Mayor Justin Bibb and his partner, Bradford Davy, have come up with a power-grabbing way to heist Cleveland’s $511 million “Rescue Act” money

Bibb and Davy are teaching the council Blaine Griffin leads that they must be watched

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.

If you roll over once you’ll roll over again.  Mayor Justin Bibb’s latest scheme to spend $511 million in American Rescue Act money shows he has absolutely no respect for Council President Blaine Griffin, the council and residents of Cleveland.  Griffin must not allow council to be “media” pressured into backing Bibb’s power and money grabbing schemes.

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.

Former Florida resident Alyssa Hernandez is supposed to know and possess a mastery level knowledge of federal laws, regulations and policies enacted or approved by the United States Congress to manage Cleveland’s department of community development. After less than three months on the job, Mayor Justin Bibb wants to create another department to manage the American Rescue Plan Act community development block grant instead of staffing up the department Hernandez is in charge of as his very well paid block grant manager.

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.

Mayor Justin Bibb hired Alyssa Hernandez away from the job she held with the state of Florida before the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Inspector General released a third audit of the agency that employed her. The 2018 HUD audit followed a 2015 audit that was the first since 2006.  HUD’s next audit of Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration will examine how Hernandez’s team complied or failed to comply with federal laws, regulations and policies found in Office of Management and Budget circulars and opinions of the White House Counsel.

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.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is shown at this Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces fundraiser interacting with foreign government officials in violation of the Logan Act, Espionage Act and Foreign Agents Registration Act. Two HUD Inspector General audits have confirmed that his administration also violates federal community development block grant laws.

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.

The meetings and records of the subrecipients of federal funds are supposed to be as open as the government disbursing the public monies. Non-profits organized under Ohio laws that receive public funds are supposed to make their meeting notices, agendas, minutes and records available to the public. The public is supposed to be able to attend a non-profit entity’s meeting, if it’s receiving public funds, just like they do a city council meeting. Cleveland’s non-profits don’t want the public knowing how boards are doing business with the businesses of the trustees; or funneling dollars to their family, friends and love interests. There is no public accountability with the non-profits.  The Center for Communityi Solutions doesn’t share any information about its board meetings.

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.

Eric Jonathan Brewer

Cleveland's most influential journalist and East Cleveland's most successful mayor is an East Saint Louis, Illinois native whose father led the city's petition drive in 1969 to elect the first black mayor in 1971. Eric is an old-school investigative reporter whose 40-year body of editorial work has been demonstrably effective. No local journalist is feared or respected more.

Trained in newspaper publishing by the legendary Call & Post Publisher William Otis Walker in 1978 when it was the nation's 5th largest Black-owned publication, Eric has published and edited 13 local, regional and statewide publications across Ohio. Adding to his publishing and reporting resume is Eric's career in government. Eric served as the city's highest paid part-time Special Assistant to ex-Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White. He served as Chief of Staff to ex-East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor; and Chief of Communications to the late George James in his capacity as the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's first Black executive director. Eric was appointed to serve as a member of the state's Financial Planning & Supervision Commission to guide the East Cleveland school district out of fiscal emergency and $20 million deficit. Former U.S. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson told Eric in his D.C. office he was the only mayor in the nation simultaneously-managing a municipal block grant program. Eric wrote the city's $2.2 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant application. A HUD Inspector General audit of his management of the block grant program resulted in "zero" audit findings.

As a newspaper publisher, Eric has used his insider's detailed knowledge of government and his publications to lead the FBI and state prosecutors to investigations that resulted in criminal prosecutions of well-known elected officials in Ohio; and have helped realign Cleveland's political landscape with the defeat of candidates and issues he's exposed. Eric's stories led to the indictments of the late Governor George Voinovich's brother, Paul Voinovich of the V Group, and four associates. He asked the FBI to investigate the mayor he'd served as chief of staff for public corruption; and testified in three federal trials for the prosecution. He forced former Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj to admit her investigations of police killings were fraudulent; and to issue notices to local police that her investigators would control police killing investigations. Eric's current work has resulted in Cuyahoga County Judge John Russo accepting the criminal complaint he guided an activist to file against 24 civil rights-violating police officers in the city he once led for operating without valid peace officer credentials. USA Today reporters picked up on Eric's police credentials reporting from his social media page and made it national.

Eric is the author of of his first book, "Fight Police License Plate Spying," which examines the FBI and local police misuse of the National Crime Information Center criminal records history database. An accomplished trumpet player and singer whose friendship with Duke Fakir of the Four Tops resulted in his singing the show's closing song, "Can't Help Myself": Curtis Sliwa of New York's Guardian Angels counts Eric among his founding chapter leaders from the early 1980's role as an Ohio organizer of over 300 volunteer crime fighters in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, Ohio. For his work as a young man Eric was recognized by Cleveland's Urban League as it's 1983 Young Man of the Year.

Known in Cleveland for his encyclopedic knowledge of government and history, and intimately-connected with the region's players, every local major media outlet in Cleveland has picked up on one of Eric's stories since 1979. There is no mainstream newspaper, television or radio outlet in Cleveland that does not include an interview with Eric Jonathan Brewer in its archives over the past 40 years.

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