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Investigator: No show councilmen too busy

2:08 PM, Mar 21, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- He's officially marked down as attending every city budget hearing this year, but those who sat through the grueling meetings say Councilman Eugene Miller popped in for only one of them -- continuing his string of poor attendance to city matters.

Colleagues say that Miller, the Ward 10 councilman, routinely misses committee meetings, including those in February where council members had a chance to grill top administration officials about Mayor Frank Jackson's proposed $1.3 billion budget. 

City council records show Miller attended all seven budget hearings in Februrary. That news surprised veteran councilman Mike Polensek, who said he was at all seven meetings, but only saw Miller once.

When asked if Polensek disagrees with the records, he said "you've asked me a question. Did I see Councilman Miller at the hearings each day? And I said he was there once." 

Miller dodged questions from channel 3 news Investigator Tom Meyer twice following committee meetings.  But Meyer caught up with the councilman in the city hall  parking garage. First, Miller said he attended the majority of budget hearings.  Meyer said records show he attended all seven.  "I must have attended all of them then," Miller said. 

Councilman Kevin Kelley, who had the best attendance record in council, said "there's no magic number in terms of how much time they(council members) need to spend at a meeting" to be counted as having attended.

One colleague says it seems Miller, who is a physical fitness buff who sponsors the Ward 10 Runners & Walkers Club, has other priorities.

"He spends more time at the gym than he does in his ward or at City Hall," said a fellow council member, who did not want to be identified because Miller is a close ally of Council President Marty Sweeney.

"Eugene Miller would take a bullet for Marty ... and Marty is going to try to protect him."

Council records show that Miller ranked among the worst in actually showing up for committee meetings, a Channel 3 News investigation found.

Miller missed 22 percent of the committee meetings last year, putting him just ahead of Councilmen Joe Cimperman and Ken Johnson, who both missed 26 percent of the meetings held in 2012.

Johnson said he misses meetings because he's busier than any councilman in Cleveland.  "I really have no further comment," said Johnson.

Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland has the 4th worst attendance record, having missed 21 per cent of the meetings in 2012.  "I have a very challenging ward," she explained.

Cimperman said he spent considerable time last year taking care of his newborn child and some medical issues.

Unlike Cimperman, however, Miller tallied five unexcused absences -- the most of any councilman, records show.

Miller did have a notable appearance this year, when he backed legislation that allowed Johnson to retire and then get rehired to his old seat. The vote allows Johnson to collect his retirement check as well as his regular paycheck.

One council member said that Miller's attendance figures are "inflated" because he routinely pops into committee meetings for "a whole five to ten minutes."

"He doesn't sit down and if he does, he doesn't even engage," the person said. "He doesn't ask questions."

Records show Polensek has a 98 percent attendance rate, ranking him number two for best attendance behind his colleague Kevin J. Kelley.

"I've always believed I have to be here to represent my constituents. That's why I got elected.  If you're going to get paid, you need to show up to work.  that's what we're here for, " said the councilman from Collinwood.

The embattled Miller, 38, is also busy putting out other fires, including a drunken driving arrest on the Shoreway in the early morning hours of Nov. 25.

Miller apologized to his council colleagues, saying he was watching football with some friends and drank one too many vodka cranberries.

But he is still awaiting trial next month by a visiting judge in Cleveland Municipal Court.

City Council is also undergoing redistricting following the 2010 census, and it is possible that Miller and other East Side politicians could see their ward boundaries shifted or eliminated entirely after a drop in population.

Here is the full list of council and the percentage of meetings each attended in 2012:

  • Kevin Kelley (Ward 13) -- 99 percent
  • Michael Polensek (Ward 11) -- 98 percent
  • Martin Keane (Ward 19) -- 97 percent
  • Martin Sweeney (Ward 18) -- 95 percent
  • Anthony Brancatelli (Ward 12) -- 95 percent
  • Dona Brady (Ward 17) -- 94 percent
  • Mamie Mitchell (Ward 6) -- 94 percent
  • Jeff Johnson (Ward 8) -- 93 percent
  • Jay Westbrook (Ward 16) -- 93 percent
  • Matt Zone (Ward 15) -- 91 percent
  • Kevin Conwell (Ward 9) -- 91 percent
  • Terrell Pruitt (Ward 1) -- 87 percent
  • Brian Cummins (Ward 14) -- 87 percent
  • Zack Reed (Ward 2) -- 82 percent
  • TJ Dow (Ward 7) -- 80 percent
  • Phillis Cleveland (Ward 5) -- 79 percent
  • Eugene Miller (Ward 10) -- 78 percent
  • Ken Johnson (Ward 4) -- 74 percent
  • Joe Cimperman (Ward 3) -- 74 percent

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