Saturday, April 29, 2017

Judge bars two from Cleveland Head Start board

Court says Rev. Charles Lucas, Amos Mahsua have overstayed their terms, can no longer serve.

Preliminary injunction issued; litigation continues.

Efforts by the former chairman and treasurer of the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland to terminate the agency’s president and chief executive officer boomeranged yesterday when a Common Pleas Court judge ruled that the board members’ terms had expired and they are ineligible to serve.
In a ruling issued yesterday afternoon, Judge John P. O’Donnell found that Rev. Charles P. Lucas Jr. and CPA Amos Z. Mahsua, were holding their seats in clear violation of CEOGC’s code of regulations. The judge found it likely that the two have not been eligible to serve since at least September 25, 2016.
The case is important because CEOGC, a nonprofit agency, administers numerous area antipoverty programs including the federal Head Start program and local programs for home energy assistance, job training, and work force development. The agency’s budget is close to $40 million, most of which comes from the federal government through Ohio’s Development Services Agency. The dual nature of the funding sources means that CEOGC officials are accountable to both the State of Ohio and the HUD office in Chicago. Officials in both Columbus and Chicago have indicated that funding could be withheld or withdrawn if CEOGC remains outside of compliance with its code of regulations.
The preliminary injunction was issued in a lawsuit filed March 1 by seven current board members, including Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Charles Patton and Quiana Baskin, who heads the agency’s policy council. She was elected to that role in October, automatically elevating her to a seat on the CEOGC board. Defendants in the suit are Lucas, Mahsua, and six other current board members, including Rev. Cecelia Williams, Robert Black, Monique Olowa, and Arlene Anderson. The latter three are understood to be the primary faction seeking to oust the CEOGC’s chief executive officer, Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm.
Chisholm was hired in May 2015 and signed a three-year contract to run the agency. Her predecessor was charged in August 2014 with fraud, bribery, and conspiracy for accepting more than $23,000 in cash, home renovations and other things of value in exchange for steering work to specific contractors, and is now serving time in a federal penitentiary.
Chisholm, who has three degrees from Case Western Reserve University, including a doctorate in psychological and educational anthropology, in addition to certificates in management from a host of the nation’s top colleges, was brought in to restore the agency’s reputation and clean up its act. She soon began to butt heads with a few board members, and in October 2016, several board members, led by Lucas and Mahsua, tried to fire her. Chisholm refused to acknowledge the affirmative vote, considered it illegal, and responded by filing suit in Common Pleas Court on December 8 against Lucas, Mahsua, and other directors. The defendants had the case transferred to federal court, but legal counsel have informed The Real Deal that it may be remanded back to Common Pleas.
Conversations with several CEOGC insiders — who each spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the pending litigation — paint the agency as doing good work efficiently, even as the struggles at the top continue.
Several questions remain as to the agency’s governance, however, including the status of four new trustees elected at the CEOGC’s annual meeting in January. If O’Donnell’s ruling becomes final, and Lucas and Mahsua are permanently tossed off the board, any official board actions they participated in may be subject to challenge. The new board could ratify those decisions, but it is an open question how the reconstituted board will function.

The Patton lawsuit is set for pretrial on May 10; a final resolution of the agency’s internal struggles will likely have to await further court rulings.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Coalition forms to put Q Deal on the Ballot

A newly formed coalition has come together to challenge the $282 million deal to expand Quicken Loans Arena by putting it before Cleveland voters.

Announcement of the coalition came less than 36 hours after Cleveland City Council approved the deal Monday night in council chambers packed with supporters and opponents of the controversial legislation.

The coalition, comprised of Greater Cleveland Congregations, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268, will need to collect 6,000 valid signatures from registered Cleveland voters within the next 30 days to bring the Q deal before Cleveland voters through the referendum process permitted by the city’s charter.

Given the membership bases of these groups, and their organizing skills and experience, collecting the necessary signatures could probably done in a matter of days. It is likely, however, that the coalition will take longer, possibly to make a show of strength by submitted considerably more than the charter requires.

Once the signatures have been gathered, the petitions must be presented to the clerk of city council. When the petitions have been verified, Council has the choice of either reversing its 12-5 vote or placing the issue on the ballot.

Council would set the date for any referendum vote. Possibilities include this year’s primary or general election dates [Sept. 12 or Nov. 7] or a special election.

