Open Letter to the Voters of East Cleveland, Ohio


Open Letter to the Voters of East Cleveland, Ohio

By Gerald L. Silvera, Petitioner for the Republican Nomination for Mayor of East Cleveland.

May 19, 2017

 

East Cleveland Ohio U.S.A – 5/24/2017  – The 2017 Mayoral election is without a doubt the most significant election in the history of East Cleveland. Voters must decide, among an array of candidates, who is most likely to turn the fortunes of the City around.  A wrong choice will result in the City continuing its slide towards insolvency.  Any serious candidate for Mayor must meet head-on the cancer of corruption that has engulfed City Hall.  They must understand the City’s problems in all of its complexity, and be able to articulate their vision of East Cleveland’s future under their leadership.  Before I offer my observations about East Cleveland’s corrupt government and what I see as practical solutions, let me first give you some facts about my involvement with the City of East Cleveland.  I served as Chairman of the East Cleveland Audit Committee from January 3, 2012, until my resignation on May 19, 2015.  During my tenure as Chairman, with the help of Mrs. Ella Mae Bowman and the late Ms. Bernice Ewing, the Committee worked diligently to investigate and apprise the Council, and the Auditor of State, about serious financial management practices plaguing the Norton Administration, that were jeopardizing the fiscal integrity of the City of East Cleveland.On October 22, 2012, the Committee submitted a report to the Council detailing twenty-four (24) budget appropriations totaling approximately $2,440,076 in unauthorized and questionable expenditures.  On September 20, 2013, the Committee submitted to the Council, Ciuni & Panichi (the City’s auditors), and the Auditor of State, six (6) Findings for Recovery totaling approximately $206,800.  We also provided documentation to the Auditor of State’s Office of Local Government Services regarding the hiring of 10 individuals in violation of a Council-mandated hiring freeze, costing the City approximately $408,475 in unauthorized payroll costs during the fiscal years of 2012-2013.  All told, the Audit Committee uncovered approximately $3,055,351 in illegal and suspicious spending by the Norton Administration.  I have been an advisor to members of the Council, and the former Council staff over the past six years.

At the request of Council Presidents Dr. Joy Jordan, and subsequently Barbara Thomas, I sometimes assisted in the drafting of legislation, offered budget and contract reviews, and conducted investigations.  During the months of July thru September 2012, with the assistance of the Council Clerk Tracy Udrija-Peters, we examined City records and drafted a proposed Financial Recovery Plan for the City.  Regrettably, Mayor Norton ordered the Finance Director to withhold assistance, so we were not able to generate the required 5-year forecast.  The truth is, as I stated in the beginning, the municipal government of East Cleveland is afflicted with the cancer of corruption that has been allowed to grow because of two main reasons.  The first being, the indifference displayed by Ohio and Cuyahoga County government officials who failed in their respective responsibility when confronted with documented facts.  They collectively have turned a blind eye to what was, and is, happening in East Cleveland.  No one wants to get their hands dirty with so-called “black politics”, even if the legal and financial evidence is given to them on a “silver platter.”  Personally, I smell the stench of secret political deals which produced a “hands off policy” with the ultimate aim of acquiring the City of East Cleveland, with Gary Norton and his minions as the facilitators.

The second reason was a weak City Council, which did not fully comprehend the scope of their authority as legislators.  Their weakness was magnified by Mayor Norton’s ability to “buy” or “neutralize” certain Council members when he needed legislation passed or blocked.  The Council was further hindered in their efforts by Law Directors that acted as the Mayor’s personal lawyer, rather than the City’s chief legal officer with the duty to protect the interests of the municipal corporation.

 

This cancer, having started in the Mayor’s Office, spread through every department under the control of the Mayor’s Office.  The visible symptoms associated with this cancer include: the illegal salary payments Mayor Norton received for the position of  Safety Director, the Red Light Camera Contract, the environmental nightmare known as the Noble Road Dump, the secret deal which led to the demolition of Huron Road Hospital, the controversial arrangement with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and the demolition of hundreds of properties that fundamentally undercut the City’s assessed property valuations, and thus the City’s property tax base.  There have been police officers convicted of violating their oath to protect and serve, jail suicides, and theft of personal property while in Police custody.  A Symptom of this cancer also includes the $41, 857, 430 in unwarranted expenses and debt that was generated during the first 3 years of Mayor Norton’s first term as Mayor. I anticipate that whenever an audit is conducted for 2013 thru 2016, the $41 million figure will grow by an additional $25 million to $35 million.

