Opinion

East Cleveland, mayors and the rest of the story

The opposition to an elected mayor in Cleveland Heights, in their continued fear-mongering, negative campaign, raise the specter of East Cleveland as a reason to vote against Issue 26. They cite the fact that East Cleveland was once a city run by council-manager form of government, that switched to an elected mayor-council form of government in 1986, and then . . . well, you know, East Cleveland fell apart.

However, their narrative leaves out significant context and facts; facts and context which lead to the conclusion that if any lesson is to be learned from East Cleveland it’s that remaining with the status quo and ignoring issues is far riskier than taking bold, transformative action.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:10 AM, 10.22.2019

Vote No on Issue 26

The League of Women Voters forum on Issue 26 clarified my thinking on the topic. Here are some reasons that I will vote to retain the city manager form of government by voting no on Issue 26:

First of all, I am dismayed that this issue is on the ballot at all. What message does it send to residents when a recommendation by a wide majority of a committee is co-opted by a minority who disagree? Will this be the fate of the Recycling Task Force and future citizen task forces as well?

The Charter Review Commission met for 16 months. Because the city manager form of government was adopted almost 100 years ago, it was a great idea for a citizen committee to review this choice.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:05 AM, 10.22.2019

CH City Council candidate Russell outlines her experience and priorities

My name is Davida Russell and I am asking for your vote on Tuesday, Nov. 5, for Cleveland Heights City Council. I have lived in Cleveland Heights for 37 years and this is where my family and I call home.

As a lifelong Democrat and labor leader at the national, state and local level, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of working men and women around this state, many of whom reside in Cleveland Heights. Now it is time that I bring my energy home. If elected, my top priorities as your next CH City Council representative will be to focus on:

  • Increasing the safety of our community
  • Attracting residential and business investment
  • Securing economic development opportunities
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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 9:05 AM, 10.21.2019

Elected mayor proposal lacks critical element

Elected mayor proponents want you to believe that a mayor with all administrative power in our city is the fix we need for what they claim is a “vacuum of administrative responsiveness.” Yet their proposal omits a critical element of good government that protects citizens from the Achilles heel that so often hinders the responsiveness and effectiveness of mayor-led governments.

Their proposal doesn’t forbid the mayor from appointing relatives or any individuals who contributed financially to the mayor’s election. It also fails to prohibit the mayor from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions from employees of the city, before, during, or after the campaign.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:17 AM, 10.03.2019

Where I disagree with Cheryl Stephens

Cheryl Stephens supports a “strong mayor” charter amendment on the November ballot. I am a good friend and big fan of Cheryl. She has been—and continues to be—an exceptional public servant. We each have served Cleveland Heights as mayors. We agree about much, but I disagree with some points she has made:

“Cleveland Heights can’t be afraid of voters.” I agree. But strong mayors too frequently are elected because of name recognition and political affiliation rather than their ability to govern effectively. City managers, on the other hand, are selected in a non-partisan manner based on merit, professional qualifications and experience. Voters elect to city council those who hire, retain or fire city managers. Nothing about such a system reflects a fear of voters.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.03.2019

Vote No to changing CH's form of government

I want to urge people to vote No on the issue of changing the Cleveland Heights system, [in which] the voted-in city council choose a qualified city manager to run the government, to that of a “strong mayor” who appoints his/her people to run the government.

I worked for the Cleveland Heights Division of Parks and Recreation for 33 years, and was head of the division for the final 17. During my tenure I was selected following an interview process, always worked hard, and had the best interests of our city at the forefront at all times. I was always supported by a qualified city manager and a strong, elected city council, and I always felt that they allowed me to promote our great city, and improve and build our second-to-none programs and facilities.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 10:37 AM, 10.03.2019

In support of an elected mayor

When the city manager form of government emerged in the Progressive reform era, it often did serve as a good government response to political corruption and incompetence. I believe that it no longer serves as the best governance model for the city of Cleveland Heights. Our city has been challenged on many fronts as it has had to compete not only with exurbs in the region but also with some of Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs (e.g., Lakewood).

To compete successfully—to retain present, and attract new, residents and businesses in the face of factors such as population decline, more aging residents, a housing stock that has problems, and reliance upon a mostly residential tax base—the city needs to take more aggressive and innovative action. The city manager system does not readily lend itself to this.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:45 PM, 10.02.2019

Where is the evidence that a strong-mayor system would be better for CH?

In the nearly two years since a group promoting a strong mayor emerged, its members have poured out thousands of words. But they still have not demonstrated (as opposed to merely claimed) that the daily lives of Cleveland Heights residents would have been, or will be in the future, safer, more prosperous, or otherwise better if only the city were run by a political executive and appointed underlings. This failure is not surprising. There is no meaningful foundation for any such conclusion. The evidence points strongly in the other direction.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:43 PM, 10.02.2019

Fostering a resilient city doesn't demand change in form of government

Citizens for an Elected Mayor’s (CEM) advocacy for changing the form of Cleveland Heights government from council/city manager to strong mayor relies on three propositions: 

1) Our city is in severe decline.
2) The approach of our current city government to our problems is ineffectual.
3) We cannot solve those problems unless we change the structure of city government.

