Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope encourages resident engagement in community

Last year, the City of East Cleveland was placed in a state of fiscal emergency, and there has been a pattern of tension between city council members and East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Jr., especially in regard to city finances.

Recently, members of Northeast Alliance for Hope (NOAH)—an organization dedicated to promoting equity and social justice throughout Greater Cleveland by building strong relationships with public and private institutions and working alongside residents—have been working in East Cleveland to focus on the inequities that the community faces. NOAH has been addressing many issues, such as the large number of vacant and abandoned buildings, and most recently, the financial strain on the city.

In mid-January, NOAH filed a public records request with the City of East Cleveland, in order to evaluate its finances. The request was granted.

Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelley commented recently on the importance of being aware of what is going on in communities adjacent to Cleveland Heights. “We definitely need to know what is going on in the cities surrounding us, whether it is Cleveland, East Cleveland, University Heights, Shaker Heights or Beachwood. It is important to work with the cities moving forward, rather than being reactive to the issues, to create a more positive relationship.”

“The financial strain that they [City of East Cleveland] are going through is very dramatic, especially in the way that they deliver city services,” said Kelley. “The fact that they just laid off 20–25 percent of their law enforcement is definitely of concern to me.”

In evaluating East Cleveland’s finances, NOAH discovered that although the mayor and the city council projected the same revenues for 2013, council members claim the city is $8 million in debt. Trevelle Harp, executive director of NOAH and resident of East Cleveland, said that NOAH’s analysis failed to confirm the existence of the debts that council cited as its reason for making plans to cut funding to the police department, the Helen S. Brown Senior Center, and the Martin Luther King Community Center for youth—all services that are important to city residents as the city attempts to revitalize and redevelop.

 “Based on our analysis of the city’s financial condition,” said Harp, “we believe that council is putting city residents at risk by unjustified budget slashing. The evidence suggests that council is holding city safety hostage over its running political battles with the mayor.”

After NOAH completed its financial analysis, NOAH members decided to take a stand against the city’s proposed budget cuts by hosting a community forum to educate East Cleveland residents about the reality of the city’s financial issues. They also wanted to address the lack of cooperation between the mayor and city council members. The forum was scheduled for Jan. 29, and though both the mayor and city council members were invited, Mayor Norton was the only city government representative who showed up. Close to 100 others attended the forum, however, and these residents, together with NOAH members, decided their next step would be to attend the Feb. 5 city council meeting.

At that meeting, there was a substantial turnout of approximately 80 people. Residents listened to city council members and the mayor as they gave their explanations of the financial report, and then NOAH members stood up to report on their findings. NOAH called on members of city government to reevaluate the budget and put personal differences aside. “People tend to respond emotionally to these types of issues, rather than strategically. It shows a lot of growth to see the residents informed on the issue coming together, fighting for stability in their own community,” Harp said.

Council members agreed to announce the new financial budget on Feb. 12, but subsequently cancelled the meeting, stating that there would be no changes to the budget. Harp said NOAH members and residents will “definitely be organizing around the issue,” in an attempt to persuade the mayor and city council members to face their community.

In February, NOAH held a community rally at New Covenant Lutheran Church and canvassed several East Cleveland neighborhoods to raise awareness and encourage residents to sign petitions demanding that pending cuts to the safety budget be reversed.

“NOAH members will continue to show up at council meetings, and we are considering other strategies to ensure that council is held accountable,” said Harp.

As members of NOAH continue to work with East Cleveland residents, they hope that others will see the benefits of creating connections between communities. As Harp said, “There is success in being connected as a county. You have to look at the big picture and realize that the failure of one city is going to affect the surrounding communities. It is important that we begin building relationships and engaging assets on all sides.”

On Oct. 9, 2012, State Auditor Dave Yost placed the city of East Cleveland in a state of fiscal emergency, citing the city’s failure to supply a feasible fiscal recovery plan after the state found deficit fund balances of more than $5.87 million. The next meeting of the East Cleveland City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5.

Kendra Dean

Kendra Dean is a graduate student at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and is currently an intern at FutureHeights.

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Volume 6, Issue 3, Posted 12:23 PM, 02.28.2013