UH mayor reports on state of the city
In his first State of the City address, University Heights Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan celebrated accomplishments from 2018, addressed challenges facing the city, and looked to an ambitious future agenda.
“The State of our City is strong,” Brennan told those assembled in the Jardine Room on the campus of John Carroll University. “Working together, we will reach new heights.”
Brennan restored the city’s safety forces in 2018, starting with the fire department. Under Fire Chief Robert Perko, the UHFD has made equipment improvements, and reopened the Fire Prevention and Education Bureau. Understaffed for years, the department has now achieved a safe minimum staffing level.
At the police department, Chief Dustin Rogers also increased staffing. The department created the Office of Community Policing, and hosted its first-ever “National Night Out” event.
Turning to the Building and Housing departments, Brennan said the city is improving its housing stock.
“On day one,” Brennan said, “we required banks foreclosing on houses to bring the exteriors up to code. In the first month, we brought in Michael Astrab . . . and gave him a new mandate to use the courts to clean up our housing stock.”
Brennan outlined the tax abatement program for home improvements, available now through the city’s Community Reinvestment Area designation. “The CRA will allow people to make the home they want in the community they already love,” Brennan said.
Brennan reported the continuing overhaul of the rental registration program, started in 2018. In addition, landlords will be required to maintain insurance on their properties.
“We will increase inspections at rentals where code compliance is a problem,” Brennan said, “and reward landlords who consistently comply.”
2018 also saw the creation of the city’s first Economic Development Department, headed by Susan Drucker, the former mayor of Solon. Under Drucker, the city participated in Small Business Saturday, and a list of available commercial properties has been made available to developers. Drucker is currently working on a storefront renovation, and revising the zoning code.
Larger city projects are a priority, including improving Cedar-Taylor, and redeveloping University Square.
“Our city remains willing to repeal the special assessments on this property . . . once the owners have a developer with a plan worthy of the site and the city,” Brennan said. “I know your patience is running thin. Mine is, too. Economic development is no longer something we wait to have happen. It is now something we make happen. And we will make this (redevelopment) happen.”
In reviewing the new city logo and rebranding effort, Brennan announced plans for new signs at the community park. “Our park needs a name, one that honors community service,” he said. With that, Brennan renamed the park after the only person who has served the city under the last four mayors—Walter Stinson.
“Walter, you are an inspiration to us all,” Brennan said.
Brennan then addressed challenges facing University Heights, including a cramped and out-of-date City Hall, as well as poor facilities for the Service, Police and Fire departments.
Brennan reviewed the crisis he inherited in the city’s finance department.
When he arrived at City Hall last January, Brennan found a finance department that had not been balancing its books, or even paying bills. “We were all told the city had a $2.5 million surplus . . . but that number was nothing more than a sleight of hand.”
Under James Goffe, the new finance director, the city is now paying its bills, balancing the checkbook and implementing best practices. “The new finance department saved our hides,” Brennan said.
Looking ahead, Brennan proposed naming the city’s Community Investment Corporation the “City Beautiful Commission,” saying it would work to restore beautiful homes and build new ones.
As for the Wiley Middle School site, Brennan committed to work with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board to determine its future.
Brennan aims to take the loss of one community asset, and turn it into a new one, citing Lakewood’s experience in turning a former hospital site into new community space and mixed-use development. Brennan also found inspiration in
the history of University Heights where, in 1941, Mayor Earl Aurelius transformed a nine-hole golf course into May’s on the Heights.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Brennan said. “It’s 12 acres to build something that will improve our community for decades, to create jobs, to create new businesses, and new municipal and school board facilities.”
These things will not happen overnight, Brennan said. “But they must happen. And working together, we will make them happen.”
“We have a great history,” Brennan said, “but for University Heights, the best is yet to come.”
Mike Cook is the communications and civic engagement coordinator for University Heights.