Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 7-29-2019
JULY 29, 2019
- Public comments
- City manager’s report
- Director of finance/clerk of council’s report
- First Amended Charter of the City of Cleveland Heights
- Initiative petition
- Marketing and branding
- Sidewalk and crossing improvements
- MOU with city manager
- 2020 tax budget
- Ohio Public Works Commission programs
- Mayor’s report
- Council members’ announcements
Council members present were Mayor Carol Roe, Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow, Craig Cobb, Mary Dunbar, Kahlil Seren, Jason Stein and Michael N. Ungar.
Prior to the regular meeting, there was a tax budget hearing conducted by City Manager Briley.
Mayor Roe announced at the outset that council intended to table indefinitely the First Amended Charter at this meeting. She established that citizens wishing to speak would be given a number by staff and that each would be limited to three minutes and notified when one minute remained and when time was up.
The meeting lasted from 7:38 to 9:50 p.m.
Ballot issues: Public commentary by 21 citizens took up the first hour of the meeting. Approximately a dozen spoke in favor of an elected mayor and their opinion that the citizen initiative should be the only issue on the November ballot. About six spoke in favor of maintaining the city manager/council form and their desire that the Charter Review Commission’s (CRC) amendments be placed before voters at the same time as the citizen initiative.
Many commenters who favor the initiative petition appreciated that the amended charter had been tabled and hoped for a fair, honest, and clear statement on the ballot. Others expressed concern that the CRC process was suspect and biased, that the majority of residents speaking at the CRC meetings had supported a change to the elected mayor reform, that the CRC ignored that input, and that council did not remember that they work for and represent the voters. They felt council had rushed to place the CRC version on the ballot and they were concerned about the Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government (which supports continuing the city manager/council form of government) because it is a political action committee (PAC) with some outside funding. They asserted that the Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) is a bipartisan, grassroots organization and noted how quickly they were able to collect more than the required number of petition signatures. In conclusion, a CEM member who worked toclarify the ballot language along with a member of CRC and Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government said that good people can disagree, and a yes or no vote on the single issue in November will establish direct election of a mayor or maintain the current manager/council system.
Those in favor of maintaining the current system described unfounded assumptions and false premises put forth by the proponents of the initiative petition. They expressed concern that politics will be more partisan with an elected mayor, that there is no reason to believe an elected mayor will be more responsive (council members are elected after all), and that consensus decision-making will be eliminated. Some talked about the long history of the current form and a 1982 CRC that made the decision to continue manager/council. They praised the work of the CRC and were distressed at the exclusion of its work from the November ballot.
Other Issues: A few other items were on citizens’ minds. One complimented the city on the quick and non-disruptive repaving of Cedar Hill. Another expressed concern for the safety of children walking to the Roxboro schools and pressed for a crossing guard at Fairmount, Scarborough, and Coventry. The growing cooperation of the council with the school board and the University Heights council received praise.
City manager’s report
City Manager Tanisha Briley reported that Fifth Third Bank has been designated as a depository of Cleveland Heights’ active deposits. She noted council will be on recess for August, but the city will not.
Director of finance/clerk of council’s report
Susanna Niermann-O’Neil notified council of an application for a liquor license transfer made by Pacific East Japanese Restaurant, 1761-63 Coventry Road.
First Amended Charter of the City of Cleveland Heights
By a unanimous vote, council tabled this resolution indefinitely, admitting that there were only four council member votes in favor and five are needed for passage.
Several members commented on this decision. Ms. Dunbar expressed disappointment that both choices would not be on the ballot, because the Charter Review Commission (CRC) considered all possible choices, adding that the city manager form is predominant around the country, if not in this region. Mr. Ungar was disappointed, but said this was the right decision in the interest of comity. Mr. Seren reflected on many capable mayors in the area, good public servants with energy and dedication. He thinks voters should have a chance to decide on this issue and that criticisms are of the system, not of individuals occupying positions.
Mr. Cobb stated that he was on the CRC, with no idea he would ever be a council member, and he voted to keep the current system. He will vote to do what is right, regardless of personal political consequences, and is committed to voters’ right to decide. Some people have alleged that he has been “bullied,” but he asserted he has only been strongly lobbied. He desires a clear choice with no confusion and will respect the outcome.
The resolution to place the initiative petition for the direct election of a mayor on the November ballot passed 7 to 0. An amended version introduced by Mr. Seren was defeated 5 to 2, with Mr. Stein and Mr. Seren voting yes. Mr. Seren said he had drafted this version to provide clearer and shorter language. Mayor Roe voted against the amendment claiming it was presented too late to consider.
Mr. Seren agrees with the placement of the elected mayor issue on the ballot at this time, and so voted for the resolution. Mr. Cobb noted that the language passed was acceptable and a vast improvement over previous versions. Vice Mayor Yasinow praised the good faith efforts of groups on both sides of this legislation to work out the language. Mr. Cobb noted that tonight’s decision was an example of democracy in action. Mr. Stein said that despite not getting the exact language they wanted, this decision is a victory for the Citizens for an Elected Mayor.
Mr. Ungar favors the current form of government but will respect the decision of the voters. He feels voters would be smart enough to handle both issues, and that the opportunity to make a side-by-side choice is now lost, but that voters will decide and everyone will move past this moment. He stated that the CRC’s only filter was to consider what was in the best interests of the city and denied that there was any intent to sow confusion or any nefarious intent.
Ms. Yasinow is a believer in and proponent of the current form, but she voted for the language of this issue as an act of compromise. She feels the city manager is qualified, nonpartisan, apolitical, and accountable to the diverse council. She supports Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government.
Marketing and branding
A two-year contract for marketing and branding consulting services with Big Parka Productions, Inc., doing business as Little Jacket, was approved unanimously.
Sidewalk and crossing improvements
Council authorized the Ohio Department of Transportation (“ODOT”) to complete a project improving sidewalks and pedestrian crossing facilities at five locations near schools.
MOU with city manager
A restated memorandum of understanding (MOU) with City Manager Briley passed with Mr. Stein voted against. He said the new memorandum seems to encourage the city manager to leave more quickly in a transition.
2020 tax budget
The 2020 Tax Budget was adopted unanimously on second reading; it is available for inspection by the general public at the office of the Director of Finance.
Ohio Public Works Commission programs
Council authorized the city manager to apply for participation in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement and Local Transportation Improvement Programs for assistance with the rehabilitation of Coventry Road.
Mayor Roe expressed her appreciation for the Law Department’s and the entire legal team’s work on the many versions of tonight’s resolutions. She commented on the agreement with the city manager, recognizing it is a stressful time for all staff, not only the city manager’s office, and commending the city manager for helping hold everything together.
Council members announcements
Ms. Dunbar announced she has delivered her signed petitions to be on the November ballot for reelection to city council.
The alternate member of the Board of Zoning Appeals was promoted to a vacant position on the BZA.
The next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, at 7:30 p.m.
LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.