Privatizing local government
Cleveland Heights Chief of Police Annette Mecklenburg’s response to the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the local group Safer Heights, is laudable and welcome. She announced this summer that her department would revise and update its policies, with particular attention to use-of-force, and bias-free policing.
We are concerned, however, that City Manager Tanisha Briley has outsourced this admittedly time-consuming job to Lexipol, a California-based company serving 460 Ohio municipalities and 3,400 agencies nationally. Lexipol provides “model policies” and assistance in customizing them. Clients can also subscribe to daily two-minute training modules on the practical application of those policies.
Lexipol’s pitch to prospective clients (mainly smaller police and sheriffs’ departments) is protection from liability. This approach might theoretically lead to more temperate behavior on the part of individual officers: if you don’t kill someone, their family won’t sue you and your department over their death. But it does nothing to address the culture of policing, let alone questions about the role of police in a community that is truly safe for all.
We spoke with Mecklenburg, who assured us, “We will be looking for citizen input and nothing will be done without it.” However, it may be difficult to achieve effective public oversight in this case. Lexipol executives are fiercely proprietary; they keep no records of the processes and sources used in developing their content. Academic researchers have been unable to learn the names or areas of expertise of the employees who create these materials, according to an article in the Texas Law Review (Vol. 96, Issue 5, "Lexipol: The Privatization of Police Policymaking," by Ingrid V. Eagly and Joanna C. Schwartz).
Lexipol is owned by Riverside, a global private equity firm that also owns SafeBuilt, the company to which Cleveland Heights outsourced its building department and several housing inspector positions. According to Riverside's website, Cleveland is “[h]ome to more Riversiders than any other city.” What’s a Riversider? We don’t know (though the firm’s Co-CEO Stewart Kohl lives in Shaker Heights). Clearly, however, Riverside and its subsidiaries are sucking up a lot of tax dollars and influencing, if not controlling, the delivery of some of our most essential government services.
Privatization is creeping into the lives of Heights children as well. The city recently engaged an outside company to hire and manage crossing guards. In addition, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, which some years ago privatized after-school care, has outsourced its human resources department to Renhill, a for-profit company that recently merged with California-based HR On Demand. They are now in charge of recruiting our children’s teachers.
As we have said before, sometimes it is practical, necessary and wise to bring in consultants. Two excellent examples are available on the Cleveland Heights YouTube channel. The July 13 meeting of city council’s Municipal Services Committee features detailed, informative presentations on a pair of vital issues. Council members and city staff heard first from an engineer from Wade Trim and an attorney from McMahon DeGulis about compliance with the consent decree regarding our sewers. Their technical expertise and long experience with the EPA are indispensable to Cleveland Heights. Next came a presentation from GT Environmental on the proposed change to automated trash pickup. It validated the conclusions of the resident Refuse and Recycling Task Force, but recommended higher fees as more realistic.
Well-qualified experts with narrowly defined specialties and local knowledge can provide invaluable assistance to cities and schools. This is very different from the offerings of corporate behemoths that profit by taking over core municipal or public education functions.
It’s important to know the difference. What will we choose to be: Riversiders or citizens?
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.