by Erik Ault
On Wednesday, April 19, Mayor Justin Bibb delivered his second State of the City speech at East Tech High. He opened his speech by thanking the various civic members who help to administer the city government, including City Council and the over 8,000 City workers. He singled out Eric Gordon for his 11 years of service as CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He received two standing ovations.
Mayor Bibb then highlighted the challenges facing his administration when he first entered office, in particular the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Bibb, his administration was able to overcome these challenges to secure safety and future prosperity for Cleveland’s citizens. However, the mayor noted that it is not enough simply to overcome challenges. Rather, Cleveland must be put on a path toward justice realization at all levels. “The future of Cleveland, our neighborhoods and our families depend on our willingness to take bold, decisive action together and a renewed commitment together from all of us to think and do things differently,” he said.
His chief priority is to keep Cleveland safe. He noted the death of 27-year veteran firefighter Johnny Tetrick who was killed while on duty. The mayor also thanked Detective Mark Bahrijczuk who was shot while investigating stolen vehicles. To incentivize officer retention and increase recruitment, the Bibb administration negotiated the largest pay increase ever: an 11% raise over 3 years. Police are also now allowed to have tattoos and beards and wear ball caps. It is also easier to access the civil service test, and the police are working with the School District to encourage careers in law enforcement.
One hurdle the police face is mistrust by the public. Mayor Bibb implemented a policy where every officer must walk the beat for one hour at the start of first and second shifts. This allows for visibility between the police and the residents they serve. Furthermore, Cleveland police worked with the United States (US) Marshals, US attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to crack down on 100 violent offenders in the city. They also increased fines for joyriding ATVs on city streets. But the specter Mayor Bibb feels most haunted by is gun violence.
“Nothing breaks my heart more than the calls I’ve made to victims’ mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends,” he relayed. “The pain of losing a family member to gun violence never truly goes away.” But last year, there was progress with a 10% reduction in violent gun crimes. To further address the problem, the police will utilize data and intelligence gathered by the Crime Gun Intelligence Center. A civilian crime intelligence analyst will be added to each district to support the police with the intelligence needed to fight crime.
In addition to fighting crime, the mayor is committed to crime prevention. Using $10,000,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the mayor, working with City Council, introduced legislation to create a Neighborhood Safety Endowment Fund. This fund will be supported by $13,000,000 over the next 25 years to invest in proven ways to prevent crime. They are also utilizing mental health professionals to address crises instead of relying solely on police. There will also be an effort to enroll youth in summer programs.
Further implementing police reform, Bibb highlighted the changes brought on by Issue 24, including the new Community Police Commission, which allows for citizen oversight of police activity. From 2018-2022, there was a 37% decrease in violent police responses and zero uses of deadly force in 2022. The mayor has tasked Dr. Leigh Anderson to oversee the recommended reforms. While progress has been made, the mayor is also calling for more powers to allow mayors to remove guns from streets. However, this empowerment must come from Washington.
Turning from safety, the mayor addressed the lack of economic opportunities in Cleveland. “This is about dignity. This is about giving our residents hope for a better future – a future they can bank on,” he declared. There has been a 25% decrease in the number of jobs and 22% decline in population over the last two decades. This is despite growth in other parts of the country. Bibb’s goal is to encourage employers to bring jobs to Cleveland so that “hard working residents and their children don’t have to move away to search for opportunity,” he said.
To support this, Bibb and City Council introduced legislation for a $50 million site readiness fund. This fund will be available to developers to utilize 1,000 acres of “underused land.” It is hoped that this will create 25,000 new jobs with the potential of supporting thousands more. They are also creating a job incentive tax program for businesses to increase employment within the city. To make the city a more desirable place for relocators, his administration will be leveraging the potential of Cleveland’s waterways by making Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River more accessible to people and businesses.
The southeast side of Cleveland has faced generations of underdevelopment. To combat this, Mayor Bibb has assembled a team of 40 leaders from the community, and they will use $40,000,000 of ARPA funds to redevelop the southeast neighborhoods.
Another issue his administration is cracking down on is housing code enforcement. They will be addressing “predatory property managers and reckless out-of-state investors” who are not attentive to their residents’ needs. “These slumlords should be ashamed of themselves for robbing our residents of the dignity and decency of a safe place to call home. We will hold you accountable, and we will find you,” he promised.
In addition to this, they are implementing Lead Hazard Control Orders which will identify each property with unsafe amounts of lead with an affidavit on file at the County Recorders Office. When the owner attempts to sell this property, potential buyers will be made aware that the domicile is uninhabitable until the lead is abated. This is to prevent developers from making quick sales without solving unsuitable living conditions for potential homeowners.
The United States Department of Transportation awarded the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and Cleveland State University (CSU) a nearly two-million-dollar federal award to modernize traffic signals which will give priority to public transit, bicycles and emergency vehicles. This is the start of creating a 15-minute city, which will have access to services such as a grocery store or doctor within a 15-minute walk. The overarching goal of all of this is to reduce carbon output and make Cleveland a sustainable, livable city.
Fiscal responsibility is key to all of this. The Bibb administration closed a $61 million deficit without one-time money or by dipping into the rainy-day fund. Modernizing City services was a part of this, including overhauling the non-emergency number 311 to make it more responsive to citizens’ needs. This summer, parking meters will be replaced with smart parking which allow for a variety of forms of payment. “With hard work and creative thinking, we are finally finding new ways to generate revenue from City-owned properties,” he announced.
Cleveland is being redesigned with future generations of Clevelanders in mind, according to the mayor. He is focused on reversing the trends with illiteracy and mental health. Test scores suffered during the pandemic when students attended school online, and rates of depression and anxiety doubled. Cleveland schools have secured State funding for support staff to assist students readjusting to in-person instruction. The Cleveland Reads program is also attempting to encourage students to read independently at home. “I think about whether we will do enough in this moment to give them that hope, that promise, that this can be a city where they see themselves thriving. I believe together, we can,” the mayor said.
“We are ready for real change, and together we can do hard things,” he assured Cleveland citizens. “We all have a role to play…People are counting on us to get this right and to meet this moment…Working together, I know that we can get it done.”
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