by Victoria Shea
(Plain Press, October 2018) In her new office for the Western Elmwood Berea Corp., also known as WEBCO, former Executive Director of Cudell Improvement, Anita Brindza has several frames on her office floor and some boxes filled with what one assumes is paperwork. It is a much smaller and lonelier office than what she used to have at the Cudell office on Lorain Avenue.
Yet, Brindza hasn’t lost her spark or her spirit and love of Cudell. Before her, on the desk, is the last issue of the Plain Presswith her comments and notes scribbled in the margins. They are her notes for the discussion at hand as she wants to set the story straight about the Strategic Alliance.
Anita Brindza makes no bones about it–she is heartbroken over the lack of a smooth transition in the Strategic Alliance that Cudell and Detroit Shoreway have created. Her concerns, however, go beyond that.
“Matt Zone seems to be afraid of me.” She states. It is for that reason and more that she feels that the Ward 15 councilman and Detroit Shoreway Executive Director Jeff Ramsey are trying to sully her reputation which she finds heartbreaking as “Cudell always gave credit for everything they did to the councilmen, regardless of whether it was John Lynch, Jay Westbrook or now Matt Zone.”
She’s been a faithful member of Cudell for the last 45 years, and for the last 34 of them, she has served Cudell as the manager of the Cudell Crime Prevention Program, an Associate Director and then Executive Director of Cudell Improvement. “Cudell gave wonderful service,” Brindza said. “And I mentored the staff who provided that wonderful service.”
The neighbors, and members of Cudell Improvement seemingly agree. With a smile, she states that people keep approaching her for help when it is needed, knowing that she will help them anyway she can. They know her love of community and it is that love, she says, that has many of them suggesting that she runs against Zone for his council seat. While she is flattered, she says that everyone expects the council person to fix everything, but they can’t always do that. She also feels that legislators should not interfere in neighborhoods.
“Every neighborhood is different and determines what their culture is and what’s a priority to them,” she says. “No councilman or other elected official should dictate that and that’s what Zone is doing.”
It is partly how the Strategic Alliance came into being when Matt Zone turned Brindza’s approach to Detroit Shoreway about sharing staff into his dictate of an Alliance.
She reached out through Neighborhood Progress Inc. (which became Cleveland Neighborhood Progress after a strategic planning process), to Detroit Shoreway, she says, about sharing staff in departments like Code Enforcement and Housing. She said that the sharing staff between the two organizations morphed into the Strategic Alliance at the edict of Matt Zone.
According to one of Detroit Shoreway’s Board Members, Brindza stated, CNP informed Detroit Shoreway that there was the threat of being defunded unless they formed a merger or an alliance. Detroit Shoreway could have lost over $60,000 per year.
Jenny Spencer, Managing Director of Detroit Shoreway informed Brindza when they met several years ago that more defunding could be happening, this time to both organizations, from Block Grants because of the Gordon Square Arts District. Brindza stated that she informed the board of Cudell Improvement of this. “The defunding,” she states, “would come because Matt Zone would give more of his discretionary funding to Gordon Square Arts District and less to the two CDCs.”
Once the discussions began however, it was Detroit Shoreway and not Cudell Improvement, she stated, that did not want to meet for a year regarding the Alliance because they were working on their Strategic Plan. Brindza states that all of this has led to trouble for Cudell.
Jeff Ramsey said that he promised Councilwoman Dona Brady that he would make sure that Cudell is no longer active on Lorain Avenue, Brindza stated. Which is the reason why Detroit Shoreway is recommending that the Cudell office no longer remain on Lorain Avenue.
She also stated that Detroit Shoreway is receiving one million dollars from Westown, which is Brady’s CDC for working with them on the Variety Theater. In addition, she added, Detroit Shoreway is pushing Cudell into selling their real estate.
“This alliance is all about the money.” Brindza said.
Reflecting on her last three to five years with Cudell, Brindza states that while she was doing the duties of five people and maintaining Cudell’s commitment to service, she states that Zone has refused to allow Cudell to move initiatives forward. An example is Clifton Blvd.
Zone has thwarted Cudell’s commercial activities, for example, by suggesting in June 2017 that Cudell didn’t have the ability to manage a Special Improvement District for Clifton Blvd. for maintenance, marketing and security, she stated. “That was a total falsehood. Clifton Blvd. is a very strong commercial area and would benefit from maintenance and marketing.” Instead, when she would bring it up to Zone, “he’d refuse to do it, stating it’s not the right time, etc.”
With a sad smile now on her face, she continues to reflect back on her time at Cudell. She’s heartbroken –she’s stated that numerous times throughout the interview about how everything happened, and the lies and back alley deals that have led to this moment. She misses the people, but she knows that they will have their own initiative to rise above all this to keep their neighborhood viable.
“I’m very honored to have served, and the goal has been service to the community,” she states proudly. “I want to help them if I can [because] it is a wonderful neighborhood that’s supportive and enthusiastic. I miss them.” It shows in just the way she speaks about the neighbors–many of them friends she has made throughout the years.
But she leaves them all with this one parting thought– “In the absence of strong leadership, there is chaos.”In her eyes, that is exactly what has happened when it comes down to this Strategic Alliance.
Editor’s Note:Per the terms of Ms. Brindza’s severance package, questions regarding Cudell Improvement’s Board of Directors as well as her departure from Cudell Improvement were not answered. The Plain Presswould also like to note that reporter Victoria Shea is a member of Cudell Improvement and has been for the last eight years. She is also friends with Ms. Brindza.