CH needs strong responsive leadership
The campaign over the “strong mayor” charter amendment has barely begun, and the scare tactics that always accompany government-reform efforts are well underway. We are being warned that cronyism and corruption will descend upon us if we dare let people vote directly for Cleveland Heights mayor. Rumors of ulterior motives and conspiracies—some even involving me—have already begun making the rounds.
This is as silly as it is unfortunate. Cleveland Heights can't be afraid of voters. We can't fear our future. And we don't have any reason to be scared.
So, let me state my position and put speculation about my motives to rest: I strongly support and fully endorse the proposed charter amendment. Also, when the amendment passes, I will NOT run for the position.
I am a 30-year resident of the Heights and a career government and nonprofit professional who specializes in economic development and finance. I was a Cleveland Heights City Council member and mayor under our current “weak mayor” form of government. I am Cleveland Heights’ current Cuyahoga County Council member. And EVERYTHING in my experience tells me that the strong-mayor amendment is right for Cleveland Heights.
Our municipal government in Cleveland Heights has many strengths and employs many talented, dedicated people with whom I’m proud to have worked. But it has a structural weakness when it comes to accountability and responsiveness.
In theory, if voters think Cleveland Heights is headed in the wrong direction, they can vote for new leadership. In practice, though, who are voters to hold accountable? City managers are insulated against being held accountable by residents by design. Their jobs require them only to keep the support of city council, not voters, and their tenures tend to outlast the council members who hire them. This arrangement may stabilize other cities against volatile political shifts, but volatility isn’t Cleveland Heights’ problem.
Council members, including weak mayors, cast votes. Strong mayors, on the other hand, have responsibilities and take action. They set priorities and build support for them. By combining administrative responsibility and political accountability, a strong mayor can engage and respond to residents and focus community attention in ways a city manager can’t.
Cleveland Heights needs robust and accountable leadership, a clear agenda for the future, and an engaged citizenry supporting it. We have the capacity to improve our city, and with the recognition of this capacity, we have an obligation to act.
A strong mayor will be a valuable asset for our city. I look forward to working with whomever ultimately fills the role to create a more vibrant and resilient future for Cleveland Heights.
Cheryl Stephens has lived on three continents (Asia, North American and Europe) and has chosen to make Cleveland Heights her home. Currently a Cuyahoga County Council member, she has worked for a variety of national and local nonprofits, as well as local government organizations, to help revitilize communties and help Americans live their dreams.