CLE Documenters Public Comment Guide


Last updated September 30, 2021


Cleveland City Council members are elected by residents to represent them. A big part of their job is to discuss and vote on which laws to pass and how taxpayer money should be spent. That work has to be done during public meetings. 

Cleveland City Council historically has not held a regular space for members of the public to share comments during its meetings. That changed recently with a new set of rules that open up opportunities for residents to speak at council’s weekly meetings. 

Since the process is fresh  for all of us, we have some learning to do. This guide is a start. It covers the rules for signing up to make a comment, things to know before heading to City Hall and some history about the role of public comment and how it – finally – came to Cleveland.  

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 a forum for residents to share information or opinion on community matters. 

Public comment at Cleveland City Council

Here’s a bit about Cleveland City Council and how it functions:

  • City Council holds regular meetings, where all 17 members meet and do the business of the city by voting on legislation that creates or changes laws or by approving requests to spend money.
  • City Council also holds committee meetings, where members discuss legislation and decide whether it should be voted on; there are currently 11 committees, (Additional info on how to make a comment at committee meetings appears below.)
  • Occasionally, City Council will hold special community meetings to hear from residents on important issues.


Public comment at regular council meetings

Starting Oct. 4, 2021, regular council meetings will include a public comment period, allowing for 10 pre-registered members of the public to comment for no more than three minutes each. 

Registration 

Register online, by email or using a paper form between Wednesday at noon and Monday at 2 p.m. before the 7 p.m. council meeting. You’ll receive a notification confirming you registered. Speaking slots are allotted by order of registration.  If you’re not among the first 10 registrations, you’ll be notified that you don’t have a speaking slot. The list starts fresh each week. 

Find the online form at: https://clevelandcitycouncil.org/news-resources/public-comment

  • Download a printable version of the form here
  • You can submit the downloaded form by:
    • Emailing it to publiccomment@clevelandcitycouncil.org
    • Printing it and delivering it in person at Cleveland City Hall, Room 220, 601 Lakeside Ave.  Paper forms will also be available there to fill out there (will have to go through security to go to council offices).
    • Mailing it to the address above (but it must arrive during the registration period.)
  • Incomplete forms will not be accepted.
  • Early registrations will not be accepted.
  • Registration information is considered public record.
  • Accommodation Requests: City Council is asking people who seek accommodations – such as for a disability or language assistance – to make the request at least three business days before the accommodation is needed. This online form can be used to make requests to access council’s public facilities, services or programs, including council meetings, council committee hearings, and ward events that include council members. 

Below is a screenshot of the public comment registration form, showing the required fields. 

What to know before you go

Transportation and parking at City Hall

  • You can park in the Willard Garage connected to City Hall on Lakeside Avenue. Cost is $3.50 for the first hour. Each additional half hour is $1.50, with a maximum cost of $10. To find a Greater Cleveland RTA Bus Route, use GCRTA’s “Plan a Trip” feature found at http://www.riderta.com/routes.
  • There is a bicycle rack on the east side of City Hall, just past the FREE stamp.
  • To get into City Hall, you will need a driver’s license or other current identification card.
  • At the security desk, tell the officer you are going to City Council chambers, which is located on the second floor. 

COVID-19 Safety Guidelines

  • The capacity of council chambers is 112 people. This allows for approximately 60 members of the public to attend in addition to the regular council, staff, and administration.
  • Everyone must wear a face mask and observe all City Hall COVID-19 protocols which include temperature checks and social distancing.

Want the essentials? Check out our public comment one-pager.

Council’s Rules for Public Comment

Council’s new procedures for public comment contain limitations for speakers who participate. People who don’t follow the rules may be asked to leave the council chamber.

The rules include:   

  • Speakers have up to three minutes for their comment and cannot yield remaining time to other speakers. Speakers can only address the topic they included on their registration form.
  • Indecent or discriminatory language is not allowed.
  • Speakers can  address the council as a whole, but not individual council members.
  • Speakers can’t  promote  products, services, or political campaigns when speaking at the podium. 
  • Signs and banners are not permitted in council chambers.

Council’s full procedures for public comment can be found here.

 

Public comment at committee meetings

People looking to make a public comment at a committee meeting have to contact the council member who chairs or leads the committee and ask to speak at the meeting. The chairperson ultimately decides whether to invite someone to speak.

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

  1. Figure out which committee they want to address.
  2. Identify the chair of that committee.
  3. Figure out when the committee will meet. Here’s council’s calendar. 
  4. Contact the chair and ask to speak at a meeting.

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

The law and history of public comment in Cleveland

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 does not require or ban public comment
  • Cleveland’s city charter neither requires nor bans public comment
  • The city charter gives council the authority to make its own rules

Before September 2021, City Council did not routinely hold a space for public comment in its regular meetings, except for a brief time in the 1920s and 1930s. Here is a bit of history.

According to Cleveland City Council’s City Archivist Chuck Mocsiran: 

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

Despite that mandate, the city has no record of resident comments made to council during that time.

Efforts to bring public comment to Cleveland

Frustration about the lack of public comment has grown in recent years, and on Aug. 18, 2021, council members voted to change the rules to allow a reserved period of public comment at regular council meetings. 

On Sept. 20, 2021, Cleveland City Council voted to approve the current set of procedures for public comment, laying ground for a public comment at every regular City Council meeting.

Clevelanders for Public Comment, a coalition of organizers and advocacy groups from across the city led the recent push for a regular public comment period at City Council. It supported a proposed city ordinance written by Jessica Trivisonno, the director of economic development for the Northwest Neighborhoods community development corporation (CDC). The group’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.

Nine Cleveland council members endorsed Clevelanders for Public Comment’s ordinance, but it was never officially considered by council. Instead, Council President Kevin Kelley introduced a proposed change to council’s rules in May that would allow for public comment.

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 original proposed rule change required speakers to be Cleveland residents or own a business in the city. It also required speakers to specify what ordinance or resolution they would speak about. Council voted on a rule change on Aug. 18, and approved the procedures for public comment on Sept. 20.

The procedures allow any member of the public to speak, and while speakers must stick to a specific topic, they aren’t limited to talking about a particular ordinance or resolution on the meeting agenda.

Created by the Cleveland Documenters team. Comments or questions? Email documenters@neighborhoodgrants.org. Find a one-pager version of this guide here.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.

Cleveland residents offer ideas for sharing the time and place of local government meetings

Cleveland residents Sonnia Ramsey and Rhonda Hills wondered if public participation could be provided to local government meetings. Illustration by John G/Shiner Comics

Fifteen Cleveland Documenters asked nearly 80 Cleveland residents who live in 26 neighborhoods this question: If you were in charge, how would you help residents learn about when local government meetings were happening? Here were some of their ideas.

Resident engagement teams

Tramane Kedar Medley, 45, of Lee-Harvard, suggested that each City Council ward have a fund that would pay organizers to regularly canvass and educate residents on how they can engage with local government. 

Gary Murphy, 66, who lives in Detroit-Shoreway, had a similar idea. He suggested two-person teams who would work with local “powers” to get informed and bring information back to their communities.

Take it to the streets

David Horning, 33, from Ohio City, said he would buy a van with a loudspeaker and drive around the neighborhood broadcasting need-to-know news of the day. 

Vada Williams, 50, of Buckeye-Shaker, also said that a person could use a bullhorn to call out to residents while walking up and down neighborhood streets to pass out flyers.

Suggestions, please?

Keesha Tolliver-Funches, 47, of Hough, envisioned a citywide “digital suggestion box.” But she didn’t want to leave out folks who weren’t as connected and said physical boxes could be available at libraries, grocery stores or post offices. 

Postcards, flyers and door hangers

Several residents suggested that mailings or hand-delivered flyers would be a great way to let people know when regular meetings were happening and how residents could participate. 

Annette Flenoy, 66, of Glenville, was one of the many who suggested flyers “like officials do when running in elections.” 

Social media, newsletters and more 

Many folks said social media, newsletters and text reminders could help alert residents to meetings and important topics – but not so many that receiving them becomes overwhelming. 

Abdusemih Tadese, 52, of Fairfax, suggested a local newsletter that contained a heads-up on key issues coming before City Council.

Other suggestions included: a unified calendar of city meetings that would allow people to see and save the dates, a more active social media presence that shared links to meetings for people to watch live or after the fact and text-message reminders of meetings. 

Transportation 

Many public meetings went virtual during the pandemic; some are now back in person or offer a hybrid option. 

Sonnia Ramsey, 67, from Buckeye-Woodhill, wondered whether transportation could be provided to seniors or others who wanted to attend. 

