly” limit the amount of time given to public comment if it became part of the regular agenda. Griffin explained his hesitancy to commit to public comment:

  • Council members who “do the job right” already spend a lot of time communicating with the public before making their decisions
  • Not everyone wants to speak publicly, potentially leaving the “microphone” only for those who are comfortable speaking publicly; Griffin’s concern is that a vocal minority can “seem like a much larger presence than they actually are.”
  • He said he’s seen that exact scenario play out, and it left other community members frustrated

“People have an opportunity to communicate with me through the entire political process,” Griffin said. “But once it’s time to vote and defend a position, that should be reserved for the people who are elected by their community.”

If you are in favor of a public comment period at City Council meetings, do you think it should be established by a council rule change or a city ordinance?

All three council members said they prefer a council rule change. However, Basheer Jones and Polensek are two of the nine council members who support Trivisonno’s proposed ordinance.

If you have a plan to establish a public comment period at City Council meetings, please share what process you plan to follow.

Polensek said he envisions a public comment period before the regular council meeting. Griffin said he’d be “more than happy” to make time for special hearings to hear from the public, though he would “strongly prohibit” abusive language directed toward council members or the mayor.

Jones didn’t offer details about his plan via our survey, other than to say, “The people must stand with the council members who are willing to fight for it.” Journalist Mark Oprea reported for Cleveland Magazine in March 2020 that Jones envisioned about 10 time slots for people to talk for two to three minutes each. Oprea reported that Jones’ plan would feature a “ban on cursing or offensive comments and allow comment only on pertinent issues.”

Created by Doug Breehl-Pitorak and the Cleveland Documenters team.

Comments or questions? Email DougBP@neighborhoodgrants.org.

Documenting Cleveland’s Budget: What you need to know

Documenting Cleveland’s Budget: What you need to know

Cleveland is required by law each year to pass a balanced budget, meaning the city can’t spend more money than it has coming in. 

Here’s how the process works: 

  • The Mayor sends City Council a document that summarizes the administration’s budget recommendations. It has detailed information for each city department and city fund and includes estimates on how much money the city expects to collect through taxes and fees. This happens by Feb. 1 each year (yes, even during a pandemic!)
  • City Council holds budget hearings in February. Council committee members discuss, debate and ask questions about spending priorities. 
  • Council members can agree to amend–change–portions of the budget recommended by the Mayor.
  • Council publicly shares its version of the budget, which is written into an ordinance or law that Council votes on after hearings are completed. This is sometimes called the “2nd reading” of the budget. 
  • Council must wait at least 15 days after sharing the amended budget to do a “3rd reading” and vote to approve or not approve the budget. 
  • The City must approve a budget by April 1 of each year. After the budget is approved, it is posted online. 
  • At the end of the year, council reconciles the budget and decides whether to redistribute or save any money that was not spent. 

What’s different this year?

Normally, the city would hold its budget hearings and deliberations in the council chambers at City Hall. This year they will be held on Zoom and livestreamed on Council’s YouTube channel.

Mayor Frank Jackon explained his budget priorities for 2021 in this Facebook Live video. 

What is the purpose of the budget?

The budget tells residents what money the city is collecting and how it is being spent. The budget also makes it clear what the priorities of city leaders are. The Budget Book breaks the spending and priorities down by department (the highest level of organization) and by division (different sections of the departments.) City departments have directors and divisions have commissioners. 

In the Budget Book, you can see priorities laid out for each department. 

Find the current Mayor’s Estimate for the budget here.

Find the Community Development Block Grant Fund budget here. (More on CDBG money, how it can be spent and what it is used for below.)

Find past Budget Books here: 

2020 Budget Book

2019 Budget Book

2018 Budget Book

2017 Budget Book

How would you spend the money in Cleveland’s General Fund?

Refund Cleveland created this tool, which allows you to see how the city allocates more than $600 million in the General Fund and then to set your own budget priorities. 

The tool doesn’t include the Capital Budget, which pays for infrastructure and long term investment, the school district budget or for the city-owned utilities, which are supposed to be sustained with their own fees and charges. It does allow you to adjust the parts of the budget City Council reviews and votes on following budget hearings. 

How is the budget organized?

  • Two main parts are the Operating Budget and the Capital Budget. The Operating Budget is the money spent on things such as employees and supplies. The Capital Budget includes larger investments in buildings or street lights. The Capital budget gets discussed more in depth later in the year.
  • The money that is spent comes from a number of buckets. The major funds include: General Fund, Special Revenue Funds, Enterprise Funds and the Agency Fund. See definitions below! 
  • Money that the city receives from most federal and state grants is not included in the city budget funds because those grants are managed following different rules and often on a different schedule, called a fiscal year. 

