Critical Policy Issues Facing Cleveland
As a long time, active resident, Rebecca Maurer understands the unique challenges that we face as a Ward and as a city.
One of the biggest Cleveland Ward 12 Issues is unique among the city’s 17 wards because of how many different neighborhoods we cover. Old Brooklyn, Slavic Village, Brooklyn Centre and Tremont are different communities with different needs. Because of the lack of transparency and accountability at City Hall, it’s sometimes hard to tell how time and money are being allocated between these diverse communities. On City Council, I will be transparent about everything from Casino Revenue Funds to where we repave the streets. I will make sure that all neighborhoods in the wards have equal access to resources and funding.
I will also open a west side ward office to compliment my east side residence and make sure that I have accessible townhalls and open office hours where any resident can reach me.
Cleveland cannot rise to its full potential when we have a large percentage of our children suffering from lead poisoning. Recent data tells us that as many as a quarter of Cleveland kindergartners have gotten at least one high blood lead level test. It’s often impossible to say what effects lead might cause in any one child, but across the population there is ample evidence that lead exposure increases crime rates, lowers educational achievement, and causes health effects that lower life expectancy. We have a moral obligation to tackle the lead issue for the sake of our city’s children.
While this isn’t a Cleveland Ward 12 Issue specifically, I have been a passionate leader in the fight to protect Cleveland’s children from lead poisoning. In 2019, helped push for the passage of a groundbreaking ordinance that required landlords to check houses for lead hazards before kids became sick. Until that law passed, landlords didn’t have to take action until after a child was poisoned.
Passing a new law is one thing, but implementing it is another. From March 2021 through March 2023, the Department of Building and Housing will be phasing in the law in different zip codes in the city. This ramp-up requires striking a critical balance. The city needs to ensure that landlords have the resources needed to fix the problem. But the city also cannot delay the implementation of the law for too long, because more children are harmed in the process. I am uniquely well positioned to oversee that implementation and make sure the law fulfills its original promise.
First and foremost, I will make sure that there are regular updates from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition to City Council’s Health and Human Services committee meeting, something that was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Next, I will ask Building & Housing to set monthly benchmarks on the number of landlords successfully enrolling in the program. As of June 2021, less than 100 units had successful gotten a certificate. While we expect some amount of ramp-up time, City Council needs to work with Building & Housing and the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition to make sure that we set and hit benchmarks for ramping up the program.
We have a lot of work ahead, but I fundamentally believe this is the most critical work we can do for our City and our Ward.
The current zip code map for when the lead safe housing rule will go into effect around the city. The original is available here. The red colored zip codes will have to be in compliance first by March 2021, and then a set of zipcodes will be added each quarter for two years. Ward 12’s 44105 and 44109 zip codes are currently near the end of the implementation cycle, but the work to properly implement this law requires commitment & oversight for the whole city.
In 2010, two men kicked in the back door of the apartment I was living in. They stole the cash tips I’d earned over the prior month at my restaurant job and they took my laptop. A week after the break-in I was getting ready to do laundry and realized they’d even taken my supply of laundry quarters. I’ve never forgotten the sense of violation, vulnerability, and indignity I felt. And those feelings have returned to my mind too often in Cleveland when I’ve had my car broken into or been woken up by gunshots on my street.
Public safety is a top issue for Clevelanders. I hear it all the time as I talk to my neighbors in Ward 12: we don’t feel like our neighborhoods are moving in the right direction. Right now, Cleveland spends one third of its budget on policing. And, simply put, we are not getting what we are paying for. The current method of policing is not bringing safety & justice to our neighborhoods. In any other context, if a city was spending so much of its money on a service that wasn’t working, it would reconsider what it’s doing. We need to do the same thing.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my work as an attorney is that neighborhoods can be under-policed and over-policed at the same time.
We are over-policing and under-policing our communities at the same time, multiplying the harm and mistrust between police and community members. In addition, police are a reactive force. They are not well-positioned to prevent crime, which is what we really need to do to make Clevelanders safe.
I support improvements to the Cleveland Police Department and we have models from cities like Camden and Newark about how to make effective changes. But ultimately the data shows us that trying to create safety through police alone will not work, and if we try to, we will only bankrupt the city and harm our communities.
That’s why, on council, I would make sure that we are investing more of the public safety budget in other data-driven methods to lower crime rates and increase safety & justice in our neighborhoods.
