CLEVELAND, Ohio — Here’s what I don’t understand: Why would someone you hired argue with you about how to spend your money? I mean – you know what you want and don’t want. You are the boss, they are the servants. If we talked about a wedding, there would be hysteria.
This is exactly what our soon-to-be-outgoing Cuyahoga District Executive, Armond Budish, and our 11 dear District Councilors (five of whom are standing for re-election unopposed in November’s election) are insisting on. They want us to spend $54 million on a dying houseplant for a centerpiece and over $750 million on a new lobby.
To put it bluntly, the dying houseplant is the Global Center for Health Innovation, aka the failed Medical Mart, or as some like to call it – The Monument of Misspent Money, a $465 million creation that made 50 to 80 Could bring in millions of dollars when sold in the current real estate market – if someone wanted it. The Reception Hall is the proposed new county jail they plan to build on an industrial site where toxic gases live in the ground. The total cost of the two projects could be as high as $800,000,000 but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include the land purchase for the prison. I pause while you count the zeros.
You and I are going to have another $30 million in debt because the county doesn’t have all of that $50 million to throw in this money pit. To pay for jail, you and I will have to pay a higher sales tax rate for an untold additional number of years after the extra quarter percent we’ve had to pay for the Huntington Convention Center restoration since 2007 expires in 2027.
The jail is said to be uncompleted, but the investment in the Medical Mart, which has been said to be the only way to make it an attractive venue, was approved at the September 13 county council meeting. Of course, one never knows exactly when the Council will decide to spend money. Make the illegal decision to split American Rescue Plan Act funds between council members for pet projects. The illegal part was how the decision was made. In the state of Ohio, government officials can make government decisions only in a public meeting. Problem – we weren’t invited.
It seems that our district leaders are members of the FITE club (fingers in their ears club). We, the ones who live here and pay taxes here, have tried to tell them what we want and don’t want. Through community polls, public meeting comments, and published editorials, we’ve made it very clear that we don’t want the new jail that County Council dreams of at night.
Since 2019, the Justice Center Steering Committee has been trying to figure out what to do with the prison and other facilities of the current Justice Center. Three years and many advisors later (not sure if they are still done) the committee is still working.
Certain committee members — Cuyahoga County Attorney Michael O’Malley, Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan and Chief Public Defender Cullen Sweeney — are dissatisfied with the current state of prison affairs, WKSU reported in August. Talk about a divided house. And yet the plans of Budish and his gang continue to move forward.
In the same report, Jeff Appelbaum, the project manager overseeing the planning of new prisons (how much does that cost?), said a new county jail had been in the works for years, and another report said that discussion of a new prison began in 2013 I’m skeptical because I can’t find a new prison anywhere in the Cuyahoga County Strategic Plan 2017-2022.
However, the strategic plan sets out 15 inspirational goals to improve five areas of life and make our county “a vibrant and prosperous region where everyone thrives and all things are possible.” You can read the plan at https://cuyahogacounty.us/strategic-plan and then check the progress made (or not made) at https://cuyahoga.clearpointstrategy.com/.
I warn you – most goal progress is shown in colorful and confusing charts. Dense data includes other counties, I suppose for comparison, but all it does is obfuscate Cuyahoga County’s data. I tried to compare 2017 to 2021 and it was neither easy nor encouraging.
All of these prison plans and advisor reports add up to a mess in my opinion. Budish and the council members don’t listen and simply push through with their ideas. I am disgusted and angry and feel like smelly cheese is being served somewhere.
Unfortunately, I believe problems like this stem from this happy couple – power and money. I need a list of all the people and entities that will benefit from a new mega-prison down the haul road. I want all the back seat drivers piloting these expensive projects to be hand checked to see who’s in whose pocket. I would love to see how much prison sentence avoidance we could get for $750 million and how the current prison could be made safe differently NOW before another inmate dies.
Most importantly – I want Budish and County Council members to achieve goal 3 of their strategic plan – “All are valued, respected and heard.”
Leslie Kouba, a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio and a mother of four grown people, writes, laughs, and enjoys living in Cleveland with her wife, five cats, and a thick-tailed gecko named Zennis. You can reach them at LeslieKoubaPD@gmail.com.