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Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson disavows being father of two rec center employees he earlier claimed were his kids

September 14, 2018

Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson disavows being father of two rec center employees he earlier claimed were his kids

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Three people that Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson repeatedly listed as his children on forms he filled out years ago are employed by the city at the recreation center named after Johnson.

But Johnson disavowed two of them Thursday, when confronted with the forms he submitted before endorsement interviews with the Editorial Board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.

Johnson said that Elijah Johnson and Darian Johnson are not his legal children even though he listed them as such on four separate sets of paperwork he gave to the board between 1989 and 2013. 

Cleveland.com questioned Johnson about Elijah and Darian -- and a third employee named Kenneth Jr. --  after Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration released on Thursday a list of employees of the Kenneth L. Johnson Recreation Center. Among the 16 employees were three with the last name Johnson – Elijah, Darian and Kenneth Jr.

During an interview at council’s committee hearing room, Johnson said that Kenneth Jr. is his son and he worked about three hours a week at the recreation center helping troubled youth. Johnson then twice denied that he is related to Elijah or Darian and offered no further comment about his relationship with them.

When asked later that day about the documents he submitted to cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer over a decade ago, Johnson insisted he is not Elijah and Darian’s legal father. But he acknowledged that he helped them legally change their last names to Johnson. He said that of the eight children he listed on paperwork, only three are legally his children.

“It’s a little bit confusing, but I don’t see any reason to ruin their reputations,” he said.

Johnson could not explain why he listed Elijah and Darian on the paperwork, which also included their birth years. He only said that he acted as a mentor to them and helped them in times of trouble. He said they never lived with him and that he did not receive any public assistance to care for them.

Asked why they changed their names, Johnson said, “They wanted my last name because they thought that much of me.”

Johnson said that having Elijah and Darian on the city payroll does not present any possible conflict of interest.

“No, no, no - legally they are not my children,” he said. “I did not adopt them and did not bring them into the world. I’ve helped hundreds of kids.”

He also dismissed any criticism of his son Kenneth Jr.’s employment with the city.

“My children can’t be disqualified from anything just because they are my children,” he said.

Furthermore, Johnson said, he played no direct role in the hiring of his son or Elijah and Darian. He said he provided the same recommendation on their behalf that he has offered hundreds of people during his nearly 40 years as a councilman.

Jackson’s administration did not immediately respond to questions about what, if any, nepotism rules apply to council members.

Darian currently works at the recreation center as the “physical director” and is paid $16.5 per hour, according to the spreadsheet, which lists his start date as September 2002. Elijah has worked for the city since July 2008 and is paid more than $23 an hour as a manager of the recreation center, which is located on Woodland Avenue, near East 93rd Street. Kenneth Jr. is listed as a temporary “student aide” and paid $11 an hour. The spreadsheet shows Kenneth Jr. most recently left the payroll in July.

Cleveland.com reported earlier that Kenneth Jr. and Johnson’s council aide, Garnell Jamison, were also employed by the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation, a nonprofit responsible for trying to revitalize several East Side neighborhoods. Cleveland.com began investigating Johnson this summer because of his close ties to BSSDC.

For years, the BSSDC relied on hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal community block grants earmarked by Johnson. The bulk of the money was spent on a lot cleanup and grass-cutting program that employed Kenneth Jr. and Jamison. Johnson said Thursday that Kenneth Jr. and Jamison no longer work at the BSSDC because the organization has no money.

The city’s Department of Community Development recently cut off BSSDC because it has failed to provide the city an independent financial audit. The city has also said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the community block grant program, has questioned the amount of money BSSDC was spending on it grass-cutting program.

Cleveland.com reported last month that the city of Cleveland ignored its own policy by passing along hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to BSSDC during the two previous years without demanding that the agency provide audits.

Johnson asserted Thursday that the BSSDC could not easily produce an audit because the nonprofit’s previous accountant “locked them out” of the books. He said that audit would be done in a week or so. Two months ago, Johnson made the same claim that the audit would be forthcoming soon.

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