Residents rally to save Clark Metro Development Corporation
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press May 2007) Residents of the Clark Metro neighborhood have infused new energy into the effort to save the neighborhood’s development corporation from being closed.
Over the past year Clark Metro Development Corporation suffered losses of several major funding sources. The organization lost its largest source of income when its agreement to manage the bank building at W. 25th and Clark was dissolved and reverted back to the building’s owner. Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services, the building’s largest tenant, moved out of the building early this year as part of an effort to consolidate services in one building on Memphis and Fulton Parkway. The City of Cleveland Community Development Department completely cut out the Community Development Block Grant funds of the organization, citing low performance of CMDC on a city performance evaluation. A Neighborhood Progress Inc competitive grant to the organization, which has helped to sustain CMDC for the past 3 years, is in its last quarter according to interim Director John Fennelly.
To top off the organization’s problems the Board recently fired the Executive Director and funding cuts have led to the dismissal of much of the staff.
A vigil to save Clark Metro Development Corporation brought forty people to the parking lot on W. 25th and Clark Avenue on March 29th. Rebecca Kempton, a spokesperson for Save Clark Metro Development Corporation, said she felt strongly about the importance of Clark Metro Development Corporation remaining in the neighborhood. Speaking of residents in the neighborhood she said, “We work hard. Pay taxes. We deserve services.”
Kempton challenged Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago, who attended the vigil, to keep his promise to work with the development corporation. She said to the councilman, “You told me last night that you support Clark Metro, you just have some issues with the board.” Kempton acknowledged Clark Metro Development Corporation has some problems, but she said those problems could be fixed. Kempton said, “Just because something is broke, doesn’t mean you throw it out.”
A number of residents in attendance testified how Clark Metro Development Corporation had helped them to maintain their homes and stay in the neighborhood. Larry McCormack testified that CMDC helped his family through its paint program, helped to insulate his house and helped to get a roof on the house. McCormack, who says he is on disability income, is thankful for the assistance his family was able to receive through Clark Metro. “Clark Metro needs to stay right where it is at,” said McCormack, a Bush Avenue resident.
Residents at the rally said that comparisons between CMDC and Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC) were unfair. Kempton said to Councilman Santiago, “I believe you have a vision. You want things in Clark Metro to be like Tremont.” Several residents noted that most of the people in Tremont were single with no kids and did not have the same problems and concerns that they had.
Kempton told Councilman Santiago that half of the people at the rally had worked for him and supported his election and now expected him to work for them. A number of people present were upset that the Councilperson had distributed city funds he controls to TWDC, Stockyards and Ohio City Development Corporation, while CMDC, which serves over 75% of the residents of his ward, had received nothing.
Councilman Santiago responded, “I am here with you. I want to save Clark Metro. I am not part of closing it down. I am one of the small funders. The little bit of funding I can provide will not save Clark Metro.”
Interim CMDC director John Fennelly read a prepared statement from Clark Metro Development Corporation’s Board of Trustees. The statement read: “The board and staff of Clark Metro Development Corporation wish to thank the community for this heartfelt outpouring of support. The Clark Metro Board continues to work with Councilman Santiago to move the organization forward. Towards this end, the Councilman has committed $60,000. The board and staff wish to thank the councilman for his support. While we await receipt of these funds, we are continuing to collaborate with other organizations to make services available to neighborhood residents. We ask for your continued support as we try to move the organization forward to serve the needs of the community.”
CMDC Board Meeting
A number of Clark Metro neighborhood residents, some of whom had met for the first time at the March 29th vigil, came to the Clark Metro Development Corporation’s April 16th Board of Trustees meeting to get answers to their questions about the organization and to find out what they could do to help to save their local development corporation. CMDC board members answered residents’ questions and shared their ideas and plans to save the organization.
One of the residents, Rebecca Kempton, who had led a vigil to save Clark Metro on March 29th, asked the board to respond to rumors that it planned to close down Clark Metro Development Corporation.
Board President Randy Buchko said, “The board cannot do that. The board does not have the authority to close or merge the organization.” He explained that under the Clark Metro Development Corporation by-laws “only the membership can dissolve the corporation.”
Kempton and other residents in attendance then asked a number of questions about the board. Kempton said that Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago had told her that the board was “worthless” and rarely could muster a quorum at it meetings.
Board President Buchko said the board currently had eleven members. The by-laws call for ten elected board members, consisting of five residents and five business or institutional representatives. The by-laws also allow for three additional at- large representatives to be appointed by the Board of Trustees.
Eight board members were in attendance at the April 16th meeting. Board member George Holakis noted that a quorum consisted of fifty percent plus one of the trustees on the board. Holakis said in the past year the board has not cancelled a single meeting because of a lack of a quorum.
