|East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton|
EAST CLEVELAND, OHIO-East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton has decided to push for a merger of his largely Black impoverished suburb with neighboring Cleveland, also a majority Black city that struggles financially, but is not, like East Cleveland, purportedly on the verge of possible bankruptcy. (Editor's note: Mayor Norton will hold a 6:30 pm public meeting to seek community support for his merger plans on Thursday, April 2 at the McGregor Nursing Home, 14900 Private Drive in East Cleveland)
Cleveland has a population of roughly 375,000 residents, and is about 58 percent Black.
East Cleveland has a population of some 17,000 people and is about 98 percent Black
Cleveland has a 17-member city council, and East Cleveland has a five- member city council.
Both cities are governed by a charter.
"We are against any merger with Cleveland, all five city council members, including Council President Barbara Thomas, and all five of us support a recall of Mayor Norton," East Cleveland City Council member Mansell Baker told Cleveland Urban News.Com (www.clevelandurbannews.com) , Ohio's most read digital Black newspaper.
But Norton, a Democrat, told Cleveland Urban News.Com (www.clevelandurbannews.com) that Baker's assertions are false, and that not all five city council members support a recall, though he did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, a group of disgruntled residents is collecting the roughly 600 signatures needed to place a recall measure on the ballot against Norton, a second term mayor, who is Black like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a three-term mayor also pushing the merger.
Jackson, himself, could face a recall if necessary signatures are collected by May 1 as his opponents, led by Cleveland NAACP Attorney Michael Nelson Sr. and Black Contractors Group Leaders Ken Bender and Norm Edwards, have promised.
"I have an obligation as an elected official to do whatever I can to insure the best quality of life for the community now and in the future," Norton told the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a story published on March 26. "Even if it means giving up my current position as mayor."
Also in the mix is George Forbes, a former Cleveland NAACP president who was once a powerful Cleveland City Council president, and who is the legal counsel and a key decision maker at the Call and Post Newspaper, Ohio's most well known Black print newspaper based in Cleveland with distributions also in the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus.
Both Forbes and the Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, favor a merger.
By next week, Norton and his supporters will begin collecting voter signatures in East Cleveland to place on the ballot a measure asking East Cleveland voters to approve a six-member commission of three members from each city to hold merger talks. If East Cleveland voters agree to the commission, Cleveland City Council would thereafter approve or disapprove, the former of which is more probable, sources have said. Cleveland City Council, however, could vote to approve the terms approved by East Cleveland voters rather than to put the initiative before voters.
If a commission for merger talks is granted by both East Cleveland voters and Cleveland City Council, the commission would have 120 days to agree to a merger plan , or in essence a merger, that would subsequently be placed on the ballot in both cities for voters to either approve or reject.
East Cleveland is headed towards bankruptcy Norton says, as taxes have eroded in recent years due to a decline in businesses and heighten poverty. Only about 30 percent of the residents own their homes.
Norton's opponents, including East Cleveland School Board President Una H.R. Kennon, say that Norton, and not finances, is the problem.
Outspoken city councilman Nate Martin has said that Norton has allegedly been promised a big time job if he hands East Cleveland to Cleveland. Norton denies the allegation.
The city of Cleveland would be in line to apply for additional federal grant money if a merger succeeds. This is due to what would result in an increased population.
Also a retired East Cleveland judge who leads the Black Women's Political Action Committee of greater Cleveland, Kennon has said that city leaders, other than Norton, do not want their public school system merged with Cleveland, a public school system controlled by the mayor per state law.
What leaders of both cities can agree on, however, is that standardized test data from the Ohio Department of Education places both school districts at the bottom, though an unconstitutional public school funding formula devised by the Ohio state legislature that relies heavily on property taxes and gives more money to rich school districts is a major factor, data show.(www.clevelandurbannews.com) / (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)