Dozens Tape Mouths to Protest Ward Changes

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Dozens of people, some wearing duct tape over their mouths, turned out at Monday night's Cleveland City Council meeting to protest the proposed new ward boundaries.

"What has me the most upset and concerned is the community was not involved. We didn't know anything," said Collinwood resident Donna Walker–Brown.

City council members will vote Tuesday morning on a controversial proposal for new ward boundaries.

"This has been a big secret for what? I don't know. This should have been an easy one. We knew two wards had to disappear, and we knew one councilman indicated he was retiring. So, you really just had one area of the city to work on, really," said Ward 11 Councilman Michael Polensek.

The new boundaries were drawn up by Council President Martin Sweeney.

"It's been a process for 18 months," said Sweeney. "Each council person had the ability to go in their neighborhoods, have neighborhood meetings. Community development groups were engaged. I'm quite confident of the transparency we had."

The proposed new wards split Collinwood into two wards and downtown Cleveland into three wards, among other changes.

Councilmember Eugene Miller, Ward 10, would be the new council member for Collinwood, which is currently represented by council member Polensek.

Miller is in favor of the new ward proposal.

"One thing this lesson has taught me about going against a bully. It's taught me to be real strong inside, because people look at you, snarling, look at you like you are going into war. This is about helping people," Miller said during the council meeting.

Voters approved the redistricting, which takes the number of wards and city council members from 19 to 17.

The reason for losing two wards is population decline over the last 10 years.

This, of course, means two council members have to go.

Jay Westbrook will not seek re-election in November. He represents Ward 16, an area that consists of Denison, West Boulevard, Cudell and Edgewater neighborhoods.

That leaves one more council member that will soon be out of a job.

Tuesday, a two-thirds majority of the council, or 12 members, must approve the new plan or it will not pass.

If the council does not approve a new boundary map by the deadline of April 1, Mayor Frank Jackson must design the new boundaries.

The changes would take effect Jan. 6, 2014.

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