- Stop violence before it happens by increasing funding to violence intervention. We’re spending less than 1% of the public safety budget on violence intervention such as the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance. These community-based programs are proven to lower rates of violence. It’s time to invest more of our safety budget in these programs.
- Decrease gun violence by increasing funding for youth hiring. In the recent Public Safety Committee Meeting, councilmembers pointed out that the most effective anti-homicide strategy the city has seen in recent years was in 2012 when the City had ample federal funding available to hire every youth who wanted a job over the summer through the Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) program. However, the city’s YOU budget has been squeezed in recent years and the federal dollars are gone. If we have a proven way to decrease homicides & gun violence, we should pay for it through the public safety budget.
- Recognize that police are not the right responders for every situation and utilize public safety money for mental health experts and social workers. We are asking too much of police officers. Police should not be expected to tackle all the situations we throw them into, from domestic violence to mental health crises. That is why we should use public safety funding to increase mental health and social work resources. When this same program was implemented in another city, the police chiefs ultimately called the program “indispensable” and highlighted the ways it improved outcomes for residents and decreased stress on officers.
On Council I would also work to formally legislate parts of the federal Consent Decree which is set to expire in the next few years. As we move forward to a more just & equitable public safety model, we need to codify parts of the Consent Decree before federal oversight ends so that we do not slide back into old ways of policing.
Long term our neighborhoods will be safer when we have a prosperous city. Wealth, equity, and opportunity for everybody is the best way to deter crime and increase safety. We have to keep our eyes on that ultimate goal, even if we know it will take a long time to get there.
As we look at the current state of public safety in our neighborhoods, we can see that what we’re doing now isn’t working — it’s not getting us closer to that goal. We are spending too much of our city’s money on public safety for the outcomes to be this poor and for the system to be doing this much harm to our communities. It’s time for a new approach.
Cleveland Public Power is a source of deep frustration for many of us. Residents are tired of the excessive fees that have made Cleveland Public Power more expensive than its competitors. The fee structure is not transparent and it’s caused so many problems that there have been lawsuits. Moreover, service seems to be getting worse with more frequent power outages that last for longer.
On council, I will work to reform the Cleveland Public Power, following the guidance of experts in this space. The Ohio Environmental Council and a group of leading experts recently released the Cleveland Comprehensive Environmental Policy Platform tackling many of the critical issues facing our city. I fully support their platform to reform CPP, which reads as follows:
Fox 8 / I-Team
Currently, Cleveland’s recycling program is little more than theatrics. Yes, many of us still sort our recycling and put out your blue bins each week. But recently we learned that the city’s recycling program had collapsed and that all recycling is heading to the landfill with the garbage instead. This means the city is spending $14 million per year on a recycling program that doesn’t work. This has to change.
The current situation adds the recycling program to a string of problems at City Hall that have made Clevelanders lose trust in our leadership. A functioning recycling program is important for making Cleveland a 21st century city. And it can be a money saver for our city by diverting landfill costs. But it’s also a tangible program where City Hall should invest time and energy to restore trust with the public.
On Council, I will be part of the vocal effort to re-start the recycling program, make it effective, and push Cleveland to a cleaner, healthier future.
- We need to change the culture at City Hall. Re-starting the recycling program requires willpower at City Hall. The public won’t participate unless they trust the process is working, and they cannot trust the process is working unless there is buy-in from City Hall and the Department of Waste Management.
- We need to focus on transparency. City Hall needs to increase transparency and feedback to the public so that residents know that recyclables are taken to the proper location and that contamination rates do not send every load to the landfill. Clevelanders will rise to a challenge before them, but only if they sense that City Hall is playing fairly.
- We need to focus on education that works. We previously invested too little in educating residents on our recycling program. When, predictably, the public didn’t know how to correctly sort recycling, City Hall turned around and blamed residents rather than improving education. As we re-state the program, we need to learn best practices from other cities and invest in education that works. Our peer cities can make recycling programs work, which means Cleveland can too.
- We need to restart the program with accessible rules, such as accepting only one or two types of easily-identifiable recycling (like aluminum cans or cardboard). That way we can get Clevelander’s back in the habit of recycling and we can build back to a more robust program.
