The Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will host its 18th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Gala on Friday, January 18. As a part of the event it will recognize members of the greater Cleveland community for their contributions to the betterment of the society.
For the Humanitarian of the Year Award the organization’s leadership selected Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. Your read correctly — Armond Budish.
I’m not here to beat up on Budish. He just doesn’t qualify for this award. Spend five minutes in the county jail and that message will come across loud and clear. For the SCLC to single out Budish as Humanitarian of the Year is like naming Hue Jackson coach of the year.
As I reported in a recent posting here on CoolCleveland, Budish filled a political void in 2014 when he was elected the county’s second county executive. Reelected in 2018, Budish is the person ultimately responsible for the operation of the county jail, whose conditions are not much different than the jail in Birmingham where Dr. King wrote his famous letter in 1963. In 2018 eight inmates died in the jail. The United States Marshall has labeled the conditions there as inhumane. It’s been referred to as the worst jail in the country.
The Cuyahoga County grand jury is currently deliberating as to who if anyone should bear criminal responsibility for conditions in the jail or for the deaths of the inmates. They want to know if laws were broken in connection with its operations. On a weekly basis, the voice of protestors, protesting the jail’s conditions, can be heard. On New Year’s Eve they took their protest to Budish’s home.
The Cuyahoga Department of Children and Family Services is also under Budish’s control. During his administration the agency has experienced several troubling incidents involving children in their charge. Homelessness, services to the elderly, a high infant mortality, drug addiction and deaths by overdose, all loom large in our county — humanitarian issues that impact the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens of this community. That is why the announcement of Budish as Humanitarian of the Year by SCLC came as such a shock.
Budish as county executive is not in the position to wave a magic wand and solve these problems, some of which predate his administration. But neither has he or his administration shown any effort that goes over and above the call of duty to solve them, particularly in the jail.
Humanitarians cook and deliver meals in soup kitchens. They volunteer at the homeless shelter or hammer nails on a Habitat for Humanity work site. They make philanthropic gifts. I’m not saying that Budish must be Mother Theresa or Jimmy Carter to be labeled a humanitarian, but the label implies going above and beyond the call of duty for the aid of your fellow person. He showed more of a humanitarian spirit to his former chief of staff, Sharon Sobal Jordan, when he allowed her to obtain an MBA while on county time.
Going back to its founding in 1957 by Dr. King, the SCLC has a long and distinguished history of activism for the rights of African Americans. It has spoken out for the poor and oppressed of all races. Its leaders have stood up to make America a better place for all Americans — they have walked that extra mile. Budish never made the effort.
A review of the campaign finance report filed by Budish’s campaign committee for 2018 shows that his campaign committee made a $5,000 contribution to the SCLC on December 31, 2018. Interesting timing. Considering the more than $723,000 that he has in his war chest, $5,000 does not seem like a great deal of money but it was enough for the SCLC. The SCLC has put a serious dent in its credibility. The other awardees should gracefully decline to accept their awards.
If you care about the conditions at the jail, then you should show up at the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church at East 105th and Tacoma on January 18, the eve of Dr. King’s birthday, and honor his memory. Tell the SCLC that their message to Armond Budish should be to fix the jail, not proclaim him a humanitarian. That’s a title that must be earned through compassion and dedication to the needs of the poor, the needy and oppressed not merely affixed with the presentation of a plaque.
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and treasurer of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.