Rhonda Hills, 50, of Lee-Harvard, had the same idea. “Elderly get bussed at voting time, why not [to] the regular meetings?”

Engagement tracker

Jennifer Frymier, 43, of University Circle, said there’s not a way for residents to see that when they do speak up, what they need or what they ask for is provided. There has to be more incentive, she said. If residents don’t really feel like they’re benefitting from engaging, she said, they’re not going to do it. 

Cleveland Documenters contributing interviews to this piece include: Keith Seward, Emily Anderson, Kathryn Johnson, Marvetta Rutherford, Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, Mildred Seward, Janenell Smith and Dorothy Ajamu

Residents want more notice, better access to information on local government meetings

Cleveland Documenters interviewed nearly 80 residents across 26 neighborhoods to find out how much notice they need to attend local government meetings. Illustration by John G/Shiner Comics

By Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Rachel Dissell

In June, Cleveland City Council passed a law that allowed it — and other city boards and committees — to meet virtually or in person with 12 hours’ notice for members of the public who might want to tune in or attend. 

Council passed the ordinance the same day it was introduced, though some council members, including Jenny Spencer, voiced concerns about whether a half day was enough notice to tell residents about when a meeting or hearing was scheduled, how it would be conducted and what items would be discussed. 

“I wasn’t aware that we were able to provide that brief of a notice,” Spencer, who represents Ward 15, said that day.

After confirming with the city’s law department that the 12-hour notice was allowed under Ohio’s open meetings law, City Council President Kevin Kelley said that 12 hours would be the “bare-bones minimum” for letting the public know about meetings. 

The opportunity to watch council at work has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, with meetings streamed on YouTube, where they also can be viewed at any time. Previously, meetings were broadcast only on Cleveland’s TV20 and recordings had to be requested. 

City Council posts meeting notices on its website. Those notices come out, on average, less than four days – 3.7 days or 88 hours – before a meeting happens, according to data scraped from Legistar every 15 minutes from Feb. 22 until Aug. 11. The data is scraped and published by the Cleveland Bill Bot Twitter account run by Cleveland resident Angelo Trivisonno. 

However, when you count only business days, not weekends, council gave residents an average of 1.7 days of advance notice – or about 41 hours – before conducting a meeting. 

All of that combined with council’s habit to regularly suspend the rules and speed up the pace of passage raises a question: Is this enough time for residents to engage?

What’s “reasonable” notice for a meeting?

Cleveland Documenters interviewed nearly 80 residents in 26 Cleveland neighborhoods to find out. 

More than half said they would need to know a week in advance — or more — to be able to watch, attend or make a public comment at a local government meeting such as a City Council meeting. 

That is, if they know when the meetings are happening. 

“I don’t have a reliable way to find this information,” 28-year-old Lee-Harvard resident Courtney Michelle Reese told Documenter Angie Pohlman. 

Other residents said their most reliable sources for learning about important meetings were neighbors, friends, community organizations or posts on social media. 

The majority of open-meeting laws require government bodies to give the public “reasonable” notice by informing people of when and where a meeting will happen, how they can attend and what will be discussed – though what is reasonable can be subjective. 

A driving force behind public deliberation of proposed laws and expenditures is the idea that government officials will make better decisions when they’re being watched. The purpose is twofold. It can have an actual effect on the decisions that are made but also enhance the perception of transparency, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.  

”If you have [public] notice and you’re able to watch the process, you’re more likely to have a sense that the process was fair and legitimate,” LoMonte said. “If you’re shut out of the process, then you are more likely to be skeptical that there was favoritism or potentially even wrongdoing in the decision-making.”

Knowing about meetings is just one barrier that keeps residents from participating in local government, according to the interviews. Some residents expressed concern about getting downtown (where most meetings are held), paying for parking, and blocking out time during the work week for daytime meetings. 

Work and family schedules were already hard to juggle, making it difficult to prioritize local government meetings, several residents said.

Meeting agendas are hard to find

One thing most residents agreed on is that more effort is needed to let residents know when meetings are happening and, for City Council, what legislation council members or other local government officials will be considering. Currently, the meeting dates and times are listed on the City Council website. Finding meeting agendas takes a little more effort. 

“There are a lot of issues that should be discussed, as far as informing people about local government issues,” Katherine Bender, a 56-year-old resident from the Euclid-Green neighborhood, told her daughter, Documenter Kaitlin Bender-Thomas. “One way of discussing it would be [going] door-to-door or social media, … trying to find ways to inform people of these particular meetings, giving them ample time to be there and notifying them of the dates and times to be there,” Bender said. 

Maria Estrella-Stallworth, a 41-year-old resident of St. Clair-Superior, told Documenter Kathryn Johnson that she’d like to see flyers distributed at corner stores, churches, barber shops and salons — especially for residents who don’t have access to the internet. 

Each City Council ward should have a fund that would pay organizers to regularly canvas and educate the public on how to engage with local government, Tramane Kedar Medley, 45, of Lee-Harvard, told Documenter Marvetta Rutherford. 

Multiple modes of communication and more community outreach should be used, said Beth Piwkowski, 37, who lives in the Jefferson neighborhood. “I think mail is a way to reach people in your neighborhood – not everybody is extremely online,” she told Documenter Dan McLaughlin. 

That should include outreach to non-English-speaking Clevelanders. “There’s easily at least five or six languages being spoken here [in my neighborhood] … I feel like there could be more efforts made to connect residents when English isn’t their first language,” she said.

Piwkowski said she got discouraged about attending public meetings, though, after signing a 2017 petition — rejected by City Council — aimed at preventing the city from financing renovations at what was then Quicken Loans Arena. 

“There was no way to express anything at the council meeting about it, and it kind of felt like no matter what you wanted to do or no matter how much you wanted to be involved, it seemed kind of like people did whatever they wanted to do,” she said. “It’s not very motivating to feel like, if you want to have a say, you really can’t. And it seems to be set up that way sometimes, a little bit by design.” 

Soon, council will allow residents to regularly speak at council meetings, thanks to the efforts of Clevelanders for Public Comment, a grass-roots coalition that pushed for the changes.

Stephen Phillips, a 44-year-old resident of the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood, also thinks city officials should get out on foot in the neighborhoods to distribute information. But he feels that when people do speak up, they don’t always see results, and that is discouraging. 

“One person would not be heard,” he told Documenter Mildred Seward. “You might be heard for the moment, but nothing will come from it.”

Some residents have lost faith that local officials will listen to their needs, even if they do show up. 

“I don’t feel people in government positions have the people’s best interest at heart,” Dejenaba Lockett, a Kinsman resident, told Seward. “I feel like a more grass-roots movement is more needed for our community.”

Kelley, who is also running to be Cleveland’s next mayor, said during a July 27 forum at Edgewater Park that he is open to changing the time frame.

“I believe that it’s short, and it’s an ordinance that can be changed by council. And I’m certainly open to doing that,” he said.

Some of his colleagues might appreciate that as well. 

On a recent Friday, around 4 p.m., council announced that it would hold a meeting to discuss its priorities for spending the $511 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The meeting was scheduled for Monday, mid-afternoon. 

Council didn’t vote on legislation, and no decisions were made at the meeting, but residents have a keen interest in how the city might spend the once-in-a-generation infusion meant to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a frequent topic for the seven candidates running for mayor. Groups have pushed for direct resident participation in the process. Cleveland mailed surveys to residents asking how they would prioritize spending, and some council members have held meetings in their wards. 

About 50 people tuned in on YouTube to hear council members sort through ideas on how the money would best be spent.

Toward the end of the hour, Ward 14 Council Member Jasmin Santana asked: “Can we get notified of this meeting at least a week in advance?” 

“Maybe not a full week…,” Kelley answered as some of his colleagues chuckled. “You can kind of count on Mondays generally, but we don’t get much full-week advance notice.”

The Pace of Passage: How Quickly City Council Makes Laws and What That Means for Clevelanders

Cleveland City Council voted to suspend its own rules and shorten the legislative process 99.5 percent of the time during a recent 17-month span. Illustration by John G/Shiner Comics

By Doug Breehl-Pitorak, Cleveland Documenters

During a July forum for mayoral candidates, Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley answered what seemed like a simple question: “What are your thoughts on what constitutes adequate public notice and public participation?” 

Kelley, who called public participation “crucial,” said during his seven years leading council, he’d made sure residents had advance notice of meetings and agenda items and that he cut down on the use of a tactic called “passage under suspension.” 

When council passes an ordinance under suspension, it waives the normal rules that require proposed legislation to be read by the full council on three separate days before it can be approved and limits the window of discussion, debate or public input between the introduction and passage of a law. 

