Sunday, September 16, 2012

Grassroots hold Cleveland schools levy debate with Councilman Jeff Johnson debating Donna Walker Brown, Kimberly Brown, 5 Black Cleveland councilpersons attend, State Rep. Patmon was debate moderator, sponsored by Imperial Women Coalition of some 20 area activist groups, coalition leaders vote 29 to 12 against levy, Attorney Passalacqua, Activist Wille Stokes honored at debate for community service, activists against closing John Marshall High School were there too, second debate is planned in Cleveland City Council Ward 1 with State Sen. Nina Turner, Councilman Johnson, Debbie Kline for the levy and Donna Walker Brown, Kimberly Brown and Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed against it

Cleveland Ward 8 Councilman Jeff Johnson
Kimberly Brown
Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Donna Walker Brown
Ohio State Representative Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland)
By Johnette Jernigan and Kathy Wray Coleman, Cleveland Urban News.Com (

Organized by The Imperial Coalition, a group of over 20 Cleveland area grassroots organizations, a debate was recently held at Lil Africa on the proposed 15-mill tax levy for the Cleveland Municipal School District, which is on the November 6 ballot. (Editor's Note: A second debate is set for Sept. 25 with State Sen. Nina Turner (D-25), Debbie Kline, and Cleveland Ward 8 Councilman Jeff Johnson for the levy, and Cleveland Ward 2 Councilman Jeff Johnson and Community Advocates Donna Walker Brown and Kimberly Brown against it. Patmon and state Rep. John Barnes Jr. (D-12) will co-moderate that debate and community activists are waiting on approval as to whether it can be held at the Harvard Community Services Center in Cleveland's Ward 1 as promised last week since Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is allegedly lobbying to stop the debate because he cannot control every aspect of it. If activists are denied access to the Harvard Community Services Center while it remains open to middle and upper middle class community organizations, they say that they will take the debate elsewhere, such as a church in Ward 1,  and apprise the community of the date and time via Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's most read online Black newspaper. Ward 1 is Cleveland's largest community block of voters. For more information contact The Imperial Women at 216-712-2641). (Note: Officials at the Harvard Community Services Center, 18240 Harvard Rd in Cleveland, have said that the second debate can go forward on Monday, Sept. 25 from 6 pm to 8 pm).

At the recently held debate, leaders of the activist groups putting on the event, including The Imperial Women Coalition, voted 29 to 12 against the levy. Click On This Link To Read The Sept. 2 Cleveland Plain Dealer Article That Discusses The Vote Against The Schools Levy By The Imperial Women Coalition At The Recent Debate

Debating for the levy was Cleveland Ward 8 Councilman Jeff Johnson, and against it were Cleveland 2013 Mayoral Candidate and Community Activist Donna Brown, and Kimberly Brown, a social worker, author and community advocate.

State Rep. Bill Patmon (D-10) ) served as the moderator while Frances Caldwell (volunteer director of the African American History Museum , a Ward 8 precinct committee member, and member of the Imperial Women), Debbie Kline (executive director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice and a member of the Imperial Women), Roz McAllister (running for Ward 12 council seat, leads Ohio Family rights, and is a member of the Imperial Women) and Dr. Eugene Jordan (local dentist, member of the grassroots organization The Underground Railroad, and 2nd vice president of the Cleveland NAACP) were the debate panelists. 

Among grassroots factions and other community affiliates in attendance were councilpersons Zach Reed (Ward 2), T.J. Dow (Ward 7), Kevin Conwell (Ward 9) and Mamie Mitchell (Ward 6), all of whom spoke at the community gathering.

State Rep. John Barnes Jr. (D-12), a Cleveland Democrat, was also there.

Former Cleveland School Board Member Genevieve Mitchell outlined the struggle of Black students in Cleveland schools from desegregation to mayoral control and Community Activist Ernest Smith, who leads the oppressed People's Nation, spoke of the plight of Black boys and teens in a racist society that routinely stigmatizes them.

If the tax levy passes it would cost a  Cleveland homeowner $64,000 home $294 a year and  would be applicable for the next four years with voters them getting a chance to decide whether to renew it. It would generate $65 million in revenue for Cleveland schools, a hefty sum by most standards.  

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and schools CEO Eric Gordon were not in attendance, though both were invited to debate on this issue of public concern.

