CLEVELAND, OH – Mayor Justin Bibb and his over-priced team of curve-graded diverse and inclusive administrators don’t understand the limits of the duties of the elected and appointed public offices they were administered oaths of office to discharge. Bibb and the buddy he brought with him to a top Cleveland city hall job, Bradford Davy, operate as if they were elected to replace two constitutions, federal, state and local laws with their “ideas.” Reading and mastering the federal, state and local laws that instruct Bibb and his subordinates how to lawfully discharge the duties of the mayor’s office is not a trait of the new city hall administration just like the last one. It’s up to Council President Blaine Griffin to lead council to do the reading the mayor and his administrators don’t.
The Cleveland mayor’s latest racketeering-like “gotta get my hands on the money” scheme is he wants council to create a new city department called the Center for Economic Recovery that he and Davy control. Their goal is to spend the rest of the $511 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds Congress allocated for Cleveland’s pandemic recovery.
According to an interview Davy conducted with cleveland.com, he and Bibb will pick the Center for Economic Recovery staff and approve the projects to be funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars. Council gets to approve the contracts that deliver federal funds to the projects the two self-dealing spend-thrifts approved. For the “appearance” of credibility the co-conspiring duo has lined up the suburban-controlled Cleveland Foundation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Gund Foundation, Center for Community Solutions and Fund for Our Economic Future instead of the committees of council to take the “monitoring and compliance” lead. Davy told cleveland.com the foundations will cover the cost of the imaginary Center for Economic Recovery’s workers for the opportunity of helping him and Bibb direct the money. It’s a classic “pay to play” scheme.
What Bibb and Davy left out of their “new department” scheme was the statutory justification for it. Not a single federal, state or local law was cited by either municipal official to support their request of council for the new unit of government. A new department, like every newly-created employee job description, is supposed to be in support of a statutory mandate. The mayor when requesting a new department or job title is supposed to describe in detail and by statutory reference the federal, state or local laws he is currently mandated and understaffed to enforce. Federal community development block grant mandates are funded.
Cleveland city council has already created a community development department to manage federal block grants they’ve been misspending by splitting 17 ways. HUD has de-obligated Cleveland’s block grant allocation from $30 million in 2000 to $19.5 million in 2022 because they refuse to repeal the 17-way split. Cleveland’s statistical level of poverty would bring $40 million to $50 million in HUD funds if city council repealed its unlawful 17-way split ordinance and spent the federal funds in the intended poor neighborhoods.
Bibb appointed Florida resident Alyssa Hernandez to know and implement the federal, state of Ohio and Cleveland ordinances that aid a “direct entitlement” mayor in supervising the community development department’s affairs. Coming from Florida there’s no evidence of Hernandez managing federal programs under Ohio and Cleveland laws in her resume.
As an out-of-towner with no institutional knowledge of the city, state and its residents, Hernandez has no idea as to what led the community development department she now supervises to be raided by federal agents in 2017. She can’t explain to council how or why Cleveland’s community development department is now under United States Department of Justice oversight.
Hernandez doesn’t know yet that the active role members of council play in “directing” community development dollars is going to bump against federal laws that make the behavior unlawful when she sees it first hand. To disassociate herself from the practice Hernandez will be forced to alert the United States Attorney of the federal law violation. Any ordinance Cleveland city council enacts that touches a federal dollar must substantially comply with federal laws. Council’s 17-way split ordinance will meet its demise once federal agents understand it’s “indictable” significance.
From 2019 until her Bibb administration appointment, Hernandez worked for the Office of Long Term Resiliency of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. She was assigned to the disaster recovery mitigation team under attorney Drew Smith. Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Smith as the director of the Florida department that employed Hernandez as a “business economic recovery chief.” [ NOTE: DeSantis made the mistake with Smith of believing lawyers will actually read and master HUD regulations. The overwhelming majority of federal, state and local jobs require no more than a high school education or equivalent. What they require are public officials who read constitutions, laws, regulations and statutorily-approved policies.]
DeSantis created the department in 2019 to manage $3 billion Congress sent his state to help several hurricane-ravaged cities recover from the damage caused by destructive winds and water. Hernandez was hired into Florida’s economic development department after a second HUD Inspector General audit in 2018 advised the governor to address the continued staffing shortage that was slowing the administrative delivery of federal support to the southern state’s physically and economically damaged cities.
The federal money, similar to the American Rescue Plan Act, is supposed to be used to repair Florida homes and other properties. Generally, Hernandez for the two years she worked for the State of Florida was supposed to follow federal and state laws to reboot businesses with federal dollars. Biographical data on Hernandez claims she managed $675 million of the $3 billion; and oversaw the awarding of 64 percent or $432 million to Florida businesses.
Cleveland city council should pay attention to the chronic management problems HUD investigators found with Florida’s community development block grant program the year Hernandez was hired in 2018. Every Cleveland mayor has had a revolving door of community development employees who like Hernandez leave a public job they asked for before the terms and conditions of the federal contract paying them are met.