The debate over the expansion of Quicken Loans Arena has centered on several issues. Proponents assert that the facility, built in 1994, must be modernized to keep it and Cleveland competitive among its peer groups: the National Basketball Association and the regional venues that seek to attract events ranging from truck shows, concerts, circuses, etc. They point to the Q’s importance as the area’s leading driver of economic activity with nearly 200 events a year. Without this bill, they say, promoters will bypass Cleveland and the Cavaliers could leave when their lease expires in 2027.

Critics have expressed many concerns. They say the deal was done behind closed doors without adequate representation of the public interest. They question whether Q expansion is an appropriate expenditure of public funds in this manner at this time and in this amount. Almost all of this expansion will be paid by public dollars, claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The city is committed to $88 million, Cuyahoga County will pay $16 million, and the quasi-public Destination Cleveland will contribute $44 million of tax revenues. The Cavs will pay the remaining $122 in the form of increased rent for the improved facility, the rent of course being public revenue.

Greater Cleveland Congregations has repeatedly sought to engage Cavaliers management and public officials in dialogue about a community benefits agreement that could enhance the entire community and not merely the arena. In this morning’s press release announcing the coalition, GCC co-chair Pastor Richard Gibson of Elizabeth Baptist Church said:

“From the beginning there has been an unwillingness to develop a deal that addresses the critical ills in our neighborhoods like high unemployment, inadequate mental health crisis centers, increasing gun violence, and persistent challenges in schools. More energy has been spent attacking our proposal than considering or developing a deal that would more broadly impact our city and county.”

Critics say beyond the deal’s finances are these larger questions: why are neighborhood needs consistently shuffled to the back of the agenda in favor of downtown? When will the corporate and political leaders abandon the discredited notion that “trickle down” economics works? How can we build a community that prioritizes human needs over athletic shrines and play palaces? How might we create a community where all voices are equally valued?

As the Q question moves towards a likely ballot battle, it may be hard for voters to keep these larger questions in mind. A court challenge to the referendum by corporate interests is a distinct possibility. Personal attacks are likely to escalate. And all of this will unfold in the midst of a citywide election that sees the mayor and all seventeen council seats on the fall ballots.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Q deal: "It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Lady Sings"

Proponents of the Q expansion deal may have been high-fiving themselves over the goal they scored last night by flipping Ward 14 councilman Brian Cummins but we think that’s just the end of the first quarter. Cummins’ about-face, which could not possibly have been about the trinkets and beads the Cavs offered [largely, refurbishing two or three dozen basketball courts at city recreation centers and high schools — does that mean varnish and buff?] and their cheerleaders raved about. The last minute maneuvering done to secure what may turn out to be a pivotal 12th vote in favor of the deal largely showed how weak County Executive Armond Budish and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson have been in representing the public interest. Seldom have last-minute cosmetics been such obvious lipstick on this pig of a deal.

By our calculus, the second quarter starts tonight at Olivet Baptist Church where the Greater Cleveland Congregations will likely have a very large crowd for their strategy session on next steps. And it is pretty plain what the next step will be: an intense citywide petition drive to secure enough signatures from registered Cleveland voters to force a referendum on last night’s vote. (I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody’s choir was singing “Ain’t nobody gon’ turn me around” as part of the meeting.)

Our understanding is that Cleveland’s charter requires ten percent of the number of voters at the last general election to force the referendum, or about six thousand signatures. GCC and its allies, who include SEIU and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, should have no trouble getting twice that number in far less than the required 30 days. Councilmen and mayoral candidates Zack Reed and Jeff Johnson will no doubt be lending their support as well.

Call it halftime if enough valid signatures are submitted to force a vote of the people. The parties will switch sides, as it were, and the opponents of this deal [not a deal but this deal, as GCC likes to point out] would suddenly seem to have the home court advantage.

Assuming the corporate interests don’t find a way to tilt the court by resorting to the courts [this is where that 12th vote may play a role in arguments over whether “emergency legislation” of this nature is subject to referendum], the parties will fight to persuade the voters in a campaign that will be reminiscent of the Kucinich mayoral recall of 1978, decided in the mayor’s favor by something like, as I recall, a scant 238 votes.

To extend this metaphor a bit, if voters reject this deal, then the 4th Quarter would see some hard bargaining for the first time on this construction deal. But the playing surface would be enlarged, and new players would be recognized.

The Cavs would still get their expanded playhouse, but the price of the ticket will have been adjusted significantly.

At the end of the game, Dan Gilbert and his Greater Cleveland Partners may finally learn that you shouldn’t always play a Zero Sum Game with the public interest.

Now wouldn’t that be a Transformation worth celebrating by an entire region!!!!