Sunday, November 24, 2013
Bull rush of Browns, Frank Jackson on Stadium work deserves Holding Call by City Council
Editor’s Note: Less than two weeks ago the Cleveland Browns announced their $120 million modernization plans for municipally owned First Energy Stadium. The administration of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has worked out a deal under with the team under the stadium lease where Cleveland as landlord will pay $2 million annually for the next 15 years towards the renovations. City Council will be asked to fast track this legislation at its Nov. 25th meeting.
We present the following op-ed as a public service in the interest of stimulating healthy debate on this important public issue.
By Angela Shuckahosee
Bull rush of Browns, Frank Jackson deserves Holding Call by Council
Tomorrow, the Cleveland City Council will have the opportunity to dissect the proposal bestowed by the Jackson Administration and the Cleveland Browns. Instead of a hasty sign-off, Council should opt to extend the legislative process, which would allow more time for scrutiny and hopefully, the creation of options that would ideally result in both the contractual obligations being met and cost savings for the City of Cleveland taxpayers.
What has ignited my outrage and disappointment surrounding this proposal-2 million dollars for 15 years of improvements to First Energy Stadium, is the very same patronizing attitude I witnessed from seeing Ken Lanci’s upside down bill boards during this past year’s Mayoral campaign. I thought to myself, Lanci must really take Cleveland residents for fools. Yet, just three days ago, I read that Mayor Jackson is saying there “will be no decrease in services,” essentially saying the city doesn’t need the money.
My first thought went to conversations I’ve had with various people close to my organization, the Cleveland Tenants Organization, who have stated in the past that the cuts we have seen to our contracts should come at a price: the services we provide to Cleveland residents should be cut. We are a 38 year old, small but mighty county-wide organization who deals with mostly Cleveland residents with landlord/tenant issues. We deal with various issues ranging from repair work, to healthy homes, to aging, to homeless prevention, just to name a few. We are in the trenches dealing with those residents who need help the most, and like a good Clevelander, I defended the Administration (and the Council who approved the budget) when we have had our budget cut. I maintained that we would find a way to keep our services intact for Cleveland residents, and we have, but at a cost to our staff and our existence as an organization. And we are only one of dozens of such agencies that have the exact same story, who work every day with residents of Cleveland who are struggling.
To hear Mayor Jackson contend that 2 million dollars isn’t significant is patronizing. Every single Council member knows the struggle of many Cleveland residents. Cleveland City Council should allow more time to study the URS engineering report on the necessary improvements that would meet the contractual obligation. Additionally, find a cost savings of even a portion of that 2 million and reallocate it to the community development budget, specifically the social service agencies and the “citywide” agencies that have had to withstand years of cuts.
The Mayor wants this proposal passed as an “emergency measure”, an overused and often unnecessary tactic that goes unnoticed most of the time. The reality is that the timing on this is deliberate and manipulative: two presumed “yes” votes that will not be on council when they resume session in January.
This is not fair to council. This isn’t fair to Mayor Jackson, either. Browns CEO Joe Banner praises Mayor Jackson as “a fierce negotiator.” The Mayor and some council members I have talked with see this as “a good deal.” The reality is that the Cleveland Browns have cornered the City and squeezed it to accept this “good deal.” This is the best we can get, right? Our hands are tied. We have no other choice.
Wrong! The research is out there: most if not all NFL teams have hoodwinked cities into these insane arrangements that can only be regulated on a Federal level. I can’t help but wonder if, in the midst of this weekend’s gala sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Partnership for area public officials, they even thought that they had a say in this, as they patted each other on the backs for a job well-done. So Cleveland City Council and the Mayor have inherited an unfair situation, but that’s why they were elected-to make tough decisions.
What if the City let the Browns sue them for breach of contract? Could this be the beginning of a bigger fight for all urban areas around the country to equalize these arrangements? Can you imagine the Browns nickel and diming the taxpayers in Federal court over their need for a new scoreboard when people are trying to figure out how to pay for food? Could it spur the much needed reform conversation that should take place? How can the NFL have non-profit status?
Council should take the time to engage to consider these questions, not railroad this legislation as an emergency measure.
Angela Shuckahosee is executive director of The Cleveland Tenants Organization.