Campaign for elected mayor moves ahead

Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM), the Cleveland Heights organization seeking to change the city’s form of government, is finalizing its proposed charter amendment and the initiative language intended for this year’s Nov. 5 ballot. CEM members would like to see their city government headed by a mayor elected directly by the voters.

“We have had hundreds of people express support [for an elected mayor] at our two public forums, as well as at half a dozen house meetings,” said CEM secretary Michael Bennett.

Once the language is final, CEM will circulate petitions for signature by registered voters. State law requires a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of total voters in the last municipal election. Placing an initiative on the ballot for Cleveland Heights in 2019 will require 2,119 signatures, certified as valid by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. According to Bennett, CEM aims to obtain 3,200 signatures, knowing that some will be deemed invalid due to illegible signatures, incorrect addresses, and other problems.

CEM, an all-volunteer organization, is encouraging supporters to participate in its campaign. Those interested should visit, to sign up for the mailing list, learn more about the issue, get involved, or donate funds.

Under Cleveland Heights’ current council/manager structure, city council hires a professional administrator to serve as the city’s chief executive, under the title of city manager. The city manager reports to all seven members of council, and they collectively supervise her work. The council members elect from among themselves a mayor and vice mayor, who serve as president and vice president of council and perform various ceremonial functions.

The council/manager form of government became popular in small- and medium-sized U.S. cities a century ago, during the Progressive Era, when it was seen as a way to prevent corruption. Also, according to Richard C. Shragger, writing in the Yale Law Journal, “For early-twentieth-century reformers, the strong [directly elected] mayor was too democratic; reform-minded elites feared a municipal government that was too responsive to the urban and ethnic masses.”

Ohio’s voters gained the power to create ballot initiatives and referenda in 1912, through an amendment to the state constitution. These reforms gave citizens the ability to propose ordinances, overturn existing statutes, and amend their city and state charters by putting measures on the ballot that are passed into law if the voters approve. They are intended to overcome the limits of representative government.

Although the council/manager government is found in 55 percent of cities throughout the country, according to the International City/County Management Association, it never caught on in Cuyahoga County. Other than Cleveland Heights, Bedford is the only municipality in the county with a city manager. In Bedford, however, citizens directly elect their mayor, who is president of council and the only council member elected at large. The other 55 cities and villages in Cuyahoga County have mayor/council governments—also called the “strong mayor” form—with a separation of powers between the executive (mayor) and legislative (council) branches.

In recent years, some residents have expressed the view that Cleveland Heights’ government could be more effective and accountable to citizens with a directly elected mayor, assisted by a professionally trained and experienced city administrator. CEM formed last winter, after the city’s Charter Review Commission (CRC) declined to recommend such a change. The CRC’s recommendations, submitted to city council on March 18, include maintaining the council/manager form of government, with greater executive authority for the city manager.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Rautenberg served on the CRC. Contact them at

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:44 AM, 04.30.2019