CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County executive candidate Lee Weingart has accused the county board of violating the county charter in how the body plans to spend COVID-19 stimulus money. 19 at a committee meeting on Monday.
Undeterred, board committee members gave swift approval to spend $13.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds on projects ranging from the arts to economic development to the demolition of dilapidated properties. — and a controversial $4 million investment in a golf course clubhouse.
Following the meeting, Weingart filed a formal letter with Cuyahoga County Attorney Michael O’Malley and the office’s Civil Division Chief, David Lambert, arguing that the county is preparing to spend $8, $5 million in ARPA money in violation of a county charter provision that prohibits the distribution of funds “on the order or direction of any individual member of the Council.” Weingart called on O’Malley and Lambert to sue the council, preventing members from taking ownership.
At issue is the controversial method of dividing $66 million in ARPA funds among the 11 board members for projects of their choosing, which critics say gives individual members too much influence over how the board works. ARPA money is spent and opens the door to political patronage and corruption.
“By cutting corners in the process, as this committee is doing this morning, you have continued the regression to the corrupt practices that led to the creation of the new form of county government,” Weingart said during the section. Monday’s community development public comments. Committee.
Weingart, in his letter, specifically targeted Councilman Scott Tuma’s $4 million proposal to rebuild a clubhouse and community center at Ridgewood Golf Course in Parma, because of the way Tuma directed the funds to the project. Tuma acknowledged in an interview with cleveland.com that he chose this project based on conversations with Parma Mayor Timothy DeGeeter and that he did not establish a formal process for soliciting or considering other proposals to consider before forwarding their selections to the board for approval.
Although the proposed golf course did not receive final approval, the way it was introduced was a “very obvious violation of the county charter,” Weingart said.
Tuma pushed back against the claim that the county’s proposed ARPA funding was inappropriate.
“Not a dollar will be appropriated, applied or distributed at the order or direction of any board member,” Tuma said. “Like all other expenditures, all ARPA funds will be introduced by statute, reviewed by the board, and expended only if a majority of the board approves the legislation.”
But Weingart says those assurances are not enough. In his letter to O’Malley and Lambert, he argues that the board’s approval of each proposal “does not cure the fatally illegal flaw that the funding was devised at the behest or direction of an individual board member. “.
“Council members are extremely unlikely to vote against each other’s ordained or directed projects and would be discouraged from doing so for fear of seeing their own ordained or directed projects rejected by the Council as a whole,” he said. -he writes.
In an interview with cleveland.comWeingart underscored this point, noting that several board members have added themselves as sponsors to proposed ARPA spending in their colleagues’ districts.
Weingart said state law requires a citizen to ask the county attorney to consider a lawsuit alleging embezzlement of public funds before a citizen can file their own lawsuit. In his letter, Weingart told O’Malley and Lambert that if they denied the case, he “would have little choice but to sue on behalf of the state as a county ratepayer. of Cuyahoga”.
Weingart, however, later told cleveland.com that he was unsure if he would file his own complaint.
“I want to see what the county attorney has to say first,” Weingart said.
Weingart, a Republican who founded and runs an advocacy and lobbying firm LNE Groupstrongly criticized county spending, particularly the failure of the Global Center for Health Innovation, despite playing a key role in ensuring projects received public funding, cleveland.com previously reported.
Weingart’s letter adds to criticism of the county’s methods of spending some of its ARPA funds. Eugene Kramer, one of the architects of the county charter, has previously criticized the proposed spending methods as running counter to the intent of the county charter.
Weingart requested a response from county attorneys by July 6. Cleveland.com contacted the county attorney’s office.
ARPA expenditures awaiting approval
Here are the $13.8 million in spending that received committee approval on Monday:
- $4 million for a community center and pavilion for Ridgewood Golf Course in Parma
- $3.5 million to improve walkability in downtown Strongsville
- $3.3 million in grants to local artists, nonprofits and other businesses in the county’s “creative economy”
- $2 million for the demolition of degraded properties
- $1 million to improve Memorial Park in North Royalton
The projects, with the exception of demolition and arts grants, have been officially requested by the cities involved. The mayors of those cities, who testified before the committee on Monday, publicly thanked council members who represent their districts for the projects moving forward.
Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter specifically thanked “Scott Tuma for his leadership and allowing us to be here today.”
Strongsville Mayor Tom Perciak sent a “personal thank you” to Councilman Michael Gallagher, who serves on the Community Development Community and whose district includes Strongsville. Perciak also thanked Councilwoman Nan Baker, whose mother lives in Strongsville.
“Michael is a friend. He’s a personal friend,” Perciak said of Gallagher.
During the meeting, more details regarding the proposed projects also emerged.
At $9 million, the clubhouse and community center at Ridgewood Golf Course would be “one of Parma’s biggest economic development projects,” DeGeeter said Monday.
Of that total cost, $4 million would come from county ARPA funds.
“I believe this is an economic transformation project, which will have a positive impact on Parma and the surrounding communities for decades,” Tuma said. “This project will create jobs, promote economic growth and foster a greater sense of community pride.
DeGeeter showed a presentation at the committee meeting with photos of the old Ridgewood clubhouse, depicting crumbling ceilings, flooded floors and other disrepair. Replacing the center took “30 years of preparation”, he said.
If county funding is approved, it will be about two years before the center opens because it still needs to be designed, DeGeeter said.
Kim Kimlin, Cuyahoga Land Bank’s director of community stabilization said 66 properties are already scheduled to be demolished with the $1.7 million of the total $2 million in ARPA money requested from the county. If approved, the money would be used to match $6 million in public funds, for a total of $8 million for demolition, Kimlin said.
The greatest concentration of properties – most of them residential buildings – to be demolished are in East Cleveland, but properties in Brecksville, Cuyahoga Heights, Euclid, North Royalton, Parma Heights and many more are also expected to be demolished, said Kimlin.
Demolition of destroyed properties has been a priority for communities in northeast Ohio. Earlier this month, the City of Cleveland approved spending $15 million in ARPA money to demolish derelict properties.
The proposed funding of $3.5 million for the Town of Strongsville would be used to make the downtown area more walkable.
The funding would bolster the city’s master plan, which includes adding transit access near the city’s food bank, improving access to an accessible playground for Americans with disabilities, l addition of a roundabout, improved walking for K-12 students looking to use the library and recreation center and more, said Brent Painter, director of economic development for Strongsville .
The goal of the upgrades is not just to improve residents’ quality of life, but also to attract businesses to the area, Perciak said.
“At the end of the day, it’s the type of companies like Clark Reliance, Swagelok and all the others that we’re looking for because all of their employees want to use it during the day or before the day or after they’ve finished their day’s work. “said Perciak.
Like Strongsville, the ARPA funds potentially at stake for North Royalton are also looking to bolster the city’s existing plan to expand Memorial Park. This master plan called for the addition of pavilions, the construction of a bridge, the addition of a wading pool and the addition of a multi-use path connecting the parks, the library and the YMCA, said Tom Jordan, director of the North Royalton Community Development.