I think there is ample evidence to refute each of those propositions. Here’s just a sample:

• In 2018 violent crime decreased by 28 percent, and burglaries and breaking and entering by 50 percent from the previous year.
• Median home-sale prices increased by 37 percent from 2014 to 2019. 
• In 2017 and 2018, 95 new businesses opened in our city, nearly one each week. 
• Even at CEM meetings, participants praised our police, fire, public works departments, parks, and senior center.

Certainly we have serious problems, as do many inner-ring suburbs. But these are not data that portray a city in severe decline. 

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:41 PM, 10.02.2019

Elected mayor is a step toward more-real democracy

People the world over are increasingly demanding a greater voice in the decisions directly affecting their lives, communities, nations and natural world.

Many/most government, corporate, media, educational and religious “leaders” are increasingly publicly perceived as unaccountable, not transparent, captured by special interests, corrupt and disconnected from the problems affecting people in their everyday lives. Rather than exploring real alternatives to our fundamental problems, our “leaders” seem visionless.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:40 PM, 10.02.2019

Don’t follow In East Cleveland’s footsteps: Vote no on Issue 26

Cleveland Heights should take a lesson from East Cleveland and vote “NO” on Issue 26 to stop the politicization and destabilization of our city. I’ve seen this show before and it isn’t pretty.

I was raised in East Cleveland, and I was part of the second black family on my street. I remember the days when we had ice skating rinks on Shaw Avenue, dances at the YMCA, and three outdoor swimming pools with tennis courts. I graduated from Shaw High School in 1974, and I gave back by teaching at Kirk Middle School in East Cleveland. My children were born in East Cleveland. I loved East Cleveland, and I still do.

But in 1987 we left it.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:29 PM, 10.02.2019

A park at Meadowbrook-Lee?

Cleveland Heights residents may be interested to know that Ralph Solonitz, Garry Kanter and I submitted a plan for turning the city-owned space at Meadowbrook-Lee into a small urban park. Over the years we have submitted three similar proposals in response to CH City Hall’s RFPs for that space.

Our proposal is that the city work with us, and a committee of like-minded residents, for two years to raise $1 million to pay for the design and creation of an interesting urban space, with a fountain kids and people can interact with, a small stage, and an open space for food trucks and a farmers’ market, etc.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:12 AM, 10.01.2019

Issue 26 seen as a recall vote

Though it hasn’t been presented as such, the November ballot Issue 26, regarding the future of city government in Cleveland Heights, is a recall vote on the performance of City Manager Tanisha Briley. If the proposed switch to a mayor-council form of government is approved by voters, the deposed city manager would be expected to continue in her role until the mayor arrives in January 2022. Of course, Briley could not be required to stay on as a lame-duck city manager.

If citizens are unhappy with Briley’s performance as city manager, they should address that, rather than propose a structural change in the city’s form of government—a change that will be time-consuming, expensive, and completely unproven in terms of how well it would work.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:27 AM, 10.01.2019

New resident advocates for leadership, not management

As a relatively new Cleveland Heights resident, I write in support of an elected mayor. My fiancee and I moved to Cleveland Heights in January 2018 after living downtown. Over the past two years, we have fallen in love with this city and its people. It certainly helps that restaurants, coffee shops, a gym, and a movie theater are all within walking distance of our house, but what resonates with us the most are the people and our community—neighbors lending a hand to clear a fallen tree; running up and down streets seeing block party after block party; and seeing standing-room-only city council meetings. At an initial meeting regarding an elected mayor, I met people from all over the city with different opinions about its successes, management, and future.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:31 AM, 10.01.2019

Claims that the CRC was biased are unfounded

I am often asked why the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) voted overwhelmingly against changing to a strong mayor. The answer is simple: We determined it was not in the best interest of Cleveland Heights residents.

Claims that the commission was biased are unfounded. The council was split 4-3 in favor of keeping the council-manager system. Each of the seven council  members appointed one CRC member who, one can assume, supported their point-of-view. I was appointed by Council Member (now Mayor) Carol Roe. Though we both opposed a strong mayor, we disagreed on other issues, including my initial preference for ward representation.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:35 AM, 10.01.2019

Study says mayor-council government more likely to have corruption convictions

A new study, published online in April 2019, concludes cities with the council-manager form of government, like Cleveland Heights, are 57 percent less likely to have corruption convictions than cities using the mayor-council form of government. CH will vote on Issue 26 on Nov. 5 to decide whether to switch to the mayor-council system in 2021.

The study was done by two professors in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, Kimberly Nelson and Whitney Afonso, and was published in the latest edition of Public Administration Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal (https://tinyurl.com/mayorcorruption). They looked at 2,759 U.S. cities with populations of at least 10,000.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:38 AM, 10.01.2019

The case for an elected mayor

Cleveland Heights needs leadership that is directly accountable to the voters.  That means an elected mayor. We don’t have that now. City council appoints a part-time mayor with no executive authority. The vast majority of voters we have spoken with do not think the current system is working and believe a full-time elected mayor will be more responsive to the needs of our community. 

