Council members call for CH City Charter review
On Aug. 15, Cleveland Heights City Council voted 4-3 in favor of amending our city charter to clarify council’s right to inquiry. However, we needed 5 votes for a charter amendment to appear on the ballot. Council members Davida Russell, Gail Larson, Josie Moore and myself voted yes; Council members Melody Joy Hart, Craig Cobb and Anthony Mattox Jr. voted no.
All council members agree that timely access to information is essential for council to make informed legislative decisions. No one wants this council to be a rubber stamp. But we don’t all agree on how to fix the problem.
Background: Cleveland Heights switched from a city manager form of government to an elected mayor form of government when residents overwhelmingly voted for Issue 26 in 2019. To do that, the voters had to approve a change to the city charter. Because the change was driven by a citizen initiative, state law (the single-subject rule) only allows one part of the charter to be changed. Subsequently, separation of powers, checks and balances, and a host of other charter issues were left to the new government. (East Providence, R.I., also switched from city manager to elected mayor. Its city council, however, was able to pass 27 amendments before the mayor took office.)
The council majority: The majority of council believes that, even though it is preferable to do a complete review of the charter (which will eventually happen), the issue of council getting timely information cannot wait. This is for several reasons:
- Timely information is essential for council to do its job (review, vote on, and create legislation).
- Six of the seven council members have expressed numerous concerns about the flow of information from this administration to council.
- Council needs to set the boundaries for future city councils to make sure there is a clear separation of powers that allows for the checks and balances necessary to assure our co-equal branches of government are fully empowered.
- The city law director has told us that the current language regarding council’s right to inquiry is unclear, and that our amendment helps to clarify the current ambiguities.
- Most cities in Cuyahoga County, including Lakewood, Beachwood, and University Heights, as well as our county council, have the same right to inquiry found in the charter amendment we are proposing.
- Council’s powers must come from the charter, not the other branch of government.
Next steps: Since all seven council members do agree about the need to empanel a Charter Review Commission (CRC) to update our charter to conform to our new form of government, let’s get started. Let's get to work on empaneling a CRC with all deliberate speed. And in that process, let’s make sure we create a strong, independent city council that serves as both a collaborative partner to the mayor, as well a strong, independent oversight body that is a check and balance on the administration.
Tony Cuda is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and a member of its city council. Three other council members, Davida Russell, Gail Larson, and Josie Moore, are in agreement with the opinion Cuda has stated here.