Cleveland safety advisor made ‘tweaks’ to job description before he was hired

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CLEVELAND — Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s former college roommate, Phillip McHugh, helped write the job description for his role as the city’s senior public safety advisor, according to an email obtained by News 5 Investigators.

The email was sent from McHugh to Abigail Poeske, senior advisor to the mayor for strategy, on Oct. 3, 2023, with the subject line “Position Description” for the newly created role of special assistant to chief of public safety for strategy.

In the email, McHugh wrote that “he highlighted a few tweaks more so style than substance” in the attached description.

McHugh said he applied for the role and was interviewed by members of the city’s safety department prior to getting hired. The salary for the position is $124,000 a year, according to city records.

He said the job was not created for him.

The news comes one day after the elderly grandmother who accused him of violating her civil rights when he was a Washington D.C. police detective called for Bibb to fire his friend. “Pull up your big boy pants if you’re a man,” Vashti Sherrod said. “Hire somebody else.”

Grandmother says Cleveland mayor should fire former college roommate

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‘I provided input’

McHugh said Bibb’s election put Cleveland on his radar.

“I saw the all-star team that he was putting together, and I wanted to be a part of that team,” he said.

He said he applied for a different position last summer but was not hired for the role.

He said the mayor’s staff then reached out to him about the newly created special assistant to chief of public safety for strategy position.

“They reached out and sent me a draft job description and asked for input in it,” he said. “I provided input. It was stylistic in nature.”

He said “there was really nothing significant” about the changes he made and said when he applied, the job description was “vastly different.”

‘It is really important for us not to be misleading’

Bell Hardaway is a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. She was a member of of federal monitoring team overseeing Cleveland police reforms for more than eight years

“It concerns me as it relates to this administration’s approach to identifying qualified candidates.” Bell Hardaway said.

She continued, “From a community trust standpoint, anything that looks like there’s a fix, that the game is fixed… will cause questions.”

Bell Hardaway also expressed concerned about how McHugh has described a federal civil rights lawsuit where he was named as a defendant.

“That’s quite honestly the only reason why I’m speaking to you,” she told me during our interview Wednesday morning.

“I think it is really important for us not to be misleading,” she said. “Our community deserves more than that.”

McHugh has repeatedly stated he was dismissed from the lawsuit before it was settled.

“I don’t think it’s fair to hold against me something from 10 years ago where the lawsuit was dismissed,” McHugh told me Monday afternoon. “I was found not to have done anything wrong.”

However, Bell Hardaway said he was “absolutely not” cleared of wrongdoing.

“The district court didn’t have a chance to weigh in on whether or not he ultimately had committed wrongdoing because the case settled,” Bell Hardaway said. “We should not be misleading people with inaccurate characterization of the standard of the law. To say that he was dismissed from the lawsuit ignores the fact that he was dismissed from the lawsuit in exchange for compensation to the people that were alleging harm.”

News 5 Investigators revealed McHugh was accused of violating the rights of an elderly black couple while conducting an investigation when he was a Washington D.C. police detective last month.

Washington, D.C., settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

‘Kept in touch’

McHugh said he met Bibb when they both attended American University in Washington, D.C.

“We met freshman year,” he said. “We were in the school of public affairs leadership program together. We instantly became friends and our sophomore year we decided to live together. ”

McHugh said they remained friendly after graduation.

“We kept in touch,” he said. “We spoke about each other’s careers and aspirations. We spoke infrequently because we were both very busy, but we kept in touch over the last 15, 20 years,” he said.

McHugh said he deserves a chance and is excited to get to work.

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