“It almost never happens unless it is a small issue like a liquor [license] or a hyper-local issue,” Kelley told the voters gathered underneath a pavilion at Edgewater Park on July 27. It happened “all the time” prior to his becoming council president, Kelley said. “Now it does not happen unless there’s an extreme time emergency.”

Cleveland Documenters review of records found that what Kelley said isn’t true.

Between January 2020 and May 2021, Cleveland City Council voted to suspend its own rules and shorten the legislative process 99.5 percent of the time, according to The City Record, the official journal of council’s proceedings.

Council passed legislation the same day it was introduced nearly a third of the time. The introduction of legislation is often the first opportunity for the public to learn about it.

Kelley, through his executive assistant, declined to answer questions about his statements or about what Cleveland Documenters found.

The habit of “suspending the rules” may seem mundane or bureaucratic. It’s easy to overlook with hundreds of pieces of legislation churning through committees and council meetings each year. But it raises questions about why the rules exist if they are almost universally disregarded. By shortening or skipping the committee process, council also fuels doubt about its capacity to vet legislation. And if sparing use of passage under suspension aids public participation, as Kelley implied, does routine suspension — what actually happens in council — obstruct the public from getting involved?

That’s what several community members contended in 2020, when council officially set in motion Operation Relentless Pursuit (ORP), a federally funded policing initiative also referred to as Operation Legend. 

Though the federal government announced that Cleveland was selected for the program in December 2019, council authorized the city to use the first wave of funding —  $1,428,571 — by passing legislation the day it was introduced in June 2020. It covered overtime pay, benefits, computers and undercover police cars.

Resist Operation Relentless Pursuit Cleveland, a community organization that was formed to oppose the program, noted in its fact sheet that ORP was counterproductive to community safety and would especially harm Cleveland’s Black and brown communities.

Now renamed Clevelanders Against Federal Policing, the group was among several that signed a petition to City Council demanding three hearings where residents could comment on the program. 

“When council declares an ‘emergency’ and evades the requirement of three readings, democracy is starved,” wrote the groups, which included Black Lives Matter Cleveland and Showing Up for Racial Justice Northeast Ohio (SURJ NEO). “When council routinely passes ordinances without input from the public, democracy is throttled.”

Council approved the second wave of funding in September 2020 after two readings, 14 days apart, with a review by the Safety Committee in between. The funding provided nearly $8 million for three years’ worth of salary for 30 police officers. 

There was no public comment at those meetings. Though some organizers had private conversations with several council members, a significant majority ignored their calls and emails, according to Daphne Carr, a Youngstown-based activist who has organized with SURJ NEO.

“I know that democracy takes time, but it turns out that everybody is much happier when they actually get any say at all on what goes on in their community,” Carr said in an interview.

Concerns about the public’s opportunities to participate are not isolated to any one topic. Cleveland Documenters interviewed nearly 80 residents in 26 Cleveland neighborhoods this summer and found that many have challenges to accessing local government. Many said they didn’t have a reliable way to find out when meetings happen or what would be discussed in them. 

That’s an experience Ohio City resident Angelo Trivisonno understands. Trivisonno created a Twitter account in December 2020 that automatically tweets out meeting notices and legislation files after council posts them on Legistar, its legislation-management website.

“Before I made Bill Bot, I really had no idea what council was doing on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Though he’s noticed that council deals with a lot of routine items like liquor permits and minor zoning issues, Trivisonno said there’s value in sharing information about legislation quickly, especially for advocacy efforts.

“Time is really of the essence in some situations, particularly when three readings are suspended,” he said. “If a meeting is on a Monday, and they release information on Legistar on Thursday or Friday, that doesn’t give people who care about a particular item on council’s agenda much time to discuss with neighbors or discuss with other interested people or groups. Every moment counts in a number of situations.”

Ninety-seven percent of the ordinances council passed were declared an emergency, which means they take effect as soon as the mayor signs them or 10 days after council’s vote.

In addition to accelerating the legislative process, council has a habit of speeding up the timeline for ordinances to take effect. Ninety-seven percent of the ordinances council passed were declared an emergency, which means they take effect as soon as the mayor signs them or 10 days after council’s vote. Regular, or non-emergency, ordinances take effect 30 days after they are passed (unless a piece of legislation sets a specific start date). The laws often authorize expenditures, which determine how the city spends taxpayers’ money.

From Parliament to Cleveland, a legislative rule persists   

Cleveland Documenters contacted 10 council members in addition to Kelley to get a better understanding of passage under suspension, emergency ordinances, and more. Council Members Jasmin Santana and Jenny Spencer said they weren’t available to talk. Council Members Delores Gray, Anthony Hairston, and Kerry McCormack didn’t respond.

Council Member Kevin Bishop, who represents Ward 2, said he has never questioned the purpose of the rule requiring council to read legislation on three different days, but he thinks it gives the public enough time to digest proposed ordinances and voice their point of view. Council Member Brian Kazy, who represents Ward 16, offered his take on each reading: Day One is for introduction, Day Two is for discussion and comment, and Day Three is for voting.

Kazy’s understanding aligns somewhat with historians and academics who say the “three readings” model for considering legislation, which dates back at least to the 15th Century and is common across the country, gives lawmakers time to understand legislation before voting on it. 

“As far as I know it goes back to the English Parliament; it dates back hundreds of years,” said Larry Keller, associate professor emeritus at Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. “It was meant to forestall emotional legislation. It was to force a legislative body to think about what it’s doing.” 

Larry Keller, Cleveland State University

It also gives people inside and outside of the legislative process time to find problems with a proposed law, according to Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. Three readings is ultimately a check on “rash” decisions, he said.

Locally, the rule to read legislation on three different days and the authority to suspend it dates back to Ohio’s first constitution, approved in 1803. Cleveland City Council followed state law until 1914, when Cleveland adopted its first city charter after receiving “home rule” authority from Ohio two years earlier. Today, suspension of the rules requires support from at least two-thirds of all members elected to Cleveland City Council, which currently means 12 or more affirmative votes.

But are these centuries-old legislative practices still relevant? Keller believes they are.

Check out a glossary of legislative terms to know

For council, a question of power and time

Keller, who has trained city council members in Cleveland and elsewhere, told Cleveland Documenters that by suspending the rules often, councils give up a tool that keeps them viable in a mayor-council form of government like Cleveland’s, a setup where mayors wield lots of power. He wrote a 2014 Cleveland.com column making that argument.

“That’s what makes three readings important to me,” Keller said. “It’s part of a menu to make council a truly policy-making body.”

Council Member Mike Polensek, who represents Ward 8, agreed with Keller’s perspective on the “three readings” rule.

Council President Kelley had indicated he would slow the legislative process down after routine suspension increased under former president Martin Sweeney’s leadership, Polensek said. Now Polensek, the longest-serving member in council history, is hoping new leadership in January 2022 will restore a system of accountability and oversight.

“The lines between the administration and council are very blurred; one would argue that there is no division,” Polensek said. “People view the City Council today as weak, the leadership as weak and ineffective because … they’re in lockstep with the administration.” 

Council seeks to work with the administration, Polensek said, adding that there are true emergencies that call for quicker passage of legislation. But much of the argument behind suspending the rules centers on time constraints, and a properly functioning administration shouldn’t be running so behind on legislation, he said.

Suspending the rules shortens the committee process or bypasses it altogether, even though committees provide a space for digging into important details, according to Polensek. In the past, he said, committee meetings lasted 4 to 5 hours or would be postponed — and the legislation with it — if committee members or administration officials didn’t attend. 

“If we didn’t get what we wanted, there would be legislative constipation,” Polensek said.

Cleveland City Council Member Mike Polensek

Not all council members feel that council’s power is compromised by suspending the rules so often. 

Cleveland City Council still thoroughly vets legislation, even if it doesn’t adhere to the three-reading standard, said Council Member Blaine Griffin, who represents Ward 6. Griffin, who chairs council’s safety committee, said the council president, committee chairs, and clerk’s office work together to shepherd legislation through the process, which includes committee meetings and administrative review.

“It’s not like a static process; this is not robotic,” Griffin said. “This is a dynamic process that has a lot of decision-making points and has a lot of opportunity to vet the legislation that we’re putting forth.”

One reason for suspension is that the city may risk missing out on a grant, Griffin said. 

Other times, a city department might need to purchase equipment or supplies in order to perform services, said Bishop, who was first elected to council in 2017.

