Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 7-7-22 online
JULY 7, 2022 - special and executive meetings
- Public comments
- Mayor’s comments
- Passed on first readings
- Classification change of safety chiefs
Present were Mayor Kahlil Seren, Council Vice President Craig Cobb and Council Members Tony Cuda, Gail Larson, Anthony Mattox, Jr., and Josie Moore, Council President Melody Joy Hart and Council Member Davida Russell were not present. Also present was Law Director William Hanna. The regular public meeting ran for 50 minutes following an executive session.
Several city employees spoke regarding legislation on the agenda that would change the civil service classification of the police and fire chiefs and assistant chiefs.
Three members of the fire department spoke claiming they learned of this legislation the afternoon before tonight’s meeting. The assistant fire chief retires at the end of July and has already been replaced from within the department. Fire Chief Dave Freeman will retire the end of September.
A battalion chief and a firefighter, who are in the leadership of Local 402, explained that, as classified employees, the chiefs and assistant chiefs can speak freely with the mayor or council about public safety issues and still be protected. This keeps politics out of public safety. Therefore, they do not favor alterations in civil service rules to make them employees at will. They also do not believe there are better candidates outside the department than are available inside the CHFD. There have been few public complaints about the fire department, indicating that residents are happy.
Fire Chief Freeman noted he has been chief for nearly ten years and rose to that position through the Cleveland Heights Fire Department.
Police Chief Christopher Britton (recently installed in this position from within the CHPD) noted that first responders are unique and dedicated and that it is important they be able to speak candidly about public safety. He claims that placing positions outside classified service can diminish dedication and motivation.
Judy Miles, president of the Cleveland Heights Civil Service Commission, detailed past discussions of this issue, noting that the commission wants to be open enough to draw in all good candidates. She said the fire department is vulnerable due to two leadership vacancies occurring at this time.
Mayor Khalil Seren made his case for changing the employment classification of police and fire chiefs and assistant chiefs, saying it would increase flexibility in recruiting and hiring qualified candidates. Because Fire Chief Freeman will retire in September, recruitment must begin quickly, and Mayor Seren believes that this change would enable recruitment from outside, as well as inside, the Cleveland Heights Fire Department. This change has been considered in the past, but never pursued, and the mayor acknowledged there is never a good time to make such a choice. He claimed this would not skew the process against internal applicants, as they generally have an implicit advantage, but will encourage robust competition.
Passed on first readings
Council approved a public services and improvements plan for the Cedar Fairmount Special Improvement District.
Council authorized the mayor’s application for grant funding under the State of Ohio Department of Development 2022 Brownfield Remediation Program to demolish the former Hillside Dairy/Former Police Annex. Ms. Larson commented that she was thrilled by this boon for the neighborhood.
Council authorized a lease agreement with WVZ CPV LLC for the Taylor-Tudor Buildings.
Council appointed Whitney Crook as clerk of council. Several members present praised Ms. Crook’s experience, abilities, and credentials. [Ms. Crook subsequently declined to take the position.]
Classification change of safety chiefs
Following the public comment, council members discussed the ordinance to remove the positions of Chief and Assistant Chief from the classified service of the city. The mayor explained his position (noted above). Mr. Cuda emphasized that council needs to discuss this at the August 1 committee of the whole. Ms. Moore said members need to educate themselves about civil service and the appropriateness of this request and that Ms. Hart and Ms. Russell should be present for the discussion. Ms. Larson added that council members have too little information and are not prepared to vote on this. Mr. Cobb said this is a big decision, requiring more time and education and all council members present.
[Note: This ordinance has since been pulled from consideration.]
LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.
Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found on the city website at: https://www.clevelandheights.com/1142/2021-Agendas-and-Minutes
Videos of council meetings can be viewed on the “City of Cleveland Heights, OH” YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ClevelandHeightsOH