by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, May 2018) The practice by Cleveland City Council of giving exclusive say to the sitting Council Representative over decisions about projects in their ward, in effect, creates what political scientists call “functional fiefdoms” and is an invitation to corruption and influence peddling. The recent guilty plea to 26 misdemeanor ethics charges by former Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman is just one example of what can go wrong by continuing this long-standing practice.
City Council should be in the business of passing legislation that creates citywide policies for programs that address Cleveland’s pressing needs. The administration should then design criterion for programs that would answer the policy needs City Council outlines. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies should then respond with competitive proposals to be selected by City Departments to perform those services.
Having City Council members choose which organizations to fund, is an improper function for a legislative body. It gives too much say to individual council people over organizations in their ward and makes those organizations beholden to the council representatives. It also perpetuates the funding of organizations that a single councilperson favors over other organizations that may have a superior proposal to address a policy priority.
The practice of City Council members all deferring to a colleague’s decision about what happens in their ward also prevents discussion and debate about important institutions that have city wide impact such as the West Side Market.
Allowing City Councilmembers say over expenditures of certain funds also gives an undo measure of power to City Council leadership. The leadership can reward or punish votes by individual city council members by doling out extra funds for their ward or cutting back on those funds.
The guilty pleas by Cimperman should be a wakeup call to Cleveland City Council to reform the way it does business. City Council should focus on the business of passing legislation to create good public policy and get out of the business of administering funding to various groups.
The folks on the other side of City Hall, the Administration, should be the ones making funding decisions for organizations based on a competitive bidding process. City Council’s role would be to monitor the administration to assure that process is fair and meets the policy needs outlined in legislation.