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Group plans to pull controversial Cleveland City Council reduction and pay-cut issues from ballot

Clevelanders First are working with influential clergy on a plan to study the issues first.

CLEVELAND — The committee behind proposals that would reduce the number of Cleveland City Council seats and cut members’ pay plans to pull the issues from the March 17 primary ballot, 3News has learned.

The committee, Clevelanders First, has been meeting for several weeks with influential members of Cleveland’s clergy about working together on a plan to study the best way to set the size of council and pay. The clergy, who do not support reducing council numbers, are expected to announce that they and the committee have agreed to study the best approach to council reduction in exchange for the committee pulling the ballot issues. 

The ballots are already printed so voters will see the two issues. If Clevelanders First formally notifies the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections that it is "pulling the issues," or backing away, the board is required to post signs at the polls saying votes on the issue will not count, says a board spokesman.

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley is aware of the negotiations but would not commit to following the results of the study, sources tell 3News.

The clergy are being represented by the Cleveland Clergy Coalition, which includes Rev. E.T. Caviness, Rev. Larry Harris, and Rev. Aaron Phillips. They spoke at an afternoon press conference. 

Phillips praised George and Clevelanders First for being willing to wait.

“We are about bringing people together so we don’t want to see a war in our city, a fight between East and West, blacks and whites and the haves and have nots,” he said.

Bill Ritter, a city resident and member of Clevelanders First, said he agreed to pull the issues in the interest in of building community consensus about a “fair way to go about” reducing council.  

“We will revisit this after our study comes back and at that point we will together as one and hopefully Cleveland City Council will comply with the study police themselves,” he said.

Tony George, the Westlake businessman who paid for the campaign behind the ballot issues, credited the coalition with proposing an independent study. He said he hopes council will follow any recommendations made but noted Council President Kevin Kelley and other council leaders have not committed to do so.

“In spite of that arrogance, we have committed to follow through,” George said.

Former Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed also played a role in negotiations between Clevelanders First, the ministers and council. Reed help draft proposed agreement between clergy and George around the issue of an independent study.

At the moment, no organization has yet committed to conducting or commissioning a study of council.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge also convened a meeting between the group and clergy last week. Kelley attended the meeting. 

RELATED: Proposal to drastically change Cleveland City Council to go before voters

RELATED: Proposal to shrink Cleveland City Council and cut member pay headed to ballot

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