The Governor’s Financial Planning and Supervision Commission has been a joke.  It has been wholly unimpressive and has not provided the necessary oversight and forced accountability one would have expected from the Commission at the beginning.  Furthermore, The Commission became tainted when Governor Kasich appointed Helen Forbes Fields to the Commission.  She has a number of personal conflicts of interests that prevent her from being an impartial member of the Commission.  I can recall a conversation I had with the former Commission Chair, Sharon Hanrahan when she admitted to me that the State Government did not have the “political will” to clean up the mess we were trying to get them to address.

Over the past six years, at my own expense, of time and money, I have tried to convince State officials to set aside political interests and deal with the violations of law affecting East Cleveland.  Had they done so, East Cleveland would not be in the condition it is in today.

The initial acts that laid the foundation for the corruption that has engulfed East Cleveland can be traced to decisions made by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (the Elections Board’s legal advisor), and the Ohio Elections Commission.  There is a state law, Revised Code 3517.11(D) that states: “No certificate of nomination or election shall be issued to a person, and no person elected to office shall enter upon the performance of the duties of that office, until that person or that person’s campaign committee, as appropriate, as fully complied with this section and sections 3517.08, 3517.081, 3517.10, and 3517.13 of the revised code. “

Gary Norton had served in the positions of Council President, and two terms as Mayor had “entered into the performance of the duties of those offices,” over the span of 9 years, having never been in full compliance with his campaign reports as required by the aforementioned state law. If the law had been enforced by the Board of Elections, Gary Norton would have been denied a Certificate of Nomination to be on the ballot for Mayor in 2013.

Gary Norton turned in his 2009 campaign election reports on July 1, 2013.  On July 25, 2013, Norton was able to secure a settlement with the Ohio Elections Commission that reduced $196,000 in fines for violations dating back to 2008 to $500.  Gary Norton didn’t pay the reduced fine until after the November elections of 2013.  On July 16, 2013, in a hearing before the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, I was declared to “not have standing” to bring a complaint against Gary Norton for his lack of compliance with Ohio Elections Laws.  Not being deterred, I then filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.  We had a hearing in Columbus on November 14, 2013, and based on the recommendation of the Commission’s Executive Director, Atty. Philip C. Richter, the Commission decided to dismiss my complaint.  Atty. David G. Lambert, from the County Prosecutor’s Office who represents the Elections Board, represented Gary Norton at the hearing.  I was accompanied by Bro. Bob Saffold, a long-time friend.  Afterward, I received a copy of the Executive Director’s written recommendation and was disgusted to see that what he wrote had nothing to do with the issues I had raised in my complaint.  When I confronted him over the phone, He said “it didn’t matter what he wrote. His decision was final.”  It was an entirely fictitious recommendation.   This too had the stench of a secret political deal.

Recently, I saw where the Ohio Elections Commission in October of 2016, approved fines totaling more than $114,000 against Gary Norton for complaints from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections that Norton didn’t file an annual report for 2015, turned in his 2014 report late and didn’t resolve issues with his 2013 reports. If the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections had fulfilled their duties as outlined in Ohio’s Electoral Laws, there would have been no need for the City to spend $30,000+ to have recall elections of Mayor Gary Norton. I am of the opinion that it would not be irrational for the City of East Cleveland to litigate the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for recovery of the costs of the several recall elections against Gary Norton because of the Board of Elections’ dereliction of duty to enforce state election laws.  It could be a precedent-setting case.

Then there is the matter of Annexation.  Mayor Norton and his chief of Staff Michael Smedley (Smedley is also Norton’s campaign committee treasurer) controlled a so-called “Citizens Committee” to circulate Petitions that were drafted illegally by the City’s “Acting” Law Director.  Norton and Smedley used their positions of “public trust” to circulate Petitions in a manner that created a conflict of interest between their residency within East Cleveland, and their positions with the City of East Cleveland.  It was clear to the Council Clerk that the Petitions had forged signatures and were also defective in language as required by State Law.  Ultimately, the Council passed a Resolution, which I helped to draft, that disqualified the Petitions, and also required an investigation by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to determine if any State Elections laws were violated and if so, to prosecute to the full extent of the law.

You can rightly assume that if the County Sheriff’s Office had found no violations of law, County Prosecutor Tim McGinty and Mayor Norton would have held a press conference declaring the Petitions free from any violations of law, thus, being in a strong position to publicly compel the City Council to reconsider the Petitions for Annexation.  Instead, we have heard nothing from the Prosecutor’s Office.  They have been dead silent.  After Council made their decision, Chief of Staff Michael Smedley filed a lawsuit against the Council.  His legal counsel included the well-connected Cleveland Lawyer Frederick R. Nance.  Because of the “acting” Law Director’s conflicts of interests, in the matter, the Council was compelled to hire outside legal counsel to defend its actions.  Fortunately, the Court ruled in favor of City Council.   I have reviewed the Petitions, and it is my opinion that one or more of the Petition Circulators should be prosecuted for knowingly submitting fraudulent Petitions to the Council.   Unfortunately for the City, there still remains more than $40,000 in Council legal bills that must be paid.

The above-mentioned examples are instructive of the scope of political protection Gary Norton has received with the aim of him facilitating annexation.  Without Gary Norton in office as Mayor, annexation would not have been on the table.  Because I believe, whoever would have been Mayor, would have made an honest effort at trying to manage the affairs of the City, and would not have intentionally driven the City into Fiscal Emergency.  But that was the plan all along.  To bankrupt the City, thereby creating the rationale for pursuing Annexation with the City of Cleveland.  While on the way to annexation, plunder as much as you can, and bury the evidence with Annexation.  But Arrogance, Greed, Stupidly, and the Grace of God have prevented annexation up to this point.

Even with all that I know about what has transpired over the past seven years, all is not lost.  There is a way forward.  However, it will not be without some pain.  If by the Grace of God, I am elected Mayor of East Cleveland, the first order of business is to hire competent and skilled professionals to manage the City Departments under my control.  If a Mayor hires the right talent, there will be no need to micro-manage day to day activities.

 

Based upon my work in helping to draft a Financial Recovery Plan, I have an understanding of the budget issues involved in the City’s operations.  I noticed the wastefulness of department operations and the ability of paperwork and money to become “unintentionally or intentionally” lost in the system.  Therefore, City Departments must be reorganized and technologically updated in a manner that will bring economies of scale to management activities and city services.  This reorganization must also be coupled with changing the budgeting process.  The current line-item budgeting process has a “short-term focus” and “cost based orientation”, which provide significant opportunities for the process to be “politicized”.  Research has shown that the line-item budgeting process becomes inadequate and is thwarted unless it is applied in static environments, with stable revenues and non-changing service demands.

An alternative budgetary process has been successfully employed by over 500 U.S. city and county governments. This budgetary method – performance-based budgeting (PBB), is the practice of developing budgets based on the relationship between funding and expected results. In doing so, PBB improves cost-efficiency and manages effective budgeting outlays, increasing visibility into how government policies translate into spending and making systematic use of performance information.   I estimate that the City could reduce unjustified expenditures by between $200,000 and $500,000 annually using this budgeting method.

The next order of business is to bring accountability for the mismanagement of public funds.  I will seek assistance from Federal and State law enforcement agencies to ensure those responsible for the mismanagement of the City’s financial resources are held accountable, and where feasible to recover funds illegally appropriated.  I estimate that between $5 million and $15 million dollars can be recovered.  I want a forensic audit to be performed for the years 2013 to the end of Mayor Norton’s term in office.  We need to learn the full extent of the City’s financial condition under his leadership.  Only then can we have a clear understanding of how deep a financial pit we are in.  I will work with our representatives in the Ohio General Assembly to draft legislation seeking the State of Ohio to underwrite the cost of the audit.

 

Next, we need to revive efforts initiated by the law firm of Buckley King, in bringing the nationally recognized firm of Conway Mackenzie in to help the City determine the best course of action given our fiscal condition.  I participated in meetings with representatives of Conway Mackenzie, and I feel that their demonstrated skills in municipal turnaround can provide some realistic and feasible approaches in helping to determine the future course of the City.  On the other hand, their analysis might determine that it is in the best interest to look at Annexation if no plan can be developed to secure a future as an independent and financially stable municipal government.  At least with Conway Mackenzie’ assistance, any decision will be based on everyone having all of the facts.

 

In 2009, Mayor Eric Brewer was responsible for the passage of Resolution 15-09, the Vacant Property Registration Ordinance.  This law was intended to make property owners of vacant and abandon property liable for annual fees based on the physical condition and length of time the property was vacant.  During Gary Norton’s six (6) years as Mayor, he intentionally refused to fulfill his legal duty to enforce this law, costing the city between $5 million and $12 million dollars in lost revenues since 2010.  It is my belief, that this single piece of legislation would have generated enough revenues to keep the City from falling into the state of Fiscal Emergency if managed correctly.  This law must be applied retroactively against every owner of vacant and abandoned property in the City.  Even those properties that were given to the Land Bank or sold.  There is a legal opinion issued by the Ohio Attorney General that provides the legal authority for the City to go after those property owners for obligations they owed the City prior to their property being sold or placed in the Land Bank.  I estimate that between $5 million and $9 million dollars could be recovered from aggressive collection activities.The East Cleveland economy is estimated at between $80-$100 Million Dollars, with at least $40 Million Dollars being spent outside of the City because of the lack of business services and products to meet the needs and wants of residents.  The government of East Cleveland must develop legislative and administrative strategies that take into account the changing financial realities of federal and state government funding, by seeking ways to leverage the economic purchasing and investment power of East Cleveland residents and businesses to help stimulate small business growth, job creation, and real estate development.

One strategy that I favor is to create a Community Reinvestment Incentive Plan to encourage capital investment within the City.  I would seek an agreement with the State Government to provide a special tax credit for residents and business owners that make capital investments in local businesses or real estate development projects.  I would couple this effort by creating a public/private partnership to establish a Community Currency.  For those not familiar with community currency, it is a tool that can help revitalize local economies by encouraging wealth to stay within a community rather than flowing out. Examples of community currencies can be found in Ithaca, New York and Berkshires, Massachusetts.  If East Cleveland is going to survive for the long-term, then the community must invest in itself.

In 2003, a Master Plan was created during the term of Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor with the assistance of the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.  I would have the City’s Planning Commission, along with the Citizen’s Advisory Committee and other interested local groups, to take on the task of reviewing this plan and offering recommendations within the context of our current conditions and financial resources.  My preference is to focus on Residential and Commercial Property Restoration rather than outright demolition.  There is a substantial amount of developable property that can afford unemployed residents the opportunity learn construction related skills that will serve them a lifetime.  If residents are invested in redeveloping their community, they will work to help ensure their communities are safe from crime and property deterioration.

Because we live in a globalized world, I support the creation of a public/private International Trade Development Program for the City, based on the advantages offered by The Export Trading Company Act of 1982 (Public Law 97-290), and the unique cultural diversity of the City’s residents and the business community.  During my tenure with the World Conference of Mayors and the Ohio Chapter of Black Mayors, I co-authored a municipal economic development strategy centered on the creation of public/private export trading companies to support bilateral trade opportunities between WCM member cities in America and Africa. The history of how this transpired and what happened is for another article.  In short, the City Administration must play a leading role in helping to identify and stimulating international trade opportunities that can become a catalyst for promoting business growth and job creation, and thus increased tax revenues for the City.Even though Mayor Gary Norton and Council President Thomas Wheeler were recalled, their influence on Mayor Brandon King’s Administration is quite significant.  It has been reported to me that Thomas Wheeler has been seen regularly in the Mayor’s Office.  Mayor King has chosen not to replace any of Gary Norton’s executive staff, providing Gary Norton continued influence over decisions made by the King Administration.  Mayor Brandon King has directly changed the makeup of the Council and its staff in direct violation of the City Charter and State law.  This matter is currently before a federal appeals court, as a means of preventing the State Court of Appeals from hearing the case.  As a consequence of this legal maneuver, we do not have a lawfully functioning City Government, with appropriate checks and balances.  To make matters worse, the King Administration has been spending thousands of dollars in public funds without proper legislative authorization.  This is why it is critically important for East Cleveland Voters to become engaged during this election cycle.  Petitions for Mayor can be circulated starting May 25, 2017, and must be turned into the Board of Elections by June 14, 2017.

 

In February of last year, my employer of 16 years, Turbonics, Inc., was sold to Mestek, Inc., of Westfield Massachusetts.  They offered, and I accepted employment, and have been working in Westfield since July of last year.  The cost of traveling back and forth was the reason why I resigned from the East Cleveland Public Library Board of Trustees this past February.  Despite the distance between East Cleveland and Holyoke, I have kept close tabs on what is happening at City Hall.

 

I have expended considerable time and money in trying to move East Cleveland government in the right direction from the outside.  For the past six years, I have been a consistent voice on the issues of corruption and accountability afflicting East Cleveland government.  There are plenty of videos posted on 44112news.com, and the various articles that I have written that are a testament to that fact.

 

I have never been a person who wanted the public spotlight.  I never wanted to run for public office.  But my own conscience will not allow me to sit and watch the madness continue.  So after considerable reflection, and talking with people who I know have a sincere affection and commitment to East Cleveland, I have decided to circulate Petitions to seek the Republican nomination for Mayor of East Cleveland.  I am planning to transition back home permanently by August.  With the State and Federal governments under the control of Republicans, having a Republican Mayor will provide the City with favorable access to decision-makers that a Democratic mayor would not be able to duplicate.  Having served as Political Director for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party Organization, being a member of both the Central and Executives Committes, I already have relationships in Columbus and Washington, D.C. that I can call upon for the benefit of the City of East Cleveland.

 

Like most people, I have experienced ups and downs in life.  Like most people, I have made choices that I wish I could take back.  The test is how you meet the challenges that life puts in front you.  Will you succumb to the social pressures, or will you summon your God-given spirit and fortitude to rise above life’s difficulties?  This is where East Cleveland is today.  I believe the voters of East Cleveland are tired of the madness and are ready for real change.  I believe the voters will clearly see who has the demonstrated commitment and aptitude to turn East Cleveland into the new “Gold Coast” of Northeast Ohio.

 

If you believe in your heart and mind it will become reality.

 

 

 

 

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