Where does the money come from?

Cleveland collects money in the form of taxes: income taxes from paychecks of people who work and/or live in the city, and taxes and fees from businesses such as “bed” taxes from hotel rooms. 

What is City Council’s role?

The legislative body reviews, amends (changes) and approves the final city budget. 

Community Development Block Grant funds

The federal program provides annual grants to states, cities and counties based on a formula to help “develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development often referred to as HUD. 

Places like Cleveland that receive the grants have latitude to decide how to distribute the money, though it has to be used for the purposes the federal government has outlined and the city and the agencies it works with have to report back to HUD in detail about how the money is spent. It also is aimed to benefit low-to-moderate income communities and individuals. 

Here’s the income guidelines for the area that includes Cleveland for 2020. 

CDBG grants were first handed out in 1975 with additional grants added in 1993 for housing needs. Cleveland received a high total of $40 million in CDBG money in 2002 but that amount has steadily dropped to an estimated total of $24 million in 2021.

Cleveland uses a portion of the money to support activities through its Community Development Corporations or CDCs. That is different from how other cities use the money. It also pays for city resources and contractors who carry out programs. 

Here are some more specifics from HUD about how those targeted grants can be used. The grants are based on a federal formula.

CDBG – 28 activities can be funded with this set of grants including: 

  • Acquisition of real property
  • Relocation and demolition
  • Rehabilitation of residential and non-residential structures
  • Construction of public facilities and improvements, such as water and sewer facilities, streets, neighborhood centers, and the conversion of school buildings for eligible purposes
  • Public services, within certain limits
  • Activities relating to energy conservation and renewable energy resources
  • Provision of assistance to profit-motivated businesses to carry out economic development and job creation/retention activities

HOME grants can be used to increase home ownership and affordable housing 

ESG or Emergency Solutions Grants can be used to assist the homeless populations 

HOPWA or Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS are used for direct services and support for housing individuals with HIV or AIDS.

Here’s a Twitter thread about Community Development Block Grants from Jessica Trivisonno, Economic Development Director for Detroit-Shoreway and Cudell Inc. Community Development Corps.

Budget terms:

Appropriation: Money authorized by formal action, such as a city council ordinance, for a specific purpose.

Bed Tax: Money a hotel must pay the city for each room rented. 

Bond: An IOU or promise to repay borrowed money by a specific date. Bond proceeds are primarily used to finance capital projects.

CCA or Central Collection Agency: Entity that collects taxes.

Capital Budget: Money for internal or long-term investments in infrastructure. 

Capital Projects: The construction, rehabilitation or acquisition of fixed assets (buildings, bridges) or permanent improvements.

CDBG or Community Development Block Grants: Money provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) intended to help cities provide safe and decent housing and support economic opportunity for low-wealth residents. Money has specific rules as to how it can be spent. In Cleveland, each ward gets a portion of this grant money to spend on projects or activities. 

Debt Service: What it costs the city to borrow money for projects or services. 

Enterprise Funds: These are funds that hold money collected from bills or fees that are used to finance or support a public service. In Cleveland, this includes the Cleveland Division of Water and Cleveland Public Power. This money is kept separate from other general funds collected. 

General Fund: Most city services are supported from this fund including police, fire and EMS, the city’s recreation centers and garbage pick up. 

Fee: A charge to a person or business who is using or benefiting from a city service. For example, when a person applies for a building permit, that fee pays for an inspector to make sure the construction work is done properly. 

Fiscal year: A twelve-month period when a budget begins and ends. Cleveland’s fiscal year is Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. The federal government’s fiscal year is Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. 

Fund: Used to account for money. Must be balanced for money coming in and going out. 

Grant: Money from the state or federal government or a nonprofit organization that pays for a specific purpose or program. 

Property tax: Money that property owners pay based on the value of the property they own. Used to levy taxes for purposes such as funding libraries and schools. 

Operating Budget: Plan for how to spend public money. 

Unencumbered Funds: Money that isn’t appropriated or designated for a specific purpose.

Below are some examples of city funds and where the money comes from: 

Do you have comments or questions about our Cleveland Budget Primer? 
Are we missing something? Have an idea how we can make it better? Tell us here: https://forms.gle/Q6orrzXW7GQzbDWj9

ideastream: Citizen ‘Documenters’ Shine A Light On Public Meetings In Cleveland

ideastream did great story on our Cleveland Documenters work . Click here to listen.

How to: Documenters Community of Practice

We’re excited to launch Documenters Community of Practice, a monthly gathering for mutual support and action. Anyone can learn to host parts of the monthly Documenters Community of Practice held the 4th Thursday of the month.

