Editorial from The Plain Dealer

A private meeting to review vaguely worded, six-figure, taxpayer-financed contracts awarded to consultants sure doesn’t sound like the best strategy to reassure the public that their tax dollars are well spent.

That’s because it isn’t. But Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Council Clerk Pat Britt have decided that a staff review of council-hired consultants will be conducted behind closed doors.

Bad call.

In the wake of the unprecedented federal Cuyahoga County corruption prosecution,taxpayers are rightfully suspicious of any situation that involves back-room decision-making on public money, consultants, contracts and politicians. Leila Atassi, Northeast Ohio Media Group City Hall reporter, has documented how some council members have rubber-stamped the contracts of two longtime consultants without having a clue as to what duties they were hired to perform.

“I have no idea what the Cobalt Group does,” Councilman Mike Polensek told Atassi. Worse, he noted: “And I would have to venture and say that the majority of the people in the body don’t know that as well.”

The Cobalt Group pulled down more than $360,000 over the last six years. Its latest $66,000 contract states that Cobalt directs and provides “technical assistance for the implementation of priority issue/opportunity areas of the Cleveland City Council Operations and Sustainability Plan.”

Yet several council members – some of whom have served on council’s Operations committee – told Atassi that they were unaware that a Sustainability Plan existed.

Council leadership would not comment to Atassi on how the Cobalt Group was selected or whether its initial 2008 contract was put out for competitive bids.

The refusal to explain how key decisions were made does not inspire public trust.

Then there is The Project Group. It pockets up to $250,000 a year to offer legislative guidance on public utility issues. However, a NEOMG review of its last five years of work offered little evidence of that.

To his credit, Kelleywho became council president in January, said in an interview for this editorial that he is determined to review all the contracts and evaluate them with council. “Everybody needs to know how public money is spent.”

That also means conducting those reviews in a transparent and public way, starting with the staff review.

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