‘There’s nothing about this that’s normal’: Cleveland judge interviewing 18 applicants to fill suspended councilman’s seat

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — Cleveland City council along with the residents of Ward 4 are still waiting to see who will finish out the term of suspended Councilman Ken Johnson. 

“There is nothing about this that’s normal, there’s nothing to predict to,” said Council President Kevin Kelley.

A special commission of the Ohio justice of the supreme court handed down the suspension following his arrest in February on a 15-count indictment on charges that include stealing and conspiracy.

“This is the first time we’ve had this process whereby the probate court judge is, has been empowered to choose a member of Cleveland City Council,” said Kelley. 

18 people submitted their application to the Cleveland probate court seeking the appointment to fill the seat. The deadline was last Friday.

Presiding Judge Anthony J. Russo will be making the decision and the court’s magistrate says he has already begun interviewing the applicants.

Kelley says he’s not surprised at the significant interest. “I’m glad that there are people that, you know want to be a part of government, want to be a part of city council and the decisions that we make.”

In a statement, the court’s magistrate said, “Judge Russo has found the process to be quite interesting. Many qualified candidates with a strong commitment to the ward have applied.”

“I don’t have a lot of influence over how this is going to end but my understanding is that there are good people on there and I think it’s very important that the people of Ward 4 have a voice,” said Kelley.

The magistrate also said Russo hopes to have a decision within the next two weeks. “I have nothing but high regards for Judge Russo, I think he is a good judge and an honorable person but that being said, this is a big decision,” said Kelley.

Come September, the council seat will then be up for election in the primary.

Nine of the applicants for the appointment have also pulled petitions to run in that race making a total of 17 candidates for the election thus far.

Applicants for Ward 4 Council seat:

1. Lashorn K. Caldwell

2. Barbara A. Cole-Deberry

3. Dontea T. Gresham

4. James A. Gay

5. Craig E. Willis

6. Shafron E. Hawkins

7. Michael Shomo

8. Marion Gardner

9. Marcia L. McCoy

10. Darnell T. Brewer

11. Jeff Burger

12. Dontez Taylor

13. Cecil Ekechukwu

14. Rowland Mitchell

15. Antoine Tolbert

16. Deborah Gray

17. Daniel Sexton

18. Steven Charron, Jr.

Johnson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is one of them. 

“Ultimately it will be up to the people of Ward 4 to make this decision. They will make this decision with full knowledge of what’s going on and it’ll be their choice of how they want to move forward,” said Kelley.

The top two vote-getters then advance to the November general election.

As for the interim appointee, Kelley says there will be a really steep learning curve. He says they will take an oath and be sworn-in in some fashion, but he doesn’t know exactly what that looks like yet as this is unfamiliar territory.

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