Though he couldn’t think of specific examples, Bishop said council’s legislative process has seemed rushed at times, adding that council should slow down when considering long-term contracts and legislation that authorizes the use of lots of taxpayer money. Suspending the rules to buy supplies such as road salt or lawn mowers makes sense, he said, adding that the council could read more legislation on three different days with improved planning.

“If the administration planned things out a little better, then I think we wouldn’t have to suspend the rules so much,” Bishop said. “But from council’s standpoint, we don’t want the city to suffer as far as delivering the services.”

Nearly half — at least 46 percent — of the legislation that council passed between January 2020 and May 2021 came at the city’s request, according to Legistar.  Ward 9’s Kevin Conwell said the rate at which council suspends the rules is too high and suggested that council do a quarterly review of how it passes legislation. He also wondered if the administration is late in getting legislation to council. 

Even if the city does run behind, the responsibility lies with council members to make time, Griffin said.

“[Part of our job] is that we actually have to carve out time to make sure that you’re reading the legislation, that you’re familiar and you understand it, that you get feedback from your constituents, that you get feedback from other stakeholders,” he said.

Cleveland City Council Member Blaine Griffin

If the city does not provide enough information, committee chairs can hold legislation until it’s ready, Griffin said, adding that he can’t recall many instances of council members saying they didn’t have enough time to look at legislation.

Council recently kept an emergency ordinance in the committee stage rather than voting on it. The legislation would net the city a $415,125 grant from Cuyahoga County to enforce domestic-violence warrants. Kelley said the legislation was sloppy and he postponed a vote, rather than voting later that day, according to Documenter Mildred Seward’s notes on the Aug. 18 Committee of the Whole meeting

A closer look at legislation passed on introduction

Council passed 584 ordinances and emergency ordinances between January 2020 and May 2021. Ninety-six percent passed without a single vote against them, according to the Cleveland Documenters review of The City Record. 

A nearly identical pattern emerged among the votes on suspending the rules. Out of about 9,000 opportunities for council members to vote on suspension, they tallied 36 nay votes, none of which ever combined for enough votes to prevent suspension.

Cleveland Documenters honed in on the 26 percent of legislation that council passed in the same meeting it was introduced.

Passing legislation the day it is introduced eliminates the dynamic vetting process Griffin described. Council’s rules say legislation to be passed “on introduction” must be “considered informally” by at least one committee, so long as “circumstances permit.” The relevant committee chair usually handles this informal consideration, but there is no meeting, Deputy Clerk of Council Allan Dreyer said.

“The point of introducing and approving legislation under suspension is that there is an urgent need that cannot wait for a meeting,” he wrote in an email.

All the items passed the first time they were read were also emergency ordinances. More than half authorized the use of casino revenue funds, which are a portion of the 5 percent of casino tax revenue that the City of Cleveland gets each year that council members get to spend. In 2020, it was about $9.7 million. 

Those funds went to neighborhood programs that provide computer training, offer music education, renovate the storefronts of small businesses, and more. That legislation is not controversial and would not have to be read on three separate days because no one would object to it, Kazy said in an interview. 

Cleveland City Council Member Brian Kazy

Council also passed several items the same day they were introduced that carry citywide impact, including handing over its authority to approve some vendors and their compensation to the city’s Board of Control, which is made up of members of the mayor’s cabinet and city department heads.

One example of that legislation authorized the implementation of The Division of Information Technology & Services (ITS) 2020 Capital Project Plan. The plan calls for sweeping upgrades to city departments’ computer and internet infrastructure. The legislation authorized the city to engage with multiple vendors and consultants to execute the plan. The funding would come from bonds — a type of loan — secured in 2020 for this purpose. The project was estimated to total $5,358,700 in capital costs, according to a legislative summary obtained by Cleveland Documenters via a public-record request.

In 2021, council passed an ITS plan the same week it was introduced that was estimated to carry $5,000,000 in capital costs, according to a legislative summary available on Legistar.

Another initiative passed on introduction gave the Board of Control authority over vendors and compensation involved in the development of violence-prevention programs for the city’s Neighborhood Resource and Recreation Centers.

Bishop said he thinks council should retain that authority as much as possible, but sometimes the experts on the Board of Control are best positioned to make those decisions.

“If you have synergy through the government, you tend to rely on the professionals in some instances,” Bishop said.

Council members also said ordinances accepting grants could be passed quickly. And that happens, as the ORP legislation showed. 

In 2020, council also passed legislation on introduction that authorized the city to get $250,000 from the State of Ohio — plus an $83,333 match from the city — for the operation of the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force (NOLETF), a coordination of regional law enforcement agencies focused on reducing drug trafficking and other drug-related crimes.

Council may approve grants for NOLETF and ORP because it’s familiar with the programs, according to Griffin.

“Sometimes they’re just repeat grants, or sometimes there’s just amendments or addendums,” he said.

Though ORP was new, Cleveland has participated in NOLETF since 2005. But, even programs that have been around can stir debate. 

This year, council passed a separate NOLETF grant after reading it on two different days. It was first read by council on Dec. 2, 2020, and it was discussed in a Jan. 20 Committee of the Whole meeting. There, Council Members Conwell and Joe Jones, who represents Ward 1, expressed doubt about the program’s effectiveness in reducing crime.

Later that day, in a regular council meeting, council unanimously voted to approve the legislation, according to The City Record.

Calls for extended, thorough deliberation

Since Cleveland Documenters began attending meetings in November 2020,  Documenters have noted other instances of council members asking for more information or time. There were several examples during hearings on the budget, the biggest piece of legislation council passes each year.

Requests from council members for more information or time don’t indicate that a piece of legislation is good or bad. They show efforts of oversight and accountability, which are sorely needed given the city’s economic reality, according to Polensek.

“If there’s ever a time in this city’s history that we need to be penny-wise and not pound foolish, it’s now,” he said. “We have to look at every dollar we’re spending, where it’s going, what kind of impact it is having, especially as it pertains to city service and delivery of city services.”

Problems and possibilities for public participation  

In addition to three readings and public comment, the petition against Operation Relentless Pursuit called out council’s choice of declaring the legislation an emergency. Cleveland Documenters have been curious about that practice from the start of our work last year.

Documenter Jack Barnes, in his notes on a Nov. 18, 2020, City Council meeting, asked, “Why were they ‘emergency ordinances?’ Is it just because of COVID that ‘emergency’ is warranted?”

Emergency ordinances pre-date the pandemic. They don’t always indicate an emergency as the word is commonly understood, according to Griffin, who added that council uses them mainly because they’re practical and efficient.

“The clerk’s office, if there’s no objection, then they’re going to take the efficient route to move the legislation along and tag it with emergency,” he said.

Council passed 97 percent of its ordinances as emergency ordinances between January 2020 and May 2021. Some initiated a mask mandate, extended garbage-truck leases, and purchased rock salt. 

Another authorized the creation of a Rocky Colavito Jr. statue, honoring the beloved Cleveland baseball player. Passed in November 2020, the “emergency” statue was unveiled Aug. 10

“Why would it be important for us to make it sit there for another three weeks?” Griffin said. “That’s three weeks that they would have lost that they could have just started embedding and putting in the statue to have it ready for the biggest Italian-heritage festival in this region [the Feast of the Assumption].” 

Emergency ordinances carry an additional layer of significance. Their shorter timeline to becoming effective — and in many cases activating contracts — can complicate referendum efforts, where residents gather signatures to force passed laws to be repealed or put on the ballot for a citywide vote. Some types of emergency ordinances aren’t subject to a referendum at all

Alternatives to the “three readings” rule and the handling of emergency ordinances

Though the practice of reading legislation on three different days and designating it an emergency is common, there are alternatives — in theory and in practice. The Model City Charter, a blueprint for municipal rule produced by the National Civic League, says councils must publish proposed legislation and hold a public hearing on it no sooner than seven days later, allowing anyone who is interested to speak. If any amendments are made to the legislation, the process starts from the beginning. Emergency ordinances can be passed on introduction, but they last for only 60 days.

“[The Model City Charter] gives citizens a chance to participate before the council processes [legislation], and they’ll be present when the council deals with the ordinance,” CSU’s Keller said. “The three readings doesn’t ensure that.” 

Many city charters have the three-readings rule, Keller said. But some cities have modified versions or are entirely different. Cleveland Documenters found differences ranging from subtle — like Akron, where its council has a setup similar to Cleveland’s but requires public hearings for certain zoning ordinances — to pronounced — like Pittsburgh, where its council must wait at least seven days after legislation is introduced to take a final action and must hold a public hearing for select types of legislation. If 25 or more registered voters sign and deliver a petition no more than three days after notice of a proposed law’s introduction, Pittsburgh City Council must hold a public hearing, regardless of the type of legislation.

