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Blog Post  |  10.29.2020
Calfee NOW Episode 3 With Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley

On Episode 3 of Calfee NOW, Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group spoke with Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley

Topics discussed included:

  • The makeup of Ward 13
  • The current state of Cleveland during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Legislative priorities for the city of Cleveland going forward
  • How clients and the community can get involved with local government

Calfee NOW Episode 7

Watch the full episode. 



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

All right, everybody. Welcome to another Calfee NOW interview. Today we have my good friend and a good friend of Calfee, Cleveland City Council President, Kevin Kelly. Kevin, how are you today?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

I'm doing great, Michael, how are you? Thanks for having.

Michael Bowen:

It's going to be fun. So Council President Kelly, let's start off with the basics here. So, what ward do you represent the City of Cleveland? And can you kind of describe your ward and where you're located?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Yes. I represent ward 13, which is mainly the old Brooklyn neighborhood. It's a small portion of Stockyards. But the general boundaries of it, if you think about where Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo is and Brookside Park, that is kind of connected but separate, that's the Northern border of the ward. The Southern border is Brooke Park road, abutting Parma. The Western border, I abut the city of Brooklyn. And then approximately Broadview Schaaf road is the Eastern border of the ward. So it's mainly that area of the city, South of Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo and Brookside Park.

Michael Bowen:

Fantastic. So as most people know, in addition to being a Councilman, you also are the Cleveland City Council president. So tell me, how does that process kind of work, how you became Council president and how that differs from your colleagues role?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Sure. So thanks Michael. I was a ward Council person my first two terms and I was elected Council President beginning of my third term. The way Cleveland City Council works is all of the members of Council are elected by their wards, we don't have any at large members. And then the Council President is elected by his or her colleagues. And the process for that is just that, you have to build coalitions, you have to work with people. You have to let people know that you're going to listen to them and you have to let people know that you're going to represent the Council and really act in the best interest of the Council to move the agenda of the city forward.

Michael Bowen:

Fantastic.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

I guess if I would talk about different roles, the real difference is setting of the legislative calendar, assigning committee chairs, assigning... we have representation on various boards. I guess if there's anyone big difference is, we all kind of weigh in on certain decisions, but when you're the final decision maker, the weight of every decision is a little bit heavier and it's a little more stressful, a little more challenging.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Because, before I was the Council President, I was the Majority Whip of Cleveland City Council. So I was involved in stuff and I weighed in on things and I advised, but when it becomes your decision, it just becomes more challenging. So really just managing that whole legislative agenda, process and making sure, especially during COVID times where we had to pivot how we did business, just making sure that legislation happened and that we were not just... that our Council agenda was getting forwarded as well.

Michael Bowen:

And that's great. You actually mentioned COVID because that leads me perfectly into my next question. With everything going on, how would you describe the state of the City of Cleveland right now? You ask one person, "We're in disarray," ask another person, "It's the greatest thing since [sliced breads 00:00:03:45] " So what are some of the assets that Cleveland has going forward, some of the challenges and just the state of the city in general?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Okay. Thanks, Michael. First of all, when I answer this question, I need to talk about some dry stuff in terms of jobs and income, but I don't want anything I say to minimize the pain of those who have lost loved ones, those who have seen loved ones become sick, people who have lost their jobs, people who have seen their businesses go under, that is the tragedy of this pandemic that I think about every day. None of that is lost on me. None of the human suffering of this is lost on me.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

But in terms of the city of Cleveland, as an entity, as an employer of 8,000 people, managing a $1.8 billion budget, the top line is we're going to get through 2020 without layoffs and providing as much services as possible. We're going to get through 2020. So we're kind of in a bend but don't break mode right now.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

That didn't just happen in... We approved our budget, which actually ironically happened just before COVID, we had budgeted for a recession. We didn't know this was coming and we didn't budget for this recession, but at the same time, we were in about the 10th year of recovery, and that doesn't happen that much in American history. We kind of looked at it like we were in the 10th inning of a game and we weren't sure at what point this would happen because business cycles happen.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

So we brought forward $43 million of unencumbered cash. We had a rainy day fund that we had established that was about 38 million. And we did so not knowing this would come, but we also did so with some criticism that, "Well, you should be hiring more police staff. You should be hiring more fires, you should be hiring... " which is all true. But the issue is that it takes time to get those clauses in. And so we're doing the most we could. And we brought forward an amount of unencumbered cash in the event of a recession.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

We're burning through that. We are applying for COVID funds. We have not laid people off, which is very difficult in this times, and we will have a balanced budget, but there are things that we're doing. Sacrifices were being made. We're not hiring essential positions, so we're going to be okay. I don't know what 2021 is going to bring. But right now the state of the city is we are struggling through everybody else as an entity.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

