City cuts Clark Metro’s funding
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, August 2006) Clark Metro Development Corporation (CMDC) was blindsided by a recent decision to cut its Community Development Block Grant funding from the City of Cleveland from the $70,000 it received in each of the last two years to zero dollars for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2006.

CMDC Executive Director Steve Kruger said that Clark Metro Board President Randy Buchko was called to a meeting at City Hall on May 30th and informed of the decision in a meeting with Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago and City Council Clerk Emily Lipovan, who said she was representing Council President Martin Sweeney.

At the meeting, Kruger says Buchko was told an evaluation by the Community Development Department indicated that Clark Metro was the second worse community development corporation (cdc) in the city.

Kruger finds it hard to believe that the City of Cleveland’s evaluation of Clark Metro Development Corporation could be so different from Neighborhood Progress Inc’s (NPI) evaluation of CMDC.  Kruger noted that Clark Metro placed in the top 16 of 30 Community Development Corporations in a competitive process to obtain funding from NPI, which is charged with distributing foundation funding to cdc’s. Kruger therefore believes that the decision to cut the city’s CMDC funds “was obviously something political.”

Kruger says Clark Metro Development Corporation was not offered any opportunity to respond to the cuts prior to the decision being made. He said, “at no point did Community Development officials come to Clark Metro and say, ‘here is what you are doing wrong’ and ask for an explanation. The bottom line is all we asked for was our day in court and we were not given that.”

At the May 30th meeting, Buchko reported that Santiago and Lipovan had a file of information from the Community Development Department on Clark Metro, including an evaluation report on which they said the decision to cut CMDC’s funding was based. Buchko asked to see the file, but Santiago and Lipovan told him they were not at liberty to share the file with him.

Buchko, in a letter dated May 30th (the same day as the meeting with Santiago and Lipovan), requested the evaluation information and criterion it was based upon, as well as the letter from the Community Development Department stating their recommendation to Cleveland City Council.

Despite the file having already been compiled by Community Development for Lipovan and Santiago, Buchko and Clark Metro did not receive a response from the Community Development Department until getting a fax on June 28th,   after the decision had already been finalized by a vote in Cleveland City Council.

Even then, all the information requested was not provided. The evaluation summary provided broad categories with points assigned to each category, but no explanation as to the basis of determining how points were awarded.

Kruger indicates that despite the cuts, Clark Metro will carry on, but at a diminished capacity. He says the organization still has another year of funding from NPI and also has some income from managing the bank building in which its offices are located. However, the recent decision by Cuyahoga County to move its various neighborhood service offices to a Memphis Avenue location will also hurt Clark Metro’s revenue. Kruger says he has already had to lay off staff members. The layoffs were based on seniority and included the organizer that had recently organized a number of new block clubs in the neighborhood. Kruger says the remaining staff of Clark Metro Development Corporation will be stretched thin.

Clark Metro Development Corporation helped to fund the security cameras and police patrols designed to reduce criminal activity on the corner of Clark and W. 25th. In an article in the March 2006 Plain Press,  Kelly Pierce wrote that “since the program’s start, more than 50 arrests have been made and an attempted abduction of an 11-year old girl was stopped.” Kruger says now Clark Metro will be unable to contribute to the security patrols and the cameras.

Brent Thompson, owner of Let’s Wrap at W. 25th and Clark, was instrumental in organizing the security camera and police patrol program. Although area businesses also contribute to the security program, he says the program will not be able to continue without Clark Metro’s contribution. He says the decision to cut Clark Metro’s funding has set the effort back three years. He blames Councilman Santiago for the cuts and says the Councilman, despite being invited, has not attended regular meetings held by area businesses organized with the help of Clark Metro Development Corporation.

Thompson, a board member of Clark Metro Development Corporation, says the philosophy of Clark Metro Development’s Board of Trustees has been, “We don’t want poor people to be displaced in order to build community. It means we will take a longer road, but our results will have more duration.”

As a board member Thompson says he is committed to continuing the struggle. “We’ve got to save our community development corporation. It is still going to be here. But it is going to be so diminished.”

Besides neighborhood development planning, development and security, Clark Metro is the neighborhood face for a variety of city programs and services offering help with maintaining housing, energy conservation, and crime prevention. The development corporation serves as the neighborhood’s first source of information on many city programs.

In a July 3rd letter to Terrence A. Ross, Community Development Department Commissioner of the Division of Neighborhood Services, Clark Metro Board President Randy Buchko made it clear who he believes is responsible for the cuts in funding to Clark Metro. The letter states, “when residents and business owners make any inquiries as to why CMDC no longer provides certain programs and services, CMDC will tell them that it is a direct result of the decision made by the City of Cleveland and Councilman Joe Santiago not to fund the organization.”

CMDC Executive Director Steve Kruger can only speculate as to why CMDC funds were cut. He says the organization had completed the development of a five-year commercial corridor development plan and currently had “more partnerships with other community organizations than it ever had before.”

Kruger is says he doesn’t know if a difference in development philosophy exists between Clark Metro Development Corporation and Councilman Santiago that resulted in the funding cuts. Kruger says he has no idea what Santiago’s philosophy is. He says while Santiago met early on in his term with Clark Metro’s Executive Committee, Councilman Santiago has never attended the organization’s board meeting. Perhaps Santiago’s lack of effort to restore funds to a  major development corporation in his ward are an indication of Santiago’s feelings, “I didn’t see him fighting for us,” said Kruger.

John Wilbur, Assistant Director of the Community Development Department said, “what changed radically” in the funding allocation process this year is that the Community Development Department decided to do “more thoughtful funding allocation based on scoring.” He said that declining Community Development funding from the federal government and pressure from policy makers resulted in this decision.

Wilbur indicated that Clark Metro had received low scores for the past three years on evaluation reports.

The Plain Press requested copies of the evaluation forms, criteria,  and all files, names and notes and names of those involved in making the funding decisions for Clark Metro. Wilbur said the information requested by the Plain Press was in various files and could not immediately be assembled.

Community Development Department spokesperson Joe Skrabec said the process of compiling the records requested by the Plain Press would take 10 days from the time our July 20th request was made. Thus all files related to the decision are not available at press time.

Wilbur did provide the Plain Press with a summary report comparing the scores and allocations of the various community development corporations. The report also contains broad categories used in evaluation and how many points a cdc can earn in each category for a total of a possible 100 points. Clark Metro Development Corporation’s scores were among the lowest with scores over the last three years of 46, 44 and 37 points. However, there was no indication as to who was involved in the decision-making or how the points were arrived at or even how many points Clark Metro received in each of the categories for which points were allocated. The criterion this year also changed. For example, this year’s point system provided a maximum of 5 points each for “working relationships with other community organizations in the neighborhood” and “working relationships with the community.” Last year a maximum of 10 points were possible in each of those categories.

Former Ward 14 Councilman Nelson Cintron, Jr. praised Clark Metro for a great number of accomplishments while he was in City Council – a term which covered much of this past fiscal year and the two previous years covered by the evaluation. He credits the organization with bringing new businesses to the neighborhood and being instrumental in saving important buildings on the corner of Clark and W. 25th, finding room for a major area corporation to expand in the neighborhood rather than move out of the city.

“I think Steve Kruger and that whole organization have done miracles, “ said Cintron, crediting the organization with the improvements on W. 25 that included closing down of a porn theatre.

Cintron believes “the Councilman has to put up a bigger fight to maintain funding of Clark Metro. This is an area that needs the most help.” During the last two years of Cintron’s tenure, the city provided nearly its maximum to Clark Metro, $70,000 each year.

Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago was unavailable for comment.

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