Pittsburgh does not use emergency ordinances, but its charter doesn’t mandate a specific “cooling off” period before passed laws take effect. Its council can decide to take final action on legislation sooner if it deems a situation is urgent.

Differing perspectives, one result 

Ultimately, there seems to be a difference between the public’s view of its opportunities to participate in local government and the council’s view.

“I think when the public sees a piece of legislation out there and they want a council person to vote a certain way, trust me, we hear from them,” Kazy said, adding that public input makes council members better legislators.

The public and residents have more than enough time and opportunity to participate, added Griffin, who mentioned committee meetings and his ward meetings as chances for public involvement. 

The reality of fast-moving legislation, lack of public comment, and limited meeting notice can result in a sense of disengagement or a belief that council doesn’t value residents’ input, which University Circle resident Jennifer Frymier shared in an interview with Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell.

“People don’t do things unless they get something out of it. There has to be more of an incentive,” Frymier said of participation in local government. “If they’re not really feeling like they’re benefitting from it, then what’s the point?”

Documenters Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, Daniel McLaughlin, Keith Yurgionas and Emma Andrus contributed to this reporting. Cid Standifer created the graphics.


How we reported this story

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains residents to attend and document local government meetings in order to foster participation in the democratic process and to create accountability. 

When Documenters started attending meetings in 2020, the most common questions (aside from the lack of public comment) were about why council consistently suspended its own rules and why so many ordinances passed as emergencies. What does it mean? How often does council do it? What are the consequences, if any, for council and for Clevelanders?

These are the questions we set out to answer. 

To understand how often council suspended its rules, a team of Cleveland Documenters reviewed The City Record for ordinances and emergency ordinances, which become city laws, but did not include liquor licenses or resolutions, which are largely ceremonial. 

Documenters also looked at three months of council proceedings from 2019 to check whether the COVID-19 pandemic had altered council’s habits. Council passed 100 percent of emergency and non-emergency ordinances under suspension during those months, and The City Record shows only one ordinance – the budget – was read on three different days in 2019.

Pace of Passage: Terms to Know



This is a list of terms tied to the “Pace of Passage” story and their definitions. Have questions, concerns or ideas? Email our civic reporter, Doug, at DougBP@neighborhoodgrants.org.

Board of Control: A city board made up of members of the mayor’s cabinet and city department heads. It directs the city’s Division of Purchases & Supplies.

Casino revenue funds: A portion of the 5 percent of casino tax revenue that the City of Cleveland gets each year that council members get to spend. In 2020, it was about $9.7 million.

The City Record: Cleveland City Council’s official journal of its proceedings.

City charter: A document regulating the structure and operation of a city government. You can explore Cleveland’s city charter here.

Committee chairs: Leaders of council’s committees.

Committee of the Whole: When the full council meets as a committee to debate pending legislation. 

Council’s rules: A set of rules governing council’s procedures.

Emergency ordinances: City laws that take effect 10 days after passage or immediately after the mayor signs them. Legislation requires a two-thirds affirmative vote — currently 12 or more votes — to carry emergency status.

Full council: All 17 members of Cleveland City Council, as opposed to a committee meeting that involves only some members.

Grant: In this context, money awarded to the city by a government, nonprofit or business to be used for a specific purpose or to fund a particular program.

Home Rule: The authority of a region to govern itself rather than be governed by a distant power. Cleveland officially gained that authority from Ohio in 1912, and its first city charter took effect in 1914.

Legislation: An umbrella term for ordinances and emergency ordinances.

Legistar: Council’s online legislation-management system.

Mayor-council: A form of city government in which the executive and legislative powers are split between an elected mayor and an elected city council. In a council-city-manager form of government, an elected council can hire and fire the city manager. 

Ordinances: City laws that govern the actions, responsibilities and tax dollars of residents, businesses, organizations, city departments and visitors in Cleveland. They take effect 30 days after passage.

Passed on introduction: Council suspended the rules and voted on legislation after reading it on only one day — the same day it was first introduced to full council.

Public comment: The opportunity for members of the public to voice their opinions at government meetings.

Public-record request: Formally requesting a public record from the government. You can take this free text-message-based course to learn more about public-record requests in Cleveland.

Reading(s): The clerk of council reads the legislation in a public meeting of the full council. Traditionally, the first reading is for introducing the legislation, the second is for debate, and the third is for voting.

Referendum: A right granted to registered voters by Cleveland’s city charter allowing them to repeal laws passed by council or put them to a citywide vote. It requires gathering signatures totaling 10 percent or more of the votes cast in the last regular city election. They must be delivered to council within 30 days of passage of the law in question.

Resolutions: Council’s official declarations of support, sympathy and celebration.

Suspension of the rules/Passage under suspension: When City Council does away with the requirement to read legislation on three separate days before voting on it. With a two-thirds affirmative vote — currently 12 or more votes — to “suspend the rules,” council can then vote on legislation after readings on only one or two distinct days.

Healing Spaces: Documenters find healing spaces in Cleveland

This summer Cleveland Documenters interviewed 19 people across the city about their favorite healing spaces as part of the Healing Spaces environmental justice reporting project.


Angie Pohlman interviewed herself!

Angie’s location: Upper Edgewater Park

Angie Pohlman at her healing space, Edgewater Park

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

The thing that I like best about this spot is that you can sit here and see nothing but lake. Being near water has always had healing properties for me. You can “give” your cares to the waves. You can hear people, kids playing, someone doing yoga. You can smell whatever is on the breeze, grass, the smell of leaves in fall.  Its all very natural, “circle of life” kind of smells. The feel of the weathered picnic table is familiar and comfy.

It became a particular healing space for me last summer after a heart attack, and this was the first place I came after I came home from the hospital. When I got to the bench, I realized it was the first time I walked there without getting out of breath! Normally I would have ridden my bike there because it was easier. And I took a huge breath… it became a great place to sit and close my eyes – and breathe – and I realized that I couldn’t remember feeling this good in a long time. So it became a touch point location for me.

How did you find out about this space?

I live near the park, so I was here a lot anyway. My mom’s mom lived very close by, and I have so many memories driving by the shelter in the Upper park – I think it was built in the 20’s and has a particular kind of curved tiles – it makes me think of my Grandmother’s place because a lot of her stuff was from the 20s

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

The shelter house at the upper park is from the 20’s I believe.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

Only to the extent that I always clean up after myself!

Who else should know that this space exists?

Anyone who wants to find a space to unwind – there’s willow point on the lower park, workout trails, the new beach house, and a new playground; its a great place to bike, too.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

It’s a great place to come and breathe and relax.

Marvetta Rutherford interviewed Fred Hardman

Fred Hardman at the community garden he founded

Fred’s location: Community garden at East 142nd  and Miles avenue

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Green with traffic.. Bees buzzing if you’re  close enough to hear…honey if you would like to try it… continuation of what God did and wants man to continue… potential joy and sadness  reflections on the neighborhood when it was mixed races and many of them had gardens.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Tranquil spiritual serene in spite of being in an urban setting. Calmness and want to pass on the knowledge to the generations to come…

What makes this space healing for you?

It allows me to teach others and relax and grow in nature.

How did you find out about this space?

The city suggested this. it was a jungle and in serious disrepair,  the previous councilman suggested.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

In times past, this area was an unsightly eyesore. Drugs and other criminal activities occurred here. No one  wanted it… Hardman said he used his own resources and donations from others to get this to its present state. The city said that he qualified for grants but first had to spend the amount before they gave funds, he said. He’s on a fixed budget and declining health and does the best he can.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

In the six years of occupancy, the beekeeping has been successful. In the stages of the design logo and plans to get it to retail. His biggest challenge is in the various levels of the grounds.

Because he didn’t live next door he received pushback from the city. Without assistance from the councilman, this site wouldn’t exist. He wanted to buy the land and the city wanted to lease.. he waited over two years for the permission to buy.  It was a jungle when he bought it for $200.

Who else should know that this space exists?

All the neighborhood, Hardman said. He wants to create a legacy for the community.  People need to get back to controlling their own food.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

His garden got a late start because of health concerns and lack of volunteers. The red tape he has experienced in getting help from the city has been lacking. 

Tina Scott interviewed Sheila Sampson

 

East 55th Street Pier

Sheila’s location: E. 55th Lake Erie Pier

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

The lake water, the wind, the fish and birds.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Peaceful.  I feel like God is rewarding me with peace of mind.

What makes this space healing for you?

I can peacefully think about the good and not so good.

How did you find out about this space?