In terms of assets and challenges though, I am of the belief that again, with all just heartfelt... I really do appreciate all of the suffering, I do not want to minimize that at all. That being said, I do believe that our best days are ahead of us. I do believe that we have assets that we can capitalize on, that are going to bring us to the next level.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

And if you look at our assets, I think obviously our assets are our people. I think our assets are, if you look at the fact that we have a thriving healthcare industry. We have... People underestimate the power or the strength of our manufacturing economy, our information technology economy, the skilled trades. There is... Let's just go pre COVID real quick. Pre COVID our GDP, we're outperforming every city in the state of Ohio. Our year over year GDP growth, we were greatly outperforming those cities that some people want us to be. Things were going good.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Again, I understand that within that prosperity, there's inequity that needs to be dealt with and not everybody was prospering. And that's a problem, but just as a top-line issue, the economy is good and we do have these assets. So just circling back to your question about assets. So knowing that we have these assets, we have all these great industries.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

We also have a... in my opinion, we have an asset that we're not fully capitalized, which is our technology sector and our technology infrastructure. We have a very strong technology infrastructure. And I know that Calfee has been active as well in terms of trying to advise people on how do we take the technology infrastructure we do have and bring it to another level so that we become a city that is identified as a technology hub.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

And sadly, right now we are not, we have one of the greatest digital divides in the country. We have... and I'm just going to switch to challenges now, we have one of the biggest digital divides in the country. The [inaudible 00:09:17] information is coming out right now is going to tell us that Cleveland, Ohio is one of the least connected cities in the nation.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Now, that is a terrible on many levels, but really we send kids home to work remotely, but we know that many of them don't have the tools to connect. We send the workforce home knowing that many of them don't have the tools that they need to be productive in this COVID economy. So it was a problem before, and it's a crisis now.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

And in terms of our other assets, whether it's our technology assets or our healthcare sector, our manufacturing sector, one of our main major problem is that... Our greatest asset is our people, but we have unemployment and we have open jobs in those fields. We have open technology jobs. We have open jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, information technology. But at the same time in the same zip code, we have people who are unemployed and underemployed. How does that happen? How is that okay? How is that not a clear desk moment?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

We talk about concepts workforce development skills gap. Unfortunately, we talk about them they become like academic issues. We have to stop talking about them as academic issues. We have to look at... People need jobs. And when I look at our challenges, our challenge isn't waiting for the next big thing to come to Cleveland. It's not waiting for Amazon HQ to land in Cleveland and solve our problems. We have the assets and we have the people. The challenge is going to be investing in our assets, investing in our people so that we can give people opportunities to participate in these thriving industries, these thriving economy sectors, so that it benefits everybody.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

That's really the challenge of bringing our economy out of this COVID state that we're in right now, and really getting us to the next level to be the Cleveland that we can be. Sorry about the long answer.

Michael Bowen:

No, that's great because that actually... I think you teased a little bit to my next question, which would be moving forward and it's hard, like you said, to look at what 2021 and the future holds, but what are some of your legislative priorities as the leader of the legislative body? What would you like to see get accomplished here in the next six months to two years or whatever your timeframe may be?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

The first low-hanging fruit issue we need to deal with is digital divide. We have to get our students, our workforce, our families, our seniors, that need to do telehealth, we have to get people connected. We have to make sure that we have the tools so that our kids can compete with anyone from Seoul and Shanghai. We need to make sure that we have the tools, we're equipping our kids, who are our future workforce for the next level, so that they are able to participate, not just participate, contribute, and basically be the economy of the future. That's number one.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

I mentioned a little bit about workforce. We have to stop accepting that we have unemployment and underemployment along with open jobs in the same zip code. That should be something that just shocks our conscious. And we should just say, "No, this can't be." And we need to look at the tools that are available and we need to make sure that we are doubling down on those tools. Because if you look what's available in Cleveland, Ohio right now, we have... with Say Yes coming online, Say Yes to Education, anything from entrepreneurship, a two-year degree, everything up to a certificate through a four-year college degree is available to our kids, to our workforce. We have a whole portfolio of whatever a child wants to be, whatever job they want, there's a path there.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

But we be cautious of one thing. We can't fail kids from K to 12, and then think that we're going to give them a college scholarship, or try to frame them with a program to get them a certificate or training and think that's going to work. If you fail kids from K to 12, you can't just fix it with a program. We've got to start investing in kids earlier. We have to do that to really be the workforce with all the talk of... We're in a political world, in a political campaign season, all talk of tax is all the talk of competing for businesses.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

One thing that has been consistent, whether it's a political season or not, the only real decision that businesses take in terms of locating or expanding is what is the workforce? Are there people here that can help me get to the next level. We see on Cleveland City Council, many startups will come to us to get their business started, and we participate through our Economic Development department, then you have the small misses that happen. And they can reach a point where they get from 10 to 30 to 40 employees. At a certain point though, when things really start taking off, they really do have a difficult time attracting the people. We just can't live with that anymore.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

