Cleveland permit backlog ordered cleaned-up

Besides leaving Jackson with an FBI investigation, O'Leary's building & housing crews weren't issuing permits

In the city where council never uses its congressional-like power to hold hearings and learn if employees the mayor supervises are obeying ordinances, or if the ordinances need tweaking, a backlog of building and housing permits may be caught up “without overtime” if Mayor Frank Jackson’s chief development official follows-up.

Mayor Frank Jackson trusted Ed Rybka, Ronald O’Leary, Thomas Vanover, Damian Borowski, Rufus Taylor and other employees he gave opportunities to manage the building and housing departments in the manner specified by laws. After 13 years in office his administration is facing a federal investigation and there’s a backlog of building and housing permits.

Jackson’s chief of regional development, Ed Rybka, met with building and housing workers on Tuesday and told them to catch up on getting backlogged permits to contractors and property owners.   There’s more than a 4-month backlog of unfilled permit requests that has pissed off smaller contractors and property owners who’ve been asking for them and ignored by criminally obstructive-minded city workers.  

The “big boys” under the Jackson administration don’t have any complaints and get their requests for city services responded to over lunch with city officials and members of council.  Smaller permit requestors have had their requests obstructed so employees under Rybka could use the backlog as a justification for overtime.

For smaller contractors and property owners, work that could have begun on properties during the spring, summer and fall months has been delayed.  The delays have made it even more difficult for property owners facing 1st degree housing court misdemeanor jail time and fines from Judge Ronald O’Leary. 

What’s even more concerning is that O’Leary was the derelict Jackson official who oversaw building and housing; and who’s management resulted in the chronic backlog for the past 10 years.  It’s possible O’Leary could be presiding over cases and punishing property owners who were harmed by his mismanagement of the building and housing departments. 

After 11 years of managing the building and housing departments Ronald O”Leary left Mayor Frank Jackson with a backlog of permits and an FBI investigation.

Critics believe the chronic corruption connected with the building and housing departments should cause council to consider decriminalizing housing ordinances for people who live in their homes.

Information discovered during and in the aftermath of former demolition supervisor Rufus Taylor’s federal indictment and conviction shows linkages to other obstructive behavior that was tied to requests for bribes.  

Documents and email to O’Leary reveals that he wasn’t pushing Taylor or Damian Borowski, another demolition supervisor, to respond to smaller contractor requests for clean-hole inspections.  Taylor was reprimanded by commissioner Thomas Vanover in 2013 for failing to ensure the employees he supervised performed their inspection duties. 

Information learned after Taylor’s prosecution and his pleading guilty reveals that his failure to push inspectors to inspect created an environment where he could ask contractors for bribes to get the inspections.

Borowski has been accused of favoring demolition companies connected to William Bauman, his son and grandson.  All three demolition companies have individually received demolition contracts from Borowski.

The only “schedule” connected to a group of Cleveland city council ordinances that requires property and land owners to obtain work, construction or plan permits is the “schedule of fees.”  There’s no language in the building ordinance setting timed deadlines for building and housing workers to issue permits and review plans.

Cleveland council president Kevin Kelley is power and control-hungry, but he hasn’t led council to use its congressional-like investigative and hearing authority to study any matter of public concern. There’s no language in any building or housing ordinance that sets a timetable for employees to deliver time sensitive permits.

There’s language in Ord. No. 3105.09 that No operations or use of premises requiring a permit shall be commenced until the permit therefor has been obtained and is on hand at the site of the operations or use.”

Council’s legislation is so lopsidedly against the property owner or contractor that Ordinance No. 3105.09 imposes a duty on the property owner or contractor to deliver written notice “12 hours” before work begins. 

The council led by Kevin Kelley makes the failure to perform this simple act a first degree misdemeanor if the person issued the permit doesn’t send the written notice.

What’ missing from council’s ordinance is a timetable for when city workers are required to deliver permits to a person who’s requested one with that same level of specificity.  It’s not designated by ordinance that a city employee who fails to deliver the document within a specified amount of time and obstructs the city’s official business is committing a criminal offense.

Despite ongoing investigations of mayors, councils and city workers for corruption by outside federal agencies, council hasn’t used its congressional-like investigative and public hearing authority to review any matter of public concern.

Council critics say the body could pass a whistle blower’s ordinance giving property owners and contractors an avenue to complain about corrupt and derelict public officials without fear of retaliation and further hold-ups. 

Kelley’s council could also strengthen the city’s dereliction of duty ordinance and make the penalties against public officials 1st instead of 2nd degree misdemeanors.  That, however, would place Kelley and other members of council in a position to have their own conduct judged against the ordinance.

Right now property owners and contractors with backlogged permits have to rely on the word of the Jackson official who’s had the job to issue permits on time since 2006 that he’s finally going to deliver the service.

Eric Jonathan Brewer
Author, Investigative Journalist, Speaker, Politician, Consultant

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