I live near the pier.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

All kinds of people come there, it never gets real crowed and everybody seems to be there in a good mood.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

I clean up behind myself.  That’s all I can do.

Who else should know that this space exists?

People who want to go somewhere safe and peaceful.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Have small events there to feed local people can eat for free.  Have a store that real friendly for local people with cheap prices of their food and things.

Sharon Anita Ferguson interviewed Sheila Alease Lewis

Sisters Sheila and Sharon Lewis at the East 72nd Street Marina

Sheila’s location: The East 72nd Street Lakefront Marina located on Cleveland’s northeast side, bordering Lake Erie.

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

It is a marina and park on Lake Erie at East 72nd Street. Its official name is the  Cleveland Metroparks, Lakefront Reservation  East 72 Street Fishing Area. You may also approach the park from East 72nd and St. Clair or  go one exit west of the Liberty boulevard ramp if you come from the Cultural Gardens. It is also north of Gordon Park off East 72nd street.

At the park, there are rocks that separate the land from the lake, picnic tables, grills, and beautiful trees and grasslands. You can sit in your car or either at a picnic table or on the  grass or the rocks to just look out at the water, the sea gulls and other birds flying overhead. You can relax just looking out at the water or watching  the sail boats and the speed boats going by. On the eastern end of the park is a marina where boats are docked. There are also rest room facilities at the park’s property for your comfort. Because of the facilities, you can stay for hours. 

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

I feel very peaceful there.  It is outside of the ordinary from my everyday life travels  between home and work which is often far away from the lake.  Being by the water is healing for me. It is like sitting on a beach somewhere while on vacation. It gives me a feeling of relaxation which is the reason why I like the spot. 

What makes this space healing for you?

The water, the sail boats and the birds flying overhead. It is quiet there even though there are people and cars moving about. When I go alone  I just sit in my car and look out at the lake to preserve my peace and the space. 

How did you find out about this space?

I have been coming to my healing space since I was in my 20’s. At times, I have come here to see the water or  to just be alone and out in the park.  

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

Driving across the Shoreway, you see nothing but the water.  The Lakefront is a place of natural beauty in the Cleveland  area. It is free of charge and there for everyone to enjoy. 

Who else should know that this space exists?

 Most Cleveland residents know about the lake, the Bratenahl area just from driving  across the Shoreway.  Most Clevelanders are also aware of the Lake and that we have beautiful beach areas like Edgewater, and Mentor Headlands.   I like the park because it also offers you the options to safely go alone,  or picnic as a family or friend group. You can also sit in your car or walk along and  just enjoy the peace and beauty.  Most people who grew up in Cleveland would say that they remember the lake vividly from their childhoods.   

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

We noted that  despite the numbers of people present, 60 or more, they were all socially distanced,  and yet the space was still amazingly quiet. It was as though everyone , even the children and teens were all so relaxed  and at peace and breathing free in nature.  

Chau Tang interviewed Jeffrey Stringfield

Jeffrey Stringfield at the UH Healing Garden in University Circle

Jeffrey’s location: Mary & Al Schneider Healing Garden. 11100 Euclid Ave. It’s connected to University Hospital. Next to The Cleveland Museum of Art. Across from Cleveland Institute of Art.

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

When I come into this space, visually and physically, there are a ton of trees, stones and open air. Aside from physically, when I come here, I see an empty space. A place where I can be comfortable and free my mind. I can do what I feel and say what I feel without judgment, ridicule or advice from anybody else. I can work through my own thoughts at my own time. 

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

When I first came into this space, it was overwhelming. To the point where I couldn’t hold anything back. Possibly, because I’ve been holding back for so long. After the overwhelming feeling had passed and the feelings were drained out, my feelings became more joyous. I found a place to get my feelings out. I’m comfortable here, recentered and at ease. There’s no tension, buildup or guilt, you can let everything go.

What makes this space healing for you?

This place here is where my mother passed away. When I come here, I can free myself. When I’m outside of this place and in the real world, emotions come over me. I’m usually interrupted by a phone call or a friend but out here in this healing space, my phone is turned off. I’m here by myself without any distractions, no interruptions and I can let everything flow how it needs to. 

How did you find out about this space?

My mom got cancer three times so she’s been back and forth to this hospital. Six years ago, I was dating a girl who went to Case Western Reserve University so I was down here a lot. A bad breakup happened and then my mom passed. I like skateboarding down here since there’s a lot of good skate spots, good food, places to hang out and chill. What kept me down here was my mom’s spirit, my ex-girlfriend and skateboarding.

Who else should know that this space exists?

Probably everyone, specifically those who lost their loved ones to either cancer or sickness. Someone who’s looking for a solace, a place to get away, free your mind and escape from the world. If you have something on your mind, you can come here.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Do the maze on the ground when you come in. It’s a good one to walk and you get a lot of time to think.  

Yorel Warr interviewed Juvens Niyonzima

Juvens Niyonzima at his church

Juvens’ location: A church at 6601 Storer Ave.

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

I hear the word. The word helps me grow. I also play instruments.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

I feel peaceful and always find a solution to my problem.

What makes this space healing for you?

It is a place of praise and we always share positivity! 

 

How did you find out about this space?

My pastor was the same pastor I’ve had since 17. He came from Africa first and then I came.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

It is a quiet place.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

I do cleaning and music. I also create media and livestream the service.

Who else should know that this space exists?

Anyone looking for the word of God.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

It is a educational place as well. We have a program called Kingdom lifestyle where they teach us to manage our money and become business owners.

Angela Thomas interviewed Patricia Banks

Patricia’s location:  Her backyard in Glenville

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Trees and Flowers and Stubs and Statues. My back yard I love nature. It puts more in touch with the CREATOR!  Filled with color.

Garden area birds nesting, wild life. Very serene. At night it has a calming effect. Fresh fragrance of the flowers. The touch of the petals of my flowers, very soothing.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

In touch with the CREATOR.  Feeling of relaxation. Revive and safe..I can see life. Nature is enlightenment with the CREATOR.  Rejuvenation of the rain.

What makes this space healing for you?

I can see life. Growth. Joy in the sound of the birds. It speaks to my intervening.

How did you find out about this space?

I designed it myself with healing and in mind!

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

All the elements in my own back yard! I can just to into my own back yard anytime. The history is that we prayed about a place or a home and it was desolate. We took nothing and created this prayer garden  Not just a back yard!

Some of the plants back here are here from my mom’s garden.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

At first it was just bàrren. Just rocks and dirt. Challenges were the wild life eating my vegetation. And sometimes neighbors spoil my peace.

Who else should know that this space exists?

All of my family.  My church members. Neighbors.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

It is well shared. GOD given. Beauty of GOD in every aspect.

Tina Scott interviewed Sergeant Mills

Rockefeller Park

Sergeant’s location:  Rockefeller Park on MLK in Cleveland, OH

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Peace and nature.  I am reminded of many different world countries.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

I feel that I am walking through the exterior of my home.

What makes this space healing for you?

I have walked through this park my entire childhood and much of my adult life.  It represents home for me and feels like part of what I define as home.

How did you find out about this space?

I live in the same home that’s my family home of 4 generations which is in walking distance of the park.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

All the elements in my own back yard! I can just to into my own back yard anytime. The history is that we prayed about a place or a home and it was desolate. We took nothing and created this prayer garden  Not just a back yard!

Some of the plants back here are here from my mom’s garden.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

I have donated.

Who else should know that this space exists?

Nature lovers.  People who enjoy peaceful walks.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

This park has always brought me peace and joy.  Lately, it has provided me comfort and a sort of companionship during the last 18 months of being physically isolated.

Lauren Colvard Hakim interviewed Lakeyia Bell

 

Lakeyia’s location:  Cleveland Metroparks

  • Euclid Creek Reservation at 850 Euclid Creek Parkway, Cleveland, OH 44121. 
  • Brookside Reservation at 3900 John Nagy Cleveland, OH 44144.

 

Lakeyia Bell’s healing space in Euclid Creek Reservation

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

It makes me want to walk and get active. It make me want to be in tune with God and listen to Him.   To pick up the butterfly that’s flying next to me.  Or to see a baby deer.  Or even seeing little possums running through the trees.  Things that we take for granted living in the city.  I take for granted even just driving home from work.  Things I’m not able to experience I experience in that space.

 

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

I really love hiking.  I usually go to one of the reservations and hike.  Euclid Creek is actually one of the places I love the most.  Its so open, there’s the creek.  It has me in tune with nature and with God in that way.  It’s a place of healing.  I go there to sometimes cry while I’m walking.  I go there to pray when I’m walking.  I’ll listen to some of my favorite Gospel music while I’m walking.  I just really draws me in and the atmosphere so that’s really a great place of healing for me. 

