Vote No on Issue 26
The League of Women Voters forum on Issue 26 clarified my thinking on the topic. Here are some reasons that I will vote to retain the city manager form of government by voting no on Issue 26:
First of all, I am dismayed that this issue is on the ballot at all. What message does it send to residents when a recommendation by a wide majority of a committee is co-opted by a minority who disagree? Will this be the fate of the Recycling Task Force and future citizen task forces as well?
The Charter Review Commission met for 16 months. Because the city manager form of government was adopted almost 100 years ago, it was a great idea for a citizen committee to review this choice. The committee agreed that Cleveland Heights founders made a good decision that has withstood the test of time. Because the decision was made long ago does not alone make it a poor choice. (Please see the Bill of Rights, 1791.) Americans have a well-known tendency to gravitate towards change for the sake of change.
I like the idea that a city manager is a trained professional. From what I see, managing a city is a huge task with competing and overlapping jurisdictions (federal, state, county). A popularly elected mayor can be just that: popular, with no administrative experience and a concentration of power.
At the forum, proponents of an elected mayor said that our city is falling behind our neighbors who have elected mayors. This is simply not true. There are not vacancies on Coventry Road because of the lack of leadership but because we are shopping on the Internet. The Cedar Lee district is booming because the shops are filling up with restaurants, breweries, wineries and bakeries, anchored by a popular movie theater on one hand and a public library on the other. Not everything is under the control of city government. Global and national market forces overlay our community.
For example, Cleveland Heights is both hampered and blessed by the lack of a freeway. (Thank you, Freeway Fighters!) Because of this, economic development is more dependent upon increasing revenue by increasing population rather than big-box stores. City leaders, with plenty of input from residents, are pursuing this route. We have a unique, pedestrian-friendly, welcoming city of beautifully crafted houses and local bakeries just up the hill from the world’s finest cultural institutions. Who wouldn’t want to live here?
In my humble opinion, my fellow Cleveland Heights residents are an iconoclastic group of individuals who activate the city from the ground up. We function creatively in a structured way with our seven members of city council and a professional staff at City Hall.
I speak from the experience of bringing ideas to city government and working with both elected officials and staff to enact them. Let’s be clear about what city officials can do, and what residents can do. Residents, with city support, have created a plethora of community-building non-profits, such as Heights Arts, Reaching Heights, FutureHeights, Lake Erie Ink, and more. We influence our city from the ground up.
We are represented by the council members we elect. Any one of us can call any one of them. Seven people are our pipeline to the city. I believe in consensus government, not one individual who can veto majority decisions.
We do not need a strong mayor to lead us. Residents have always led the way.
Peggy Spaeth has been involved in community life for 48 years.