EAST CLEVELAND - The idea of a merger between Cleveland and East Cleveland is gaining some momentum. Thursday night, East Cleveland city council members began taking steps to consider consolidating the two cities as a way to help residents of the struggling city.
Last summer, East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Jr. submitted petitions to the Cuyahoga County elections board, supporting a merger with Cleveland. Most city council members and many residents have been against that happening. But it appears they are now viewing a merger as the last option.
"The city is in financial crisis, we don't have money and we see it every day," said East Cleveland city council president Thomas Wheeler.
Almost any place you go in East Cleveland, the financial struggles are obvious, with vacant homes and buildings across the city.
"East Cleveland's a great place, it's a great city and we do all we can to make sure people get great services," Wheeler said.
Thursday evening, in an executive session behind closed doors, city council members met to explore creating a commission and what their qualifications should be. It would be made up of people from both East Cleveland and Cleveland to work out details of a possible merger between the two cities.
Wheeler says they also want to hire a firm to see if there is any other way East Cleveland can be saved.
"We're gonna get them to come in and exhaust every avenue to see if there's any other options left, and if not, then council will support the merger," Wheeler said.
"I think our city council is doing its good work; I think they're being very diligent about studying these issues and I think they're doing the right thing by considering the appointment of a commission," said East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Jr.
Norton has been openly supporting a merger for almost a year. He says the city is already considering filing for bankruptcy and sees no other way to offer residents and businesses quality services.
"When your revenue is challenged like East Cleveland's is today, you will be forced to cut and cut and cut away critical services like police, fire and even rubbish pick up, and certainly street resurfacing," said Norton.
Mayor Norton says he believes Cleveland could also benefit from a merger since East Cleveland borders the fast-growing University Circle area.
"Literally, we could build a neighborhood and a community that's one of the coolest places in Northeast Ohio to live...it just doesn't exist today because the cities are separate," Norton said.
The state of Ohio could pitch in money to help out, if the two cities agree to merge.
Some residents were angry with council members because they met in executive session and did not allow the public to listen in or comment.
Wheeler says they consider the discussions personnel a matter.