What makes this space healing for you?

When you get out the car and you see the trail. Its so open and so fresh it feels like redemption is there.  You can just be yourself.  Once you start walking and you kind of get in the zone…it just draws you in.  The presence of the LORD for me as a Christian draws me in, into a sacred place.  It feels sacred even though its open.  That’s what really sets the atmosphere and the foundation for me when I’m walking.

How did you find out about this space?

I used to go a lot when I was a  kid. We would go and actually swim in the creek and everything.  Once I older and after I returned from the Peace Corps, I needed a place of therapeutic healing.  I found that walking was the most therapeutic and beneficial for me so I just started looking.  One of my goals is to is honestly try to hike or walk all the Metroparks in Cleveland.  So far I think I’ve done like four or five.  So I’m still working on it.  I just was like googling things like “hiking places in Cleveland”.  I just kind of went back to my first love of Euclid Creek just from memory and it has provided that place of solitude.  The Brookside as well is a really good place.  When I had my dog I would take her hiking there and it has a really lovely bridge.  It’s just one of those there where I’m like “I love this space.” 

Who else should know that this space exists?

I really want my sister Sharnina to come and be more in that space with me.  As a Black woman and especially the health disparities that us as Black women face just from obesity and diabetes, walking is so beneficial to your soul and to your spirit, but also to your body.   I feel like a walking space where women are coming together even to maybe cry is so therapeutic and I would love to see more women of color in that space. Just women in general in that space.  Especially women of faith for me because it does really set this foundation of sacrecy with the LORD.  So it would be really cool to see like a spiritual women’s walking group.  There’s Girl Trek which I’ve been a part of before and they have been really beneficial.  But I would love to see something even more concrete and to faith because I believe just as Jesus walked He also gave us the command to walk and use our beautiful feet.   Just kind of coming together in that way would be fantastic. 

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Walking is so beneficial.  It really ignites your creativity.  It ignites your spirit.  I really encourage people to at least do it two times out of the week if they can. Its such a time that we can’t get back.  When you’re walking it’s kind of like time slows down a little bit. With this pandemic and with the things of the world right now, slowing down and just kind of really hearing from your Creator is what’s so important. 

Dorothy Ajamu interviewed her mom Annette Flenoy

 

Annette’s healing space: her front porch

Annette’s location:  Her Front porch, located on Eddy road.  

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

I see cars and people walking. I hear noise. I smell trees and grass.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

A relaxed feeling.

What makes this space healing for you?

Being in that space alone.

How did you find out about this space?

It’s attached to the building that I live in.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

Nothing really unique about, just a space that’s there.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

I do not help maintain it.

Who else should know that this space exists?

I consider it my little space so I hope no one else realize it exists!

Marvetta Rutherford interviewed AkuSika Nkomo-Mackey

Aku’s garden in Hough

AkuSika’s location:  East 81st Street between Hough and Linwood avenues

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

I love waking up and looking down upon my healing space. It’s beautiful and lifts my spirit.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Lifting my spirits and at peace when I am there outdoors in the air and trees.. satisfaction in helping to create it..

What makes this space healing for you?

Everything.

How did you find out about this space?

Great Grandmother owned this building and the land.. acquired in 1984. The structure was slated for demolition.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

It was condemned when she moved in.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

The loss of her husband Mr. Mackey and her son were challenges. Her solar tribute to her husband is ongoing and her son has a garden area dedicated to his life….  this building is historical and needs work. Aku Sika manifested patience and perseverance to manifest what we see today, Marvetta said.

Who else should know that this space exists?

It’s an non profit organization. Anyone who is interested in youth and community building, designing green space should know this space exists.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Its been a labor of love I want to encourage and inspire others to as well…

Gennifer Harding-Gosnell interviewed Gwendolyn Garth

 

Gwen’s garden in Central

Gwen’s location:  NW corner E. 36th and Central Ave. 

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Traffic, people in the neighborhood.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Peace. Accomplishment. Belonging. Spirituality.

What makes this space healing for you?

Me. I was born in the country, and the outside, the land, does something for me. I take after my father, who was part Native American, it just does something for me. I think it does it for everybody.

How did you find out about this space?

Lives in the neighborhood.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

I had several spiritual moments here, myself and my spiritual advisor have held gatherings here. 

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

The Western Reserve Tree Conservatory has planted 13 trees in the space. The neighbor, no respect for the land, they were trying to park their cars on my land, so I put up trees next to the drive and kind of blocked it.

Who else should know that this space exists?

I’ve had Common Grounds conversations here, I’ve had a lot of meetings here. 

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

I’ve seen some great tire art, I’d like to get someone in here to do that, I’d love to have them border the space, they make reptiles and other animals. I’d like to plant some herbs, and put up some murals, make it a Central Walk of Fame (i.e. Stokes brothers) 

Chau Tang interviewed Lamar Miller

Lamar Miller at Edgewater Pier

Lamar’s location:  Edgewater Pier  (6500 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, OH 44102)

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

I come over here to think, meditate and enjoy the better side of Cleveland. I love the wind here. You smell the air and it’s like home. The smell of Cleveland.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

I feel blush, sometimes sad that I have nobody to share it with. It’s a mix of emotions. I think it’s related to my life situations more so than my safe space.

What makes this space healing for you?

I meditate here when I’m not feeling great. I ask people for forgiveness and I wish them well.

How did you find out about this space?

I grew up in Cleveland. My family used to come to Edgewater beach for a long time.

Who else should know that this space exists?

People who need to heal and have a space where they can appreciate the environment for what it is. It’s home.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

If you look out in the distance, the water is darker. It’s because that’s where it stops.  The brown water is from slight pollution from the water. When you go further out, it’s blue. Lake Eric is known for its walleye and perch. 

Marvetta Rutherford interviewed Sara Continenza

Coit road across from the Coit Road Farmers Market

Sara’s location:  Coit and Woodworth Avenue (Collinwood)

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Accomplishment and more to do…

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Peace, accomplishments feeling that I have helped to beautify Cleveland.

What makes this space healing for you?

Being around things that the community and I helped grow. helping others gain knowledge about how to grow.

How did you find out about this space?

Been a partner with the Coit Road Farmers market since 2016 its on their land.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

Coit Road Farmers Market has a long history of service to the citizens since 1930’s a great testament … the current community is a direct result of the racially restrictive policies were used in the 1900’s and still in use. Nowadays Digital Redlining is prevalent and has created great divides. This market is only open on Wednesday and Saturday but the importance of fresh local foods is the draw card. People are trying to get by and many have limited access to fresh produce.. also many people are not aware of the incentives if they are on the SNAP program.

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

The area very over grown and overrun. Unkept is an understatement Weeds and trash had to be dealt with. Pests and other animals as well, humans who have chosen to vandalize is an issue.. Littering are just some that come to mind..  Funding issues are a great challenge as well. We are building towards staff etc.

Who else should know that this space exists?

Community its takes everyone youth and elderly.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

We incorporate the arts into this space as well. Visual stimulation help to beautify the area and lend a voice to the participants… a direct voice for the youth. Mobility gardens will allow wheelchair gardening and others with disabilities to get in touch with nature and grow food.

Marvetta Rutherford interviewed Veronica Walton

Veronica’s healing space: her farm stand on Superior avenue

Veronica’s location:  East 105 southwest corner of Superior Avenue in Glenville

Veronica is the founder and food educator at Food Depot to Health. 

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

From the outside one might wonder what is a barn like structure doing in the middle of the East Side, but inside the doors you’ll find a vast array of possibilities… you hear the chatter of happy people.. and depending on your desires you can taste a plethora of things…

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Peace and Unity

What makes this space healing for you?

From fresh produce to raw herbs to body treats such as custom creams and soaps, home decor and linens.

Handmade Custom Jewelry of various prices points and much much more.

How did you find out about this space?

State of Ohio and Famicos serves as fiscal agent as they inherited the space from another firm..  Famicos and the Waltons have partnered in years past as they hosted the Outdoor Farmers Market at the corner of East 105th and Ashbury Avenue.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

The selection and diversity of vendors its a plethora of services and products that came together rather quickly after the go ahead. The structure has been open a very short time this year.  Theres classes for the people to learn about different things like Vermocomposting.  The structure exterior has been up for several years but interior issues kept cropping up before the city would issue an occupancy permit. 

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

The various construction issues delayed the opening… now the challenges are to get the word out and get and keep loyal customers satisfied and becoming community.

Who else should know that this space exists?

Everyone should know about the services and products offered here.