That is why Issue 26 is on the ballot. Not because a 10-member committee calling itself Citizens for an Elected Mayor thinks so. It is because 4,000 voters signed a petition saying they want to be able to vote for mayor.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:40 AM, 10.01.2019

Hart describes her experience and motivation in running for CH City Council

Let me introduce myself. I am Melody Joy Hart and I am running for Cleveland Heights City Council. I am running because I am concerned about the future of my city and, particularly, its housing stock and tax base. I believe that we are all neighbors in this city and we need to work together to make every neighborhood strong, vibrant, safe and stable.

I have been attending council meetings for over 3.5 years.

I am a member of the Greater Cleveland Congregation’s (GCC) Cleveland Heights Housing Committee. That committee was concerned that the Noble neighborhood was hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, and that the city was not paying enough attention to the beautiful housing stock in Noble.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:21 PM, 09.16.2019

In support of a directly elected mayor

Cleveland Heights' current system of government is an inefficient, outdated structure that is ill-equipped to meet the needs of a dynamic, growing city. The title of mayor in Cleveland Heights is simply an honorific, and the executive with actual power—the city manager—is an appointed role, not an elected one. This bureaucratic obfuscation is unnecessary, and only serves to dilute accountability.

The solution is a directly elected, full-time mayor. This mayor would be accountable directly to the public, and able to devote all of his or her energies into making our city a great(er) place [in which] to live and work.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:32 PM, 09.03.2019

We need an elected mayor, here and now

Cleveland Heights is having a healthy and long-overdue discussion about our form of government. This is a good thing: it has been 98 years since there has been any similar discussion.

Self-government is not easy. History has made this crystal clear, from our original Constitutional Congress to today’s news stories.

There are many examples of local governments that work well. There is also no shortage of examples where local governments have failed in their responsibilities. These examples include commission, council/manager and mayor/council forms of government.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:35 PM, 09.03.2019

Change to elected mayor is an unwarranted proposal

Here in Cleveland Heights there is a political scrum shaping up over the city’s type of government. “Citizens for an elected mayor” want to replace the city’s council-manager form of government with an elected full-time mayor to administer the city.

The council-manager plan of city government arose during the progressive era in American history, at a time when municipal corruption was rampant. Lincoln Steffens documented the nation’s civic sins in “The Shame of the Cities,” which appeared as a series of articles in McClure’s Magazine in 1904. 
  
Reformers sought a way to clean up the corruption that was led by big city mayors. They decided to replace the corrupt mayor-council governments with council-managers.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:29 PM, 09.03.2019

An elected mayor would empower citizens and bring opportunity

As a high school history teacher, I teach my students to find parallels between the world around them and the world in which we live. Brent Larkin, in his Aug. 1 Plain Dealer column, wrote something that resonated with me, as we approach the November ballot, where CH voters will be asked to decide if they’d like to directly elect a mayor: “Perhaps more than ever before, Cleveland needs leadership that can articulate and inspire a vision of what needs to be done. It needs a mayor who can explain in detail how government will partner with corporate and civic leaders to make it happen.”

Cleveland Heights also deserves leadership that can articulate and inspire a vision. To get there, we need to start by empowering voters with this one simple choice: Do you want to elect your mayor?

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:24 PM, 09.03.2019

With elected mayor, partisan politics would be the norm

Proponents of a new form of Cleveland Heights government offer several arguments. None justifies drastic change they advocate.

Argument One:  A full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator. We already have talented city managers who are full-time professionals. Proponents of change insist that an elected mayor who also is a “chief executive” can focus on “the community, neighborhoods, residents, businesses, and our position in the region.” But such focus already exists. It comes from our city council with its proven record of working in cooperation with city managers and in-house professional staff to create and implement new strategic plans. The Top Of The Hill project is one good example and the project to redevelop the Noble Road commercial corridor is another.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:27 PM, 09.16.2019

Elected-mayor issue is really about discontent with status quo

First off, I want to say there are bright and conscientious people making some good arguments for why the city-manager system is right for our city.

Second, I'm not a political science expert, but I've researched this topic, and it is clear that successful and unsuccessful cities exist with a variety of structures.

Third, I want to say that the people arguing for preserving the system are utterly missing the bigger picture.

If people were largely content, there is no way a handful of part-time volunteers would have been able to get this far.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:16 PM, 09.02.2019

City managers are not immune to corruption

The August Heights Observer contained a series of opinions written by former members of the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission and members of the Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government PAC. They had headlines containing words like “risk,” “conflict,” “cronyism” and “politics.” The authors went heavy on the scare tactics, regaling readers with examples of directly elected mayors acting badly. They claim the only way to prevent scary outcomes and bad behavior is to rely on city managers and “professionalism.”

The problem with such a contention is that professionalism does not guarantee the absence of corruption, or cronyism, or conflict, or even politics. We all have read about corrupt professionals—doctors who scam Medicaid, business persons who skirt regulations, attorneys who embezzle client funds—professions of all sorts are at risk of having corrupt professionals in their ranks.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 2:15 PM, 09.02.2019

What about ethