Cleveland has history of mayoral appointments that reward loyalists and provide jobs to ex-officeholders

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Former City Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland’s appointment as an administrator in the city’s Department of Public Utilities is the latest in a long line by mayors, benefiting loyalists and providing landing places for former members of council.

Following inquiries last week by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration acknowledged that Cleveland, who resigned from council in May, citing health concerns, was appointed administrative manager of governmental affairs, as of June 14. She will draw a salary of $115,000 a year – considerably more than her $87,000 council salary – and will continue to pad her public pension. Cleveland’s new job also carries civil-service protection into the next mayor’s administration.

Cleveland.com submitted several questions Thursday morning about Cleveland’s appointment, seeking to know whether the job was formally posted, how many candidates applied and what separated Cleveland from the rest. We also wanted to know why Cleveland will get paid so much more than her predecessor, who earned less than $73,000 a year.

Cleveland, who holds a law degree from Case Western Reserve University, might be uniquely qualified for the job, handling public records requests, subpoenas and other inquiries and interacting with local government officials and the Suburban Water Council of Governments. But as of late Friday, the city had not responded to cleveland.com’s questions.

Rewarding supporters is nothing new, nor is it illegal.

“I think it’s a pretty typical practice,” said Thomas Sutton, a professor of political science and the director of the Community Research Institute at Baldwin-Wallace University. “I wouldn’t say this is just in Cleveland. We see it at the state level, and we see it at the federal level.”

Questions can arise, though, about whether a candidate is qualified or an appointment skirts human resource policies and civil service requirements, Sutton said.

In Cleveland, history provides us with an abundance of examples, particularly as mayors prepare to leave office – and seek to leave their political devotees with jobs. Often, Sutton noted, those appointments will involve offices in the departments of Public Utilities or Building and Housing.

“Those are classic places where people can get parked easily,” Sutton said.

Here’s a look back at how Cleveland’s past three mayors, often on their way out the door, bestowed friends and allies with government jobs:

Mayor Michael R. White

White found new jobs for a host of his administration loyalists as he finished his 12 years in office just before Mayor Jane Campbell took office in 2002. He appointed his chief of staff and his executive assistant to the city’s Civil Service Commission and several others to the Board of Zoning Appeals. One of those was Ken Silliman, who later became Jackson’s chief of staff. All of those appointments accumulated credit toward public retirement plans.

Others moved to jobs at Cleveland city schools, which is under mayoral control. Longtime White ally Nicholas Jackson, who is also the brother of Frank Jackson, and former Councilwoman Nina Turner landed two of the more influential positions. Nicholas Jackson was appointed as the chief adviser on a $1 billion school construction program. Turner, who had earlier lost her bid for council despite White’s financial support, became the director of governmental affairs for the district.

In August 2001, White made a flurry of top-level job changes, shifting veteran department heads – who served at the mayor’s discretion – to protected civil-service jobs.

Mayor Jane Campbell

In 2005, which turned out to be Campbell’s final year in office, Councilman Michael O’Malley was named assistant director in her Department of Public Utilities, after chairing the utilities committee for council.

Councilman Ed Rybka left his seat to become Campbell’s director of building and housing that same year. Jackson later promoted Rybka to be his chief of regional development, ahead of the city’s planning efforts to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Mayor Frank Jackson

Councilman Martin Keane, who had chaired council’s Utilities Committee, resigned his council seat in 2019 to become a deputy director in the utilities department. Early this year, he was named director of public utilities.

Councilman Eugene Miller, after losing his bid for re-election in 2013, landed a job as an assistant administrator two years later in Jackson’s Department of Public Works. His job was to inspect services, such as street repairs, lot cuttings and recreation facilities. Miller, paid $46,000-a-year, was hired to expand that staff, the city said then.

Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott resigned her council seat in 2009 amid a federal corruption probe and later pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe from a contractor embroiled in the investigation. That same year, she ran Jackson’s re-election campaign. In 2014, months after Pierce Scott completed her probation and house arrest, Jackson hired her as a $55,000-a-year deputy program manager in the Public Utilities Department. And in 2017, she was named as the first director of the Office of Quality Control and Performance Management.

Jackson has six months remaining in his final term. He took steps recently to change several top departmental people to interim status – a move meant to ease the transition for whomever is elected mayor in November.

In an interview with cleveland.com’s editorial board last week, he flatly denied the notion that his proposal to create a Division of Special Events, Filmmaking and Tourism and expand the special events office was an effort to create a job for another loyalist.

He noted that in a city government employing more than 8,000 people, he has plenty of other options if he wanted to grant someone civil-service protection.

“I’ve never in my public life done anything contrary to the interests of the city” or the well-being of its citizens, the mayor added.

What remains to be seen is what appointments are yet in store, as Jackson concludes 16 years in office.

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