Since 2000, Policy Matters Ohio has provided an essential voice in Ohio's legislative debate. The case for good jobs, strong neighborhoods and smart solutions to complex problems, that support communities and help working families get ahead, is advanced each and every day by this committed team.
Cynthia Connolly is our development director. Cynthia joined Policy Matters in 2015, after serving for four years as resource development and governance manager at Ohio City Incorporated. She holds a master’s degree in public administration and non-profit management from Cleveland State University, and a bachelor’s degree in American culture and Native American studies from the University of Michigan.
Cynthia has long been a social justice advocate, previously serving as a youth representative at the National Congress of American Indians, which advocates for government policies to help indigenous people. Cynthia represented her tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, located in northern Michigan. Her commitment to helping underrepresented groups led Cynthia to study fundraising during her graduate work. Cynthia also serves on the board for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington, DC; is the Vice President at University Settlement in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood; and on the executive board at the Lake Erie Native American Council in Cleveland. Cynthia lives in Ohio City with her husband, Joseph, and two daughters.
Hannah Halbert is our Executive Director. She joined Policy Matters in 2010 as a policy liaison. She had previously spent nearly four years with the Equal Justice Foundation and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus where she protected homeowners from foreclosures during the housing crisis. Halbert was named project director in 2018, overseeing work and wages research. Under her leadership, Policy Matters articulated a clear vision for working people with “A New Way Forward: 10 Ways to Support Ohio’s Working People.” Halbert has documented the growing prevalence of low-wage jobs in Ohio and promoted smart policies to ensure all Ohioans share in the economic growth their work produces. Her research and advocacy prevented Ohio workers from losing crucial unemployment compensation benefits and led to increased state support to protect working people from having their wages stolen. Halbert also serves on the board of the Central Ohio Worker Center and the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations.
Halbert has a master’s in nonprofit management, a law degree from Hamline University and a bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University. Her life experiences shape her dedication to Policy Matters’ mission of building an Ohio where everyone thrives. She grew up in rural Kentucky, raised by her mother and stepdad, who worked as coal miner.
Caitlin Johnson is our director of communications. Previously, she led environmental justice campaigns for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC). At OOC, Johnson formed Communities United for Responsible Energy and Clevelanders for Public Transit. Johnson also worked as a journalist for ABCNews.com, CBSNews.com, WCPN/ideastream and NOW on PBS. At NOW, she belonged to a team that produced “Taxing the Poor,” which won the 2008 Emmy Award for outstanding analysis of a business news story. She served as the 2011-2013 fellow at the George Gund Foundation. Johnson has an undergraduate degree in government and English from Cornell University, a master’s of science in journalism from Columbia University and a master’s of public administration from Cleveland State University.
Daniel Ortiz is the outreach director for Policy Matters Ohio. A native of Lorain, Ohio and graduate of Oberlin College, Ortiz joined Policy Matters in 2016 and brings 13 years’ experience in organizing, campaign strategy and education. Before his work with Policy Matters Daniel worked at the local, state and national level leading campaigns and managing key partnerships. He draws from experience as a teacher, work as a campaign data professional and experience organizing programs with a community of leaders across the Midwest and the South to best connect Policy Matters research with the community.
Since returning to Northeast Ohio, Daniel can be seen advocating for policies that increase equity, promote good government and help vulnerable communities. As a member of the Policy Matters team, Daniel embraces new methods and technology to expand the community that encounters our research. His commitment to grow the policy conversation in Ohio focuses on changing how we talk about social justice movements and puts the role of engaged citizens front and center. For Daniel a successful day includes helping to write a new chapter in the story of how policy affects people’s lives and celebrating the local heroes who shape policy outcomes and make change happen.
