An elected mayor provides essential pro-active leadership
I moved to Cleveland Heights 22 years ago with my wife and our two children because it embodied a vibrant, diverse community. Our city was a leader in the country for its diversity, beautiful, walkable neighborhoods, and vibrant business districts. Our children attended Coventry Elementary School, known as the “peace school” for the values it taught. Coventry Village was bustling and Severance Center was thriving. We were thrilled to be a part of a city on the rise.
Over the last decade, Cleveland Heights has fallen from its leadership role and is struggling to keep pace. The housing foreclosure crisis hit our entire region, but our home values have not recovered at the pace of many of our surrounding communities.
We are often compared to Lakewood, whose pre-recession median home values were similar to ours. By 2018, Lakewood had more than recovered from the downturn, with home sales at 122 percent of their prerecession value. Meanwhile, Cleveland Heights had only reached 70 percent of our pre-recession median home value. (Source: www.wrlandconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Cuyahoga-Housing-Trends-2019_7-30-19.pdf.) The Noble neighborhood is hardest hit.
My commitment to Cleveland Heights remains strong. In anticipation of Severance Town Center being sold because of foreclosure, a few residents who are well-regarded city planning and community development professionals designed a public forum on “Re-Imagining Severance.” We asked city staff to participate in the planning and execution of this event, but they declined, stating that they didn’t want to raise expectations.
With more than 150 in attendance at the forum, creative ideas surfaced to attract developers and increase economic development. Unfortunately, no one from the city administration attended. Soon thereafter, the Center was sold to an out-of-state owner known for buying such properties at rock-bottom prices and maintaining them with high vacancy rates and without the reinvestment needed to make them sustainable. This was a missed opportunity.
Cleveland Heights deserves better. We need leadership that is proactive in addressing our ongoing needs as our housing and population age. We should have a full-time leader with the vision to actively promote our city with developers and regional leaders. We need leadership that actively works to increase our housing values and build up our vacant storefronts.
We need accountability and transparency. An elected mayor is chosen by the voters and needs to maintain their trust or be voted out. For the first time, CH City Hall would have a full-time leader working on behalf of, and accountable to, its citizens. Maintaining strong fiscal practices will continue to be carried out by a city administrator—much like the role of our current city manager. The difference is that we will have an elected mayor who is the face of our city, who is active in the community, and who reports to all of us as citizens.
Creating a government with checks and balances provides the safeguards we need. Issue 26 creates a culture shift with a full-time leader who serves as our chief executive and a professional chief administrative officer who manages the day-to-day workings of the city. Council can strengthen its role as the legislative branch, as these seven part-time members will no longer need to serve the executive function, too. For the first time, we would have both an executive and a legislative branch elected by the people, like 55 of the 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County.
Vote Yes on Issue 26 to provide Cleveland Heights the leadership, accountability, and safeguards we need to move our city forward as a national model of diversity and vibrancy that attracts people near and far.
Mark Chupp is a member of Citizens for an Elected Mayor and teaches community development at Case Western Reserve University.