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Cleveland City Council leadership pulls controversial ordinance allowing city funds to be used for campaign initiatives before Monday's meeting

The legislation, authorizing council to use city funds to support or oppose local ballot issues, was pulled from the agenda after being scheduled for vote Monday.

CLEVELAND — In less than two months, Cleveland voters will get to decide on Issue 38, a charter amendment known as the People's Budget that would allocate 2% of the city's yearly budget, roughly $14 million, to residents for them to decide how to spend it.

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin proposed an emergency ordinance over the weekend that would authorize him to spend city funds to support or oppose local ballot issues like the People's Budget. 

The ordinance reads: "The President of Council or designee is authorized to expend appropriated City funds to provide the public information about, and to support or oppose passage of, proposed tax levies, bond issues, and other ballot issues affecting the operations and functions of the City and not involving the election or removal of a City officer."

It was set to be voted on Monday night. 

"I want a good, healthy, functioning democracy and that means I do not want my city government running their own political campaigns about who to vote for at the ballot box," said Councilwoman Rebecca Maurer.

Maurer took to social media and said she was appalled by the last minute move and called it "a pure power grab that undermines public trust."

Council leadership pulled the ordinance from the agenda before Monday night's meeting.

"It's not necessary for us to do it. We are actually legally allowed to educate our public and influence how they feel about issues that can affect them," Griffin said.

Griffin told 3News that council had been working with the city's law department for months on this after council members had already started talking to their constituents about the People's Budget.

He said the law department recommended the ordinance.

A city spokesperson shared this statement: 

"Mayor Bibb and the Bibb administration oppose using taxpayer dollars on campaigning against Issue 38. Mayor Bibb was unaware of council’s proposal to spend public funds on campaigning against Issue 38 (the People’s Budget charter amendment) until earlier today.

The City law department provided advice to City Council solely focused on legal issues implicated by the proposed ordinance. At no time did the City law department recommend or otherwise comment on the wisdom of proposed Ordinance 1035-2023.

The mayor continues to support resident involvement in the local government, particularly with respect to how the City spends taxpayer money, but does not support Issue 38 — a permanent charter amendment that will force critical cuts to the city’s budget.

Last fall, Mayor Bibb supported creating a participatory budgeting pilot program here in Cleveland, to help direct a portion of our one-time federal stimulus dollars. The administration brought legislation for the pilot before City Council, which rejected the proposal."

Griffin said this ordinance was to get clarification about what is and what is not allowed under the law.

"This was not a commitment to spend taxpayer dollars to educate on the campaign. This was making sure that we understood our legal roles and responsibilities and that's it," Griffin said.

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