Whom should voters trust?
The campaign being waged in Cleveland Heights to discard our professional chief executive (city manager) in favor of a political mayor comes down to this: Trust us, it will be better. Why such a weak position? Because despite repeated challenges to make an evidence-based case, the proponents have never demonstrated that the daily circumstances of our residents would be safer, more prosperous, less taxed, or otherwise better under their replacement system. Hence there is only, "Trust Us."
Even if a position of this sort might ever work, it could only be when its proponents show worthiness of trust. Just the opposite has happened here. Here are two significant examples:
First, the proponents produced and circulated a glossy color mailer depicting the billboard in front of the CH Community Center, displaying the message “Vote YES! 26,” thus suggesting that the city had taken sides in favor of a change in the form of government. But no such message had ever been placed on the billboard. The pro-mayor group had Photoshopped the image to create false content. When confronted, a representative of the group initially disclaimed knowledge of the flyer, despite its official markings. Ultimately, when pressed later at a League of Women Voters (LWV) forum, the group’s representatives were forced to concede that the mailer (by then widely and irretrievably circulated throughout the city) was, in fact, theirs and that the photo manipulation was not an error but was deliberate. This phony promotional image is enough on its own to defeat any notion of “Trust Us.”
There is more. In the statement of support submitted to the LWV, the proponents asserted that a prior city manager had hidden two “major problems” from city council “for years”—a $5 million deficit in the water fund, and environmental compliance deficiencies in the sewer system. To be sure, Cleveland Heights, like most cities of its vintage and regardless of form of government, has an aged plumbing system with significant performance challenges. Here again, the proponents have offered not a whit of evidence that anything was hidden from council. The truth is that the water fund is an annual item. In years when it showed a deficit, the shortfall was covered (as required by law) by an advance from another fund and later repaid. As reflected in city records, nothing was done in secret. Here again, "Trust Us" is shown to be a hollow plea.
Instead, trust belongs with our city manager. Using the professional skill for which she was hired, she has led: (a) a restructuring of the city’s water program in a way that costs residents less for water than previously, with charges set to decline even more in 2022 once transition charges are phased out; and (b) a far-reaching agreement to address the well-known sewer issues.
This is the type of honest, responsive leadership we should want to keep at all costs: full-time devotion of our professional city manager and her full-time senior staff in charge of safety, finance, planning, economic development, public works, and the like. There is no sensible, fact-based reason for putting a politician in charge and every reason to avoid it—exemplified by a campaign that finds itself having to rely on a doctored photograph and accusations of a “hidden” water gap.
Jack Newman, a retired lawyer, is former chair of the Charter Review Commission, and co-chair of Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government, a political action committee formed to inform voters about the benefits of the council-manager form of government.