Sep 20, 2023 - News

Kirtland Republican aims to block participatory budgeting with preemptive legislation

Organizer Jonathan Welle and the People's Budget Cleveland supporters outside City Hall in January

People's Budget Cleveland supporters rally outside City Hall in January. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Jerry Cirino, a Republican state senator from Kirtland, plans this week to introduce legislation at the Ohio Statehouse to preempt Cleveland's participatory budgeting charter amendment.

Why it matters: The legislation, which is not yet publicly available, could invalidate Issue 38, the proposed charter amendment on November ballots that would allocate 2% of Cleveland's budget to projects voted on by residents.

Details: Cirino did not respond to Axios' requests for comment by phone and email, but he told Cleveland.com the legislation would say only city councils have the authority to decide how a city's budget is spent.

  • He said he is pursuing the bill after hearing concerns from local labor unions and that he did not correspond with members of the Justin Bibb administration or Cleveland City Council, who also oppose Issue 38.

Between the lines: Cirino is not known for supporting unions. His hotly contested Senate Bill 83 earlier this year sought to ban striking for all university employees in Ohio.

The intrigue: Cirino does not represent the citizens of Cleveland, and his local Democratic colleagues are weary of the state's interference in municipal matters.

The other side: "This is not a state legislative fight," Democratic state Sen. Nickie Antonio told Axios.

  • "Once again, this is a Republican legislator who refuses to acknowledge, accept and honor local control. It's none of his business."
  • "We just got through Issue 1," Antonio said. "Part of what that meant was stopping the state legislature from overstepping on any issue that the public wants to address and memorialize."

What's next: Cirino told Cleveland.com he hopes to pass the state law before November and said he is confident in its political support.

Griffin and Bibb in suits outside courthouse
Griffin and Bibb outside the county courthouse in 2022. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Shortly before Cirino's intentions at the Ohio Statehouse became public, Cleveland City Council withdrew legislation that would have allowed them to use public money to oppose Issue 38.

Driving the news: The local legislation, sponsored by council president Blaine Griffin, generated immediate backlash among some councilors, city officials and members of the public, indicating a lack of strategy and communication among participatory budgeting opponents.

What they're saying: "A pro tip for having a moral true north is to never let a bunch of lawyers bully you into supporting a bad idea by saying it's justified under law," councilwoman Rebecca Maurer wrote in an Instagram story.

  • "What we are talking about here is spending taxpayer dollars to run a campaign to tell people how to vote."

Threat level: Heated discussion was anticipated at the City Council finance committee meeting Monday afternoon, but council spokesperson Darryle Torbert sent a statement to the media during the meeting saying the legislation had been removed from the agenda.

  • "Council's leadership team discussed the ordinance and determined it was unnecessary, as the city already has the legal authority to advocate for or or against a local issue," Torbert told Axios in follow-up comments.

Meanwhile: Mayor Justin Bibb issued a statement saying that Monday was the first time he'd heard of the legislation.

  • "Legal or not, I do not support the use of taxpayer dollars to campaign for or against ballot issue campaigns," he said.

Be smart: The ordinance would have been retroactive, which means council president Blaine Griffin would have had additional legal cover for his summer newsletter, in which he urged constituents to vote against Issue 38.

💭 My thought bubble: Both council leadership and the administration seemed to recognize the legislation's terrible optics and quickly moved to distance themselves from it.

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