Yes, charter review matters, but not now
In our March 2022 Heights Observer column, we wrote:
“[A] charter review process initiated so early in our new government’s tenure would be a grievous misuse of time and effort. As a member of the most recent CRC [Charter Review Commission], convened from 2017 to 2019, one of us had the dubious honor of serving on a commission formed for the wrong reasons in the wrong way. We implore council: Let us not do that again.”
Our conclusion, in that same column:
“Cleveland Heights may want to consider ward representation and other important charter changes sometime in the future—but not now. Our government urgently needs to fill key positions at city hall, implement automated trash and recycling pickup, revamp housing and building programs, revive the Noble corridor, reinvent Severance Town Center, and focus on equity, safety and environmental sustainability. First things first.”
Automated trash and recycling collection has begun. Attainment of other goals will take longer, but substantial progress must be a priority for the city; nor is the above list exhaustive.
We are alarmed by recent calls for a CRC to resolve procedural strain between a neophyte council and an inexperienced mayor, as they struggle to bring into existence a form of government new to all of us.
To believe a charter review can help now is almost delusional. We believe current efforts by Council President Melody Hart, Council Vice President Craig Cobb and Mayor Kahlil Seren to craft a memorandum of understanding constitute the best approach.
The last CRC was created to delay, if not derail, nascent citizen interest in changing Cleveland Heights’ form of government. The process of selecting CRC members was complex, lengthy and secretive. In the end, [because] a majority of council members favored keeping the city manager and opposed ward representation, a majority of [CRC members] did, too. These machinations rendered illegitimate the process our [city] charter minimally describes thus:
“Council shall, at least once during each ten-year period, by ordinance or resolution, determine whether to appoint a Charter Review Commission to review the entire Charter.”
To appoint a new CRC without researching how other cities do this, and [without] considering multiple options, would be irresponsible.
For example, in at least 11 Ohio municipalities (and in many in other states), voters elect CRC members. This happens to be the case in South Euclid, whose charter requires a review every 10 years by an elected commission of nine. That city's charter also specifies, “The fact that a candidate holds an elective or appointive position in the City of South Euclid shall not disqualify him [sic] from seeking election to the Commission.” It further states, “Any proposed amendment of this Charter, agreed upon by a majority of any Charter Review Commission in pursuance of this article, shall be submitted to the electors, for their approval or rejection . . .”
There is way too much in South Euclid’s charter alone for us to unpack here. But for our new council to call for a CRC without the vaguest notion of how its members could or should be chosen, or what will be done with their recommendations, is uninformed, unhelpful and even arrogant.
The current Cleveland Heights charter is silent on these matters, so just addressing them to make the process legitimate will itself require a charter amendment. Has council even realized this?
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at email@example.com.