Both Hernandez and Winters found employment outside their state jobs before the release of federal audits that will evaluate their two years of either complying or failing to comply with federal and Florida laws. What Cleveland city council should want to know is what federal audits of Hernandez’s alleged management of $675 million in Florida will reveal. The language below is from the HUD Inspector General’s 2018 audit of the DeSantis administration’s handling of its federal block grant duties the year she was hired.
The Department should strengthen its capacity to administer its CDBG-DR grants in accordance with applicable regulations and requirements. Specifically, it could strengthen its capacity by (1) finalizing its policies and procedures for its disaster program, (2) ensuring that subrecipient agreements are not executed before its policies and procedures are finalized, (3) improving its financial controls to address weaknesses, (4) improving its process for preventing duplication of benefits, and (5) continuing to increase its staffing. These challenges existed because the Department was in the planning stages of implementing its program for the 2016 and 2017 disasters and had weaknesses in its oversight of the program and financial controls related to its expenditures. Strengthening its capacity to administer disaster grants would help ensure that the Department properly spends more than $1.5 billion in CDBG-DR funding in accordance with applicable requirements.
The findings in the 2018 HUD Inspector General audit of Florida’s compliance problems mirrored the earlier findings in the 2015 audit. Both audits found that federal laws were not obeyed in the disbursement of funds to projects. In Florida the state’s community development block grant program had not been audited since 2006.
Cleveland’s $511 million American Rescue Act award is a community development block grant to a direct entitlement community. To receive the federal funds council entered a grant management agreement with the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and agreed to obey federal laws, regulations and policies as a “term and condition.” The federal contract made Cleveland a subrecipient or grantee charged with a mandate to discharge adjunct duties of the United States government under federal, state and local laws Bibb, Davy and Hernandez have a duty to know and obey.
Bibb’s currently non-existent Center for Economic Recovery was not incorporated within the city’s block grant agreement with the federal government. Nor is it eligible as a currently non-existent entity to be a sub-recipient of federal funds. Bibb’s non-existent Center for Economic Recovery is not identified in Cleveland’s already-approved consolidated plan.
Hernandez has been on the Cleveland city hall job since January 2022 or nearly three months. Before Bibb’s decision to make Hernandez his community development block grant director her highest level of exposure to HUD laws, regulations and Office of Management & Budget circulars were those associated with her job accepting, reviewing and processing business requests for federal assistance. In Florida Hernandez was not the state’s block grant manager. She possesses a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Public Policy from DePaul University. She holds a master’s degree in Education Policy and Leadership Studies from Florida State University. Mastery of HUD laws, regulations and policies is not within the curriculum of her “higher” education. Council members would do themselves well to learn the block grant laws on their own instead of relying on the administration’s workers to supply them with statutory insights.
The “time allocation sheets” Hernandez was required to maintain and supply the state of Florida in exchange for wages are supposed to daily detail the time she worked on federally supported activities. Florida has a federally-contracted duty to keep her time records for six years and she just left the southern state’s job before joining the northern Bibb administration in January 2022. Florida has open government laws that are similar to those in Ohio. Council can easily acquire Hernandez’s work product to evaluate how high up she was in the Florida department of economic development’s administrative food chain.
An amended consolidated plan that includes his currently non-existent Center for Economic Recovery will require HUD approval as well as the federally-mandated community input Bibb and Davy want to avoid. No matter what Bibb and Davy want, Hernandez is under federal law enforcement oversight to obey federal laws. None of the foundations or non-profits on Bibb’s list are known for opening meetings, public comment and delivering records to the public. Their secretive administrative and contracting processes would make the mayor’s handpicked non-profits unsuitable to discharge “adjunct duties” of open federal and municipal governments as block grant administrators.
Bibb’s director of finance, Ahmed Abonamah, has not in any meeting demonstrated that he possesses the nuanced knowledge of federal block grant laws, regulations, policies and advisories to explain to council verbally or in writing those that guide his department’s handling of federal funds. The net effect of Bibb and Davy’s scheme is they want council to abdicate its financial oversight to the mayor and his partner; and to give them and the diverse and inclusive neophytes of his administration near totalitarian and privatized control over spending the remaining $260 million American Recovery Act funds.
Council should now be viewing Bibb’s power-grabbing and duty-exceeding ways with money as suspicious. Instead of building a non-profit of his creation, Bibb should be asking legislators for staffing to meet the city’s federal law compliance obligations and deadlines in its grant management agreements.
Bibb’s pre-occupation with money reminds me of recalled ex-East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton and the $8 million East Cleveland city council never enacted a resolution to receive or appropriate from Cleveland Clinic to close Huron Hospital. He created a separate account and spent every dime of it without council’s knowledge or approval.
Council should keep watchful eyes on and investigate the number of non-profits and new corporations receiving bid and unbid contracts from the Bibb administration. Like every new job a contract is supposed to fulfill a statutory need.