Long in fiscal emergency, East Cleveland struggles to find new finance director – Signal Cleveland

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Signal Cleveland
East Cleveland, which has been in fiscal emergency for 28 of the last 35 years, is in the market for a new finance director. 
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The state auditor most recently declared East Cleveland to be in financial distress in early 2012, after the city posted deficits of $5.8 million. A dozen years later, this East Side suburb of less than 14,000 people still hasn’t climbed out of the fiscal emergency hole. 
Currently an interim finance director is trying to do the job of three people. That’s according to Barbara Mattei-Smith, the state official who chairs the commission overseeing East Cleveland’s money. 
The job of finance director is a big one, as evidenced by problems raised at last week’s meeting of the East Cleveland Financial Planning and Supervision Commission. 
East Cleveland is five months behind in reconciling its books. The municipal court accounts — which have vexed state supervisors for years — are in “chaos,” Mattei-Smith said. The court has turned over bank statements through last September, a staffer from the state auditor’s office said at the meeting.
That’s not all.
Mattei-Smith highlighted another problem: Too many people had access to city credit cards. At the end of last July, East Cleveland shut them down – including, by accident, a card the city was using to pay court costs, she said. 
“In the meantime, they’ve tried to restart that credit card, and they cannot get credit because bills are not being paid,” she said. 
So far, the city has come up short in finding a permanent finance director. One applicant even walked out of the job interview, according to Mattei-Smith and Mayor Brandon King. Others asked for more money than the estimated $95,000 a year that the city can shell out, King said. 
Mattei-Smith recommended hiring an outside accounting firm, rather than one person, to do the job. 
“I’m a finance person. I would not take a job here,” she said at last week’s meeting. “You’d have to pay me an awful lot.” 
East Cleveland’s tax base eroded as population fell and the city suffered economic blows. The Cleveland Clinic’s Huron Hospital, a major employer, closed in 2011. 
The city has tried over the years to cut costs and raise money. It opened and runs an impound lot to make revenue off of towed cars. One recovery effort backfired in a big way. In 2014, the city sold off an abandoned plot of land for $250,000. The buyers turned the site into a massive construction debris dump on the public’s dime.
Last June, the commission voted to restrict East Cleveland’s spending because it failed to meet a deadline to turn in a new financial recovery plan. 
According to Mattei-Smith, the city now faces a different sort of deadline. The interim finance director is staying on only through March. 
“Come April 1, they need a new finance director,” she said. 
Signal Cleveland works for and with Clevelanders to publish a new kind of local news, but we need your help to do it.
Government Reporter (he/him)
I follow how decisions made at Cleveland City Hall and Cuyahoga County headquarters ripple into the neighborhoods. I keep an eye on the power brokers and political organizers who shape our local government. I am a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with more than a decade of experience covering politics and government in Northeast Ohio.
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