There are 5 Roles on the team:

  • Welcome
  • Tech Tips
  • New & Good
  • Introduce Breakout Sessions/Close Breakout Sessions and
  • Check-out

Here’s how the evening flows:

Welcome

Thank you for joining us today to learn and share about documenting public meetings and growing a pool of communal public knowlegde. My name is _______and I’m a member of the Neighbor Up Network where our mission is “To ignite the power of everyday people to create, together, an extraordinary world right where they live.”

Showing up here today means you are now a member of the Neighbor Up Network. If you’d like to be added to our email and text list please enter your contact info into the chat box.

Community of Practice is a learning exchange we create TOGETHER for anyone interested in Documenters. We invite you to please take and use these practices. We’ll go until about 7:30 today; we hope you can stay the whole time, but know it’s ok to step out whenever you need to.

We only ask that you bring your best self, come prepared to both learn AND teach, and actively participate in creating and maintaining a positive learning environment. And of course, you’re welcome to bring food and drink with you!

Tech Tips

(First ask, “Who here is new to Zoom?” and if no one is, we can skip the ones below this paragraph, and just share these:)

1) invite everyone to open and use the Chat Box – ask them to “Please open it now; so many gifts show up there.”

2) Alert folks that “everything here is by invitation so as respect for you, we won’t unmute you or turn on your video – but we hope you’ll stay unmuted unless there is background noise,

3) if anyone is on their phone we suggest putting it on “Do Not Disturb” so they don’t get kicked off Zoom by an incoming call, and

4) give a phone number in case someone runs into a tech problem.

Who’s staffing the chat box today? Wave hi! (name them – then the Main Host will thank the rest of the team for today)
And now for some quick tips on using Zoom so that we can flow a little more easily. If you are a Zoom expert already, we thank you for your patience.

Muting: We invite you to keep your mic unmuted unless you have a lot of background noise.
Note: we will not unmute you or ask you to share your video. If you are having difficulty, send a note in chat.


Chat Function: To maximize your participation please open the chat function by maximizing Zoom on your screen, hovering over and clicking the “chat” button on the bottom of your screen. You should then see a chat bar on the side of your screen. If you are on your phone, you can tap in the bottom right corner of your screen to get the chat function.

Who’s staffing the chat box today? Wave hi! (name them)

If the screen is freezing or the sound is cutting out, consider stopping your video. You can still see us and hear us, and we can hear you when you’re not muted. If you are connecting from your phone any call or text coming in will mute this gathering on your end. If you’d like to avoid that, we suggest you set your phone to Do Not Disturb.

Check In: New & Good

One of our PRACTICES, or fundamental ways we do this work, is to start every gathering with a check in.

This practice is an opportunity for everyone to briefly meet others, and to put their voice into this space. Focusing on what’s new and good also helps us get primed and energized for this gathering. 

Life is full of…

  • difficulties and struggles 
  • also filled with beauty, generosity, mini successes and large accomplishments. 

Let’s go around, and let us know your Name, Neighborhood or the Community you’re connected to, and something new and good in your life.

(We then go into our Group Learning when we have a 20-minute group learning conversation.)

Breakout Conversations Intro

Introduce Breakout Session choices (First, take time to generate new topics for the breakouts. Second, read the choices from the shared document, ask folks to vote with their screens and enter their room choice in the chat)

Brief Meditation or Music while we organize the breakout rooms.

After Break Out Sessions
What is an “ah-ha” or action step that came from being in your breakout? OR what other takeaway from your breakout that you want to share with the main room? Please add it here in the chat.

Check Out

What is a gift are you taking from today?
OR
What do you want to remember?
OR
How are you feeling now compared to when you first arrived here today?

(invite to Hang Out Parking Lot)

What happens when I submit my document?


1. SUBMISSION: Lawrence is the first contact for all Documenters. When you submit your documentation, you will receive an automated email from Lawrence letting you know your document has been received. 

2. REVIEW: Rachel, Doug and Lila edit the document. If there are questions, Lawrence reaches out to you for more information. 

3. COPYEDIT: Once the initial edit is complete and any questions have been answered, Mary Ellen will copy edit the document. Once Mary Ellen has finished, she will let Lawrence know. 

4. PUBLIC: Lawrence will publish the document on Documenters.org. (We expect to be able to complete this process within 24-48 hours of notes being submitted.) 

6. FEEDBACK: Lawrence sends an email to you with any feedback.

  • Also note: Tweet threads are embedded on Documenters.org, too.

Find out more about Cleveland Documenters.