Four problems CH voters should think about
Cleveland Heights voters will soon decide whether to replace our council-manager form of government with a mayor-council model.
If voters approve changing to an elected mayor this fall, the city’s first directly elected mayor would not take office until January 2022. During a time when Cleveland Heights is facing accelerating competition from its neighbors, and other daunting challenges, a caretaker government would run the city for more than two years. That’s a problem.
Our lack of a mayor-council government isn’t a problem, but the pervasive lack of understanding of our current council-manager government is, especially when the presence of an informed and involved citizenry is a hallmark of our city’s narrative. The populist-style call to allow the voters of Cleveland Heights to elect their mayor is compelling on the surface, but it is disingenuous in its implication that the city does not already have a democratically elected government. That’s a second problem.
The seven members of Cleveland Heights City Council are elected at large and are directly accountable to the city’s voters, and council is responsible for choosing a professional city manager. City managers can be drawn from across the United States or even beyond, if warranted. This does not preclude the appointment of a city resident (current or former), if a city resident is the best candidate. The pool of potential mayors, by comparison, is limited to current city residents. That’s a third problem.
As a neighbor pointed out to me, our school system is run like a council-manager government. The school board comprises elected citizens serving on a part-time basis, who hire a professional superintendent from what is often a nationwide search. It is hard to imagine support for replacing the superintendent with an elected leader who would have to be a district resident before seeking election.
The mayor-council style of local government is not superior to the government we have in place. Many cities, including some in Cuyahoga County, are well served by the mayor-council model. There are far more cities, however, where elected mayors have created more problems than they solve. When county voters decided to adopt the home-rule powers that come with a charter county government in 2009, I supported the establishment of what is essentially a mayor-council government at the county level. I realize now that the council-manager government used in many charter counties across the United States would have provided a better selection of chief executives than the popularly elected Ed FitzGerald and Armond Budish turned out to be.
There’s also a fourth problem with the proposed charter amendment that voters need to consider. The proposal states that a full-time elected mayor would be “accountable, visible, decisive, available, and responsive,” yet its proposed charter language states that “holding the office of Mayor does not necessarily preclude limited outside employment or other outside work by the person holding the office.” What is the reason for this unusual and explicit accommodation? I’d like to know. Wouldn’t you?
Please consider the wisdom of bringing these four problems to Cleveland Heights. Serving on the city’s Charter Review Commission and studying this issue for 16 months helped me recognize these flaws with Citizens for an Elected Mayor’s populist proposal. I hope that you will recognize these problems, too.
Vince Reddy is a former FutureHeights board member and a 22-year resident of Cleveland Heights. He recently served on the city's Charter Review Commission.