Board President Buchko said he was counting on the membership of Clark Metro Development Corporation to help provide direction for the organization. He said the energy exhibited by the community vigil to save Clark Metro made him think it was time to engage the community again. Bucho said that while CMDC normally held its annual membership meeting in April, he thought it would be wrong to hold the meeting before listening to the ideas and concerns of residents rallying to save CMDC. Buchko said the board hoped to hold the annual meeting in May. Buchko urged residents to feel free to continue to come to board meetings saying, “Our board meetings are always open.”
A neighborhood resident interested in joining the board attended the meeting. Buchko explained that the board would submit a slate of candidates to the membership at the annual meeting and also accept nominations for new board members at the meeting. He said the by-laws require the board publish a notice of the meeting 30 days prior to the meeting.
Asked about Councilman Santiago’s offer to pay the dues of anyone wishing to be a member of the organization, board member George Holakis said the Councilman, as well as some area businesses and individuals, had offered to pay the dues of any new member. However, the board has instead, similar to other development corporations, completely dropped the dues requirement to encourage more people to participate in the organization.
Dena Czupih, a board member and community resident, said she was also glad to see community residents come to the board meeting. “Everyone’s talking like we have something to hide. We have nothing to hide. There is no leprechaun at the end of the rainbow with a big pot of gold.”
Kempton asked the board what would be the ideal staffing for CMDC. Interim Executive Director John Fennelly said staffing should consist of an executive director, a housing person, a commercial development person, a community organizer and an administrative assistant/receptionist.
Board members shared their plans to save the organization. CMDC’s newest board member, Bessie Vrettos, said she was totally against closing or merging the organization. She emphasized that Councilman Santiago did not use the word merge but asked that the organization collaborate with Tremont West Development Corporation and Stockyard Redevelopment Organization.
Vrettos said in the short term she believed that CMDC should minimize its expenses just to the extent necessary to keep its standing in the community. She suggested using volunteers, such as college students, to help the organization maintain its presence in the community, as well as possible citizen and board participation in fundraising. Buchko offered to form a committee with residents to create a plan for the organization, in preparation for approaching corporations for funding.
Vrettos said that Clark Metro’s mission was to be a development corporation, not a social service agency. It needed to be a development corporation to be true to its mission and receive funding from the city. Another board member said that part of the reason the organization was in trouble with the city is the city wanted to see new housing in the neighborhood. He said the organization didn’t get credit for helping to fix someone’s furnace. Such things are harder to measure, he said.
Hiram DeJesus, a guest speaker, talked to the board about development opportunities along W. 25th Street. He predicted the already high traffic on the street would increase due to the new Steelyard Commons shopping center and the State of Ohio’s plans to close the Innerbelt for reconstruction. DeJesus, who worked to help create the Asian Village on Payne Avenue during the Voinovich Administration, said he had spoken to some developers who were interested in developing facilities for industries that would provide support services to Metro Health Medical Center.
DeJesus handed a proposal to board members and guests. Several lines in the proposal, which DeJesus said was written “based on discussions with both Executive Committee (of CMDC) and Councilman Santiago”, raised some concerns about Councilman Santiago attempting to control CMDC.
When the proposal discusses reapplying for funding for CMDC, it says, “all funded programs requiring reporting will be ramped up, and all reporting submitted to both Board Members and the Councilman’s office for review and approval PRIOR to submission.” In discussing the creation of an Economic Development Plan advisory panel, the proposal says, “Nominees to Panel will be submitted for consideration by Clark-Metro’s business community and Councilman’s office.”
After reviewing DeJesus’s proposal, Kempton expressed concern about Clark Metro Development Corporation’s independence. “Clark Metro should work with the Councilman, but I don’t think he should have the final say,” she said.
The board revealed some of its financial picture at the meeting.
The board said it was scheduled to receive the $60,000 promised the organization by Councilman Santiago in June of this year.
William Barrett, the organization’s accountant, gave a financial report to the board. Barrett said the bad news was CMDC’s revenue was down considerably. The good news he said is that expenses had also been reduced. Barrett noted that revenue from the sale of the parking lot would help in the short term.
Barrett said that the ownership of the Paris Art Theater building caused a considerable drain on the organization in terms of property tax and insurance. Interim Director John Fennelly said a for-profit corporation had been set up to manage that property – hence the property tax. He said he was considering a number of options, including deeding the parcel back to the city of Cleveland.
Barrett also noted the organization was only being reimbursed at 95% for the Home Energy Assistance Program staff that it housed. Fennelly said the contract for those services was up for renewal soon and he could seek 100% reimbursement.
Editor’s Note: Clark Metro Development Corporation’s Annual Meeting is now scheduled for June 7th. For more information call Clark Metro Development Corporation at 741-9500.
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