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

The plan is to be in Operation this calendar year until after the holidays. March 2022 is the scheduled open date. Eventually they would like to be open year round. Especially if the winter is mild. There is senior building directly across the street. And frankly there’s no other supermarket for 16 blocks.

Mckenzie Merriman interviewed Abigail Skully

Abigail at Fairview Park

Abigail’s location:  City of Cleveland Fairview Park located in between W. 38th and W. 32nd at Franklin and Whitman.

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Splash park, pavilion, playground, massive community garden, massive field, picnic tables, benches, trees, huge Baseball Diamond… Smells like a beautiful 75 degree day, end of summer/beginning of fall, fresh and outdoorsy. Very fun at the park; children from Near West Intergenerational School are there for recess. We hear the sounds of kids laughing, playing, screaming, teachers will chime in. Playing games. Cars on franklin but it’s pretty removed, it feels like an oasis honestly cause the bigger roads are shielded. Eating a chocolate brownie Cliff bar, so that’s what it tastes like…. to give some texture I stopped at W. 65th Rite Aid… I took a nice route, stopped at the Labyrinth Garden at Franklin Ave. and W. 65th St. Took the Franklin Express… I feel special about it!

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Right now I feel like specifically in this space, I feel healed. Calmed/at ease/relaxed… happy and that there are fun things to do because the park ins the best. I feel like anything could happen at the park. It’s a place to go to find something fun to do or to think about things or to reflect or to meet your friends or to meet your family. I feel a sense of possibility from the park

What makes this space healing for you?

You know this space is dear to me because of my past. That’s part of what makes it healing for me. The sense of community that is evident in the park…. and remembering how much this park have given me.

How did you find out about this space?

When we were young, we met at Near West Theatre. That’s where I grew up, basically. I joined this community when I was a young teen and into my early 20’s in this community. This park was one of the central locations for that community in that the (old) building for the theatre is near here.

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

The interviewers house is very near here… we organized these afternoons of fun at this park. When we were a pack of rowdy teenagers, every Sunday we would have to get to the theatre early anyways to practice to we all decided to get there even earlier and bum around and go to Wendy’s and go to this park. It doesn’t sound like much maybe, but it really takes a lot to get like 20 teens  together like that , but we just fell in line because we wanted to play kickball, and red rover and other games. We would talk and learn how to be human beings, socializing for the first time semi effectively. I can’t help but think about those times here. I’m been coming to this park since 15+ years ago, and that’s what it means to me. That’s how it heals me. 

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

I was doing that when I was helping to organize Afternoon of Fun…15 years ago as a goofy teenager who didn’t know what I was doing, I kind was learning about one of my talents, which is bringing people together. But I haven’t done that for years… the most I do for this park now is just come here and act like my sweet self.

Who else should know that this space exists?

This whole new generation. A close friend’s two nephews live right around the corner, and I had the wonderful experience of bringing the two babies to the splash park and it was really fun. It keep going., it’s great. I hope that anyone on the west side of Cleveland knows about this park… but anyone in the Cleveland area should know about it cause it’s worth the trip if you’re from east or south side. If you’re passionate about Cleveland park vibes…. If you love a great, beautiful park…. one of the great things we have are the City of Cleveland parks and recreation department. Any Clevelander that loves public spaces, beautiful parks, and green spaces, having a fun day out, should check out Fairview Park in my opinion. 

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

On the way over here, I was thinking about gentrification. It’s not the fault of the space, the space is material, it’s literally just itself. All I can do is tell a little story that relates to that material space. Spaces get changed by the people that are in them. It’s evident when you drive from one neighborhood to the other how much has changed as a result of ravenous capitalism.  You can see, Cudell is about to get gentrified. Ohio City is far gone. You can feel fancier store fronts, nicer restaurants bougier liquor stores, those are just facts. That’s bad because it displaces people. We should make our neighborhoods better and prettier for everyone, not a certain few, not a certain privileged few that can afford $450,000 two bedroom hours. However; Fairview Park seems to be right in the swing of things. It looks like people still feel like they can come here and be a city person, do whatever they feel like, like stuff fancy people think is weird or bad. 

Gennifer Harding-Godsnell & Keith Yurgionas interviewed Scott Blanchard, communications director of Trinity Cathedral 

Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave.

Scott’s location:  Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave.

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

We’re right in the middle of an urban area. You can hear city wildlife (crickets, birds) interspersed the sounds of the city (car horns, sirens). Thinks of it as an urban oasis. When it calms down, you wouldn’t even know you were in the heart of the city.

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Restful. People find peace here. Had church services in the garden 8:30 every Sunday outdoors since the beginning of the pandemic. 

What makes this space healing for you?

Peace, tranquility. Homeless in the area sleep here, makes it a restful place for them. For the last 30 years, we have a weekly community meal, many people will be here around that time. People will grab a to-go meal and eat there.  

How did you find out about this space?

Scott works as the communications director for the church. 

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

The garden was initially created by Elizabeth Mather, wife of William Mather, who also founded the Cleveland Botanical Garden. 

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

Maintained once a week, trimmed, watered, has an irrigation system now. 

Who else should know that this space exists?

All are welcome, anyone downtown, students and professors at CSU, people going to events at the Wolstein Center, we definitely want everyone to take advantage of the peace and tranquility here. 

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Many different people currently utilize the space, from the homeless to downtown workers.  

Gennifer Harding-Godsnell & Keith Yurgionas interviewed Scott Blanchard, Communications Director of Trinity Cathedral (Part 2)

 

Trinity Cathedral Charles Comella Community Garden in Central

Scott’s location:  SE corner of E. 35th St. and Cedar Rd.  

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Crops are currently in full bloom, they combine and create a smell that makes you hungry. Tomatoes, yellow squash, etc.  

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Feelings of peacefulness, excitement when we get to feed people, Many of our volunteers have been here for many years. We have special spots dedicated to volunteers who have passed away. 

What makes this space healing for you?

No. 1 mission is to grow as much food as possible and give it to people in need, so we hope it is healing to people in the neighborhood. The food is staying right here in this neighborhood. We have piece and tranquility here. We grow herbs here, herbs in and of themselves are healing, so are the flowers that grow here at different times of year. 

How did you find out about this space?

Scott is the communications director of the church. He wanted to help the Hunger Program at the church by starting an urban garden. Ohio State University Extension runs a program called Summer Sprout, helps 150 different gardens throughout the city, get seeds, equipment etc. for free. I called OSU and they said they had a place for us. This has been used as a garden in the past, lain fallow for several years, and was restarted by Trinity 16 years ago.   

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

Official name is Trinity Cathedral Charles Comella Community Garden, as a tribute to Comella, the owner of Cadillac Music, and friend of neighbourhood resident Father Jim O’Donnell. Comella was the property owner, and allowed O’Donnell to use the land. The Comella family remains supportive.  

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

We’ve had many challenges over the years. Last year, rabbits ate the green beans, so this year we put up chickenwire. Flea beetles will eat collard greens, so we use a special fabric covering to keep the beetles out. We’ve had troubles with people taking things out of the garden. The neighbors like what we’re doing and support us, so they keep an eye out during the week.  

Who else should know that this space exists?

We’ve been established for a long time and well-known, so we have a lot of groups who want to come help out, we have a group from the Cleveland Clinic, CSU, any organization is welcome to volunteer here. 

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

Central is a very old community, and has been somewhat neglected. We hope our urban garden helps revitalise the area, and that the people can benefit from what we’re doing here. 

Marvetta Rutherford interviewed Veronica Walton (Part 2)

 

Market garden on Superior avenue

Veronica’s location:  Superior West of E. 79th  Street, North Side of the street

Describe the space. What do you see when you are in the space? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?

Flowers, produce and herbs to name a few

Describe the feelings you have when you are in the space?

Most often peaceful relaxed. 

What makes this space healing for you?

Vitamin D outdoors fresh air…

How did you find out about this space?

City of Cleveland back in 2010

What is unique about this space? Is there a story or history about this space that others should know?

Vacant land grassy field that she and her husband converted into a Market Gardening site

If you have helped to create or maintain this space, tell us about any successes or challenges you have faced.

That transformation as well as community buy-in. Successes are community engagement from all age groups preschool to retired. 

Who else should know that this space exists?

League Park Market Place is here for customers, youth groups, families any kind of groups that  are interested in sustainable lifestyles

What else do you want to tell us about this space?

WE NEED MORE OF THEM and take into consideration the people who live nearby.

 

Healing Spaces

Healing Spaces is a project designed to amplify the healing spaces that exist in our communities and showcase the power of people to transform their neighborhoods.

#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.