Wendy Patton is the team leader for the fiscal project of the State Priorities Partnership, which is affiliated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Prior to joining Policy Matters Ohio in 2009, Wendy served as an executive assistant for economic development for Governor Ted Strickland, as a deputy director of business development for the Ohio Department of Development, as a vice president for the Columbus Urban Growth Corporation and as a program coordinator for the Ohio Employee Ownership Center. She worked with AFSCME international as an economic policy analyst, serving 13 states in tax and budget policy and forecasting revenues for collective bargaining. She has written about public finance, regional development, workforce training, steel and automobile supply chain configuration. Wendy has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University.
Will Petrik joined Policy Matters Ohio because of his commitment to making concrete improvements in people’s lives. He believes that all people have the right to safety, security and quality education. He wants an Ohio where all residents have access to affordable, stable housing and good jobs with benefits.
Will has a track record of making a positive difference for families. As State Director of Advocates for Ohio’s Future, he (along with hundreds of other organizations, including Policy Matters) helped expand Medicaid in Ohio. Because of this work, over 650,000 people now have access to healthcare coverage.
Today, Will continues to support the well-being of children and families in his role as Budget Researcher with Policy Matters in the Columbus office.
Zach Schiller is our research director. Prior to coming to Policy Matters in 2001, Zach worked for more than two decades researching and writing about the Ohio economy as a business reporter for The Plain Dealer and Business Week. His education includes a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. For Policy Matters, Zach has written about foreclosures, economic development, job growth, unemployment insurance, tax policy and other issues. He is a member of the board of managers of the Ohio Poverty Law Center.
Sybille Schomerus is our office manager. She has a master’s degree from the University of Freiburg, Germany, where she studied law and worked as an attorney in labor law and family law until 2008 when she moved to Cleveland. Sybille is also president of the International Women’s Group of Cleveland.
Michael Shields is a researcher with Policy Matters Ohio. His work focuses on the labor market and job quality. He writes about the manufacturing sector, the minimum wage, overtime, and workers’ compensation. He has also written about access to childcare, and energy policy. Mike is currently working on a report identifying barriers to the job market for people with criminal convictions. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from the University of Akron, and is completing a masters of economics at Cleveland State.
Ben Stein serves as digital communications manager. As needed, he also writes, edits and assists with other communications. Before coming to Policy Matters, Ben worked as an educator for 12 years, teaching high school English in Massachusetts and college writing in West Virginia, New England and Cleveland. A proud product of public schools, Ben holds a BA from the State University of New York, an MFA from West Virginia University, and a master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts.
Piet van Lier is a Senior Researcher focused on justice reform and education. Piet originally joined the staff in 2007 as an education policy researcher and became Policy Matters’ first communications director in 2011. He left the staff in 2014 to work with the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, which he served as executive director from 2016 to 2019.
Piet began his career as a journalist, covering a broad array of social justice issues including education. He has worked abroad as a peace and human rights activist and speaks Spanish fluently. Piet grew up in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland, and now lives on the near west side with his wife and two children.
Kalitha Williams is charged with engaging policymakers in efforts to spark new asset-building initiatives in Ohio. Kalitha began her career as a fellow at the Ohio Legislative Service Commission and has a strong background in advocacy, policy and leadership from her previous positions with the Ohio House of Representatives, the Columbus Urban League, and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. She is a partner of The CHANGE Agency a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization charged with increasing the civic and political participation of young black professionals in Ohio.
She is an inaugural member of the Columbus Young Professionals Commission, former Political Action Committee Chair of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP, and serves as a member of the African American Advisory Committee of the Wexner Arts Center at The Ohio State University. Kalitha has a bachelor’s degree from Denison University and a master’s in public administration from Central Michigan University.
Amanda Woodrum is a Senior Researcher focusing on issues found at the intersection of health, equity and the economy. After living in New York City and experiencing 9/11, she returned to Ohio determined to make the state the kind of place she wanted to live. She joined Policy Matters Ohio in 2007 after receiving a master’s degree in economics and a law degree from the University of Akron. She conducts research on the role transportation, energy, health and anti-poverty policy can play to promote a more sustainable and equitable economy in Ohio.
Gizmo Schomerus is our office dog. He specializes in begging for snacks. Gizmo is not on email.
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