I am a proud and lifelong Democrat. In working with the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, I have seen the important work that the party does. But I have also seen places where the party struggles. I have been outspoken in my critiques.
For instance, it is too common for people to simultaneously serve as councilmember at City Hall and to serve as the Ward Leader for the Democratic Party. The Ward Leader is supposed to be the political leader of the ward, in charge of get-out-the-vote work and partisan politics. I believe a councilmember should focus exclusively on their role serving the entire city. Still, 12 of the 17 councilmembers currently also serve as the Ward Leader for the Democratic Party. I pledge to not serve as Ward Leader if I have the opportunity to serve on City Council.
Another place where the party struggles is with the Party Unity rule, which punishes party officials who publicly support anybody aside from the endorsed Democrat in a race. I have pointed out the limitations of the Party Unity rule for years and stand by my belief that the rule is outdated and need to be changed.
I hope to be part of City Council reclaiming its roll as the legislative branch of municipal governance. On Council I look forward to fighting for:
(1) Pay-to-Stay legislation. Our peer cities in Northeast Ohio are passing important and needed pay-to-stay legislation to make sure that if tenants get caught up on their rent, evictions filed against them must be dismissed. Currently this common-sense rule is not required under Ohio law or Cleveland law. Especially as we face a tide of evictions in the wake of COVID-19, pay-to-stay legislation is a critical tool to make sure Clevelanders can stabilize their houses and the Right to Counsel program thrives.
(2) Mandatory mediation in evictions. Coupled with pay-to-stay, I look forward to pushing for mandatory mediation in evictions following the Philadelphia model. The mediation gives landlords and tenants the time to pursue rent relief and get tenants caught back up. Right now the City and County have a lot of COVID rent relief dollars, but we are not getting the money into people’s pockets fast enough. Mandatory mediation is a needed step in the right directly.
(3) A mow-to-own program. For years Cleveland has run the Side Lot program, which allows Clevelanders to purchase vacant lots adjacent to their homes. However, Cleveland still has too many parcels of land that are uncared for. Other cities like Akron, New Orleans, and St. Louis have implemented mow-to-own programs to get more parcels of land into the hands of active owners. A mow-to-own program gives a path to ownership for individuals who mow a parcel for one or more seasons.
(4) The closure of Burke Lake Front Airport. We currently utilize some of our most valuable lakefront property for a lake front airport that is only accessible to the wealthy. In the city with the highest child poverty rate anywhere in the country, this is unacceptable. We must fight to turn Burke Lake Front Airport into accessible, publicly owned green space that is available for all residents to use an enjoy.
(5) Municipal broadband to help close the digital divide. Internet is today what electricity was 50 years ago — a basic utility. Residents should not be offered different broadband speeds or prices because they live in historically red-lined neighborhoods. Bringing Cleveland into the 21st century with a municipal broadband program is a critical and needed step that is available to us with the help of American Rescue Plan relief dollars.
And much, much, more.
I will be releasing policy positions on important city-wide issues throughout my campaign. Sign up for our mailing list to be the first to get these. Have an issue that you think a council candidate should address? Reach out to my campaign.
Better Council Better Cleveland Pledge
In 2021, the top issue for council members and candidates alike needs to be rebuilding trust and good governance at City Hall. As the Plain Dealer editorial board has pointed out, the relationship between Clevelanders and our city leadership has broken down. Fixing this problem is not a partisan issue — it’s about making sure the building blocks of our democracy are in place so we can tackle the problems our city faces such as public safety, health, and housing.
To begin rebuilding the relationship between residents and City Hall we need to make Council more transparent, accountable, and accessible. That’s why I launched my campaign with this pledge.
I welcome any other council candidates or incumbents to join me in making the following commitments:
1. First, we must establish public comment at City Council meetings.
2. Second, we must give Clevelanders input over the budget. In this challenging year where the budget will face strain because of COVID-19, we can start with resident forums for feedback and take the low-cost measure of putting an interactive version of the city budget online like other cities do.
3. Third, we must take City Council to the people. As soon as it is safe, let’s hold council meetings at recreation centers, libraries, and parks. Let’s show the public what council does — and do work worthy of public viewing.
This is the beautiful City Council chamber at Cleveland City Hall. Have you ever gone? Even before COVID-19 took these meetings virtual, not many people saw a reason to attend City Council meetings, as there’s little opportunity for public engagement.