Some of the grassroots organizations represented at the debate were The People’s Forum, The Imperial Women, Peace in the Hood, Black on Black Crime, The Oppressed People’s Nation, The Cleveland African-American Museum, The Northeast Ohio Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Ohio Family Rights, People for Parental Equality, Cleveland Jobs With Justice, Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, The Joaquin Hicks Real People’s Movement, The Carl Stokes Brigade .The Underground Railroad, The Movement and the Save John Marshall Campaign. (Editor's Note: Neither the Imperial Women nor the Imperial Women Coalition has endorsed Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's education plan as falsely reported in an article last week in the Call and Post Newspaper. Community activist, however, still support the Call and Post, Ohio's  Black press).

Kimberly Brown’s stance on the levy is that the Ohio State Legislature must find a way to properly fund schools and that the levy is an attack on Cleveland homeowners.  She argues that levies do not guarantee a return on the investment and that there has to be transparency of how the funds are spent.

“At this point, I must say no,” said Kimberly Brown, who is of no relation to Donna Walker Brown.

 Donna Walker Brown vehemently argued that money has been misappropriated and that the Cleveland Board of Education, appointed by Mayor Jackson under a state law that gives the city mayor control of the largely Black school district,  should be elected as it once was.

Councilman Johnson, a licensed attorney and former Ohio state senator argued that the state legislature’s unconstitutional school funding formula, which the Ohio Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional on three occasions since 1992 pursuant to the case of DeRolph vs. State of Ohio, should be fixed.

But Johnson said that kids must come first and that as long as property taxes are the vehicle for educating Cleveland children, he supports it.

“I support the levy," said Johnson.

During intermission at the debate activists called for the Ohio State Legislature to be held in contempt of its order to fix its unconstitutional funding formula and Rep. Patmon said that he would introduce a bill seeking its revision to help poor kids in Ohio get their fare share.

Also on hand were a group of activists led by Santinder P. S. Puri, who has lodged a crusade to keep John Marshall High School, a west side school, open, though a new high school is currently under construction.

Whitney Young High School student Xavier Thomas-Hughes asked who came up with the decision to seek a school levy that is '$15 million' and Johnson explained that the 15-mill figure does not mean $15 million.

Donna Walker  Brown stated that another reason that she opposes the levy is because she believes that there is no accountability.  She said that it's nothing more than “the same crooks, and a different levy.”

Donna Walker Brown urged Cleveland voters to be aware of House Bill 269, the state law that handed control of Cleveland schools to the mayor, and took effect in 1998 when then Federal District Court Judge George White, who has since died,  released the State of Ohio and the school district from the desegregation court order.

Such release came after Judge White granted unitary status to the district and the state, and ruled accordingly that the disparities between Black students and their White counterparts are due to socioeconomic factors and not because the vestiges of racial discrimination had not been remedied to the extent practicable as required by the desegregation court order. 

And she said that district parents are denied entrance to the schools to see about their children if they have a felony record, a gesture that she says contributes to the ongoing disrespect of Black parents by school officials and the mayor.

Kimberly Brown stated that “we are in a $125 million deficit.”  

She believes that the mayor’s educational transformation plan, that needs passage of the levy to be fully implemented, is no plan of substance, and she demands that the mayor “show us where the money is going.”

Johnson, a Mayor Jackson loyalist, said that the levy is the right thing for Cleveland schools. 

Art McCoy of Black on Black Crime and Denise Taylor of The Imperial Women, Black on Black Crime, and the New Black Panther Party presented Criminal Defense Attorney Edele Passalacqua with the Grassroots Outstanding Attorney Award for her tireless work on the Joaquin Hicks case. 

A Cuyahoga County common pleas jury convicted Hicks of setting up the robbery that led a teen, tried as an adult and now serving a long prison term with three other Black men, to murder, execution style,  two White Cleveland Clinic employees who were reportedly trying to buy marijuana in outside of a downtown Cleveland night club.  

He was sentenced to serve 61 years in prison, but, due to the tireless efforts of Attorney Passalacqua, and his appellate attorneys, the case was overturned earlier this year by the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, that ruled that the negligence and prejudice  by Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul tainted the jury’s outcome.

Hicks was ultimately set free by a judge that replaced Gaul after Passalacqua entered the judicial race against him as a Republican contender this year for a seat on the common pleas bench.

Cleveland area attorney Edele Passalacqua
Community Activist Willie Stokes

Community activist Willie Stokes received “The Hidden Warrior Award” for his activism around the Imperial Ave. Murders and his support of causes to empower women and the Black community.

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