The other priority is we can never, and I probably should have said this first because whatever legislative agenda that we have, we can not talk about equity. We can't talk about the great news about the Sherwin-Williams are building their headquarters without making sure that that's going to be inclusive, that that's going to be an equitable project, that that's really going to bring people together.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

We can't... Equity has to be kind of the thread that runs through all of our legislative priorities and all of our goals. And on that note, I would just like to look at what we do as a community and the overall community development corporation where I live, I consider them to be a pioneer in community health and equity. What we have done is we did a community health needs assessment. We don't ask questions like, do you have health insurance, or do you see a doctor? The questions we're asking are, do you have access to fresh foods? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? Is there a school near you that you can send your kids to? Is there a park within a 10-minute walk of your house?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

We have to look at equity and health as community development issues. We have to look at... no community can thrive if it's not healthy. Of all the discussions of all the things that we need to do in the community, to me it's best that the opposite of poverty is health. And if somebody is living a healthy life, they're generally not in poverty. So I think we have to strive to get there. So that's kind of a broad stroke on some of the legislative priorities that we're going to try to get done.

Michael Bowen:

That was great Council President. I really appreciate you going into that detail. I think that's important. As you know, Calfee we deal a lot with the business community and we have clients all the way from the education sector, the business community, you name it. So, how can they interact with the legislative process? I'll even expand this out a little bit with their city government, whether it's the executive branch, the legislative branch, how they can interact with you and being helpful to you, frankly. I'll leave it at that.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Great. The only way that we as a community solve big issues is if we have an all-in approach. And I'll just give you a few examples of all-in approaches that we need to replicate the model. As you're aware, we recently passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. That comes with requirements, you can't just declare it and then go on with your day. That comes with action steps that the city needs to do. So we're forming a coalition right now, and we're in the fledgling stage of it, but that's going to grow. And that's something that we are going to really request that the business community be involved in.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Another example, if you look at the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, that's just a public-private partnership brought together. If you look at the, the right to counsel issue, and First Year Cleveland, our effort to infant mortality, to combat infant mortality, it really started with bringing together all of the interested parties.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

And I raised those examples for a reason. For each of those social problems that we've dealt with, there are, and were a lot of very good people doing a lot of very good things to try to deal with these problems. The problem is that they weren't necessarily doing so in a coordinated fashion, and they weren't necessarily doing it at the scale that was necessary. That's why bringing them together, identifying a common goal and a common approach that people could kind of wrap around, and everybody could rally around as a common vision, that's what is moving those issues forward. That's what's taking those from kind of a desperate approach to have a lot of people dealing with a small aspect of it to really trying to solve the problem.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

I'll circle back to what can the business community do going forward. A, those are initiatives that are not done, and we won't be done for a long time. And we are always looking for support both intellectual capital and money capital to move those forward. But as we move into digital divide for example, through the... Cleveland Foundation has started Digital Equity coalition. There are steps being taken to form that common goal that we can all rally around and support.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

When that happens, it's not going to be easy, it's not going to be free, and it is not going to be something that's just going to happen without everybody being all in and sticking this out as a priority. And I would just say, we all need to stick this out as a priority because the cost of doing nothing is going to be astronomical, because if we don't deal with digital divide, if we don't deal with the fact that there are people in our community that want to work, that would like to be part of our thriving economy but can't get in, if we don't deal with that, if we don't deal with equity, then we're all going to be lost. Cleveland is not going to retain its status as this great city that we are.

Michael Bowen:

That's great. And Council President, you've given us a lot today to work with and I really appreciate the time. So are there any final parting words you want to say to our listeners that are probably our clients, prospective clients and just general folks who click Calfee, I guess, are going to hear this? Anything you want to say?

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Sure. I just want to say, I said when we began, but as awful as this is, I believe that our best days are ahead. I believe that COVID is a global tragedy that has struck many families and businesses, and not to minimize that, but if we treat this as a wake up call for these other issues as well, the best way we, and I honor those that have suffered because of this, is to come out of this better and stronger and use this as something.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

So I am confident, I am positive our best days are ahead of us. And I think if we all work together we will get there. And I want to thank you for your participation in these issues, Calfee and everybody else that's really working together to push this community forward.

Michael Bowen:

Well, great. We want to thank you once again, Council President for being on here, this was a real treat. So enjoy the rest of your day and we look forward to speaking with you soon here.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me and tell all my friends at Calfee hello.

Michael Bowen:

I sure will.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

All right.

Michael Bowen:

Have a good one Council President. Thank you.

City Council President Kevin Kelley:

Likewise, Michael. Take care. Goodbye.

Michael Bowen:

Bye.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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