No public notice: Investigation shows that Cleveland City Council likely violated open meeting laws

Meeting came after Council President’s promise to always give public notice.

No public notice: Investigation shows that Cleveland City Council violated open meeting laws

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - In March, Cleveland voters will decide if they want the size of City Council reduced from 17 members to nine.

Another ballot issue would cut the pay of council members from more than $83,000 to $58,000.

In November 2018, Council President Kevin Kelley vowed not to hold private meetings or caucuses on the topic, but 19 News has learned that the practice has not stopped.

Video evidence proves it.

“The whole point of open meeting laws is to tell elected officials you can’t hide simply because you don’t like how things might look,” Case Western University Law Professor Jonathan Entin noted.

Entin was contacted about video of the council members arriving at Democratic Party Headquarters on Dec. 9, 2019 to discuss the two March ballot issues.

At least 13 council members met. That constitutes a quorum, so the meeting should have been an open meeting with advance notification to the public.

None was given.

Professor Entin was asked if this is allowed by Ohio law. He said the short answer is generally, “No.”

Entin doesn’t believe the meeting fits any of the eight exemptions that allow closed door meetings.

Surveillance video was taken on a rainy Monday, Dec. 9.

Council President Kevin Kelly, who had pledged to end private caucus meetings, arrived early, driven by his city-paid driver.

One-by-one, a dozen others arrived.

Basheer Jones was an early arrival, followed by Kevin Conwell.

The West side was represented. Brian Kazy arrived at the same time as Matt Zone. The two compared notes before entering.

The East side was represented too. The silver GMC was that of Blaine Griffin.

Councilman Kenneth Johnson parked across the street and walked to the headquarters.

A woman walked down Superior and entered. It appears to be Councilwoman Dona Brady.

The woman in a white stocking hat is Phyllis Cleveland.

Councilman Kevin Bishop crossed the street after parking.

Five minutes later, Ward 1’s Joe Jones and downtown’s Kerry McCormick walked from down the street.

Under an umbrella is Collinwood’s Michael Polensek.

Over an hour later they left. Kelley again picked up by his city-paid driver.

“Council doesn’t just get to say, ‘Well, we think that it would be better to do this in closed session,”’ said Entin, an expert on municipal law.

We did not see four council members on the video: Jasmine Santana, Anthony Hairston, Anthony Brancatelli and Charles Slife.

For the record, the video surveillance was shot by a private investigator paid by the group which circulated petitions to get the issues on the ballot.

19 News reached out to Council President Kelly about the issue and has not heard back. When we do, we will update.

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