History proves council-manager plan works well
A proposal to change the Cleveland Heights form of government would reject the past. Before supporting such a drastic change, please consider the history of Frank Cain.
Cain came to Cleveland Heights when it still was a village. He was elected to village council in 1909, and became mayor in 1914. When Cleveland Heights became a city in 1921, Cain headed a charter commission that defined a new council-manager plan, still in use. Elected as first mayor under this new plan, Cain headed a slate of council members that went undefeated for 18 elections. He retired from city government in 1946. The city had a population of 3,000 when he began service, and 60,000 when Cain retired from city government in 1946.
The council-manager plan clearly did not inhibit the ability of Mayor Cain to lead. A new city hall was built under his guidance. Thriving commercial districts sprang up at Cedar-Fairmount, Cedar-Lee, and Coventry roads. The city enacted the state's first comprehensive zoning laws. It developed Cain Park. Cain personally influenced the Rockefellers to donate land for Forest Hill Park and lobbied them to plan a $60-million Forest Hill residential development. He also lobbied successfully for express bus service on Cedar Road and Fairmount Boulevard. He was a recognized regional spokesman for all Cuyahoga County suburbs. He helped establish Cleveland Heights as the first of Ohio’s cities over 10,000 in population to become debt free. All these accomplishments occurred under that new plan of government Cain had advocated.
A local historian observed that Mayor Cain became “a prominent booster for the early twentieth-century vision of suburbia: an escape from the city—its congestion, unhealthy pollution, visible poverty, and uncongenial neighbors—to green spaces and tree-lined streets of single-family homes.” His vision was of a type of Cleveland Heights we still strive to achieve.
During this time, Mayor Cain and city council members had professional assistance from capable city managers. One, Harry Canfield, helped secure millions of federal dollars during the Great Depression for widening and landscaping Cedar Glen, painting school interiors, and constructing parks. Canfield literally took a bullet for Mayor Cain in 1938 when an angry former city employee fired three shots at Cain at the end of a city council meeting. Cain was safe, Canfield took the bullet, and council members wrestled the assailant to the floor. Such was the level of coordination and cooperation between elected officials and city managers.
Present proponents of change argue that only a new form of government can allow our city to progress now. History demonstrates otherwise. Recent history alone includes significant projects implemented by city managers, such as a new modern city hall, two fire stations, improved ambulance service, and a remodeled Cain Park. More recent managed projects include Top of the Hill, Meadowbrook/Lee development, College Club development, improvements to the Cedar Lee Business District, the emerging plan for Noble Road development, and formation of a citywide Community Reinvestment Area to encourage development through tax abatement. The past informs us, and shows these proponents of change are wrong.
A system of government is as good as those people we elect to operate it—and those people our elected officials hire to manage it. Frank Cain proved this with the council-manager system of government he worked so hard to get our city to adopt almost 100 years ago. The record since has established the continuing wisdom of his vision.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council 1980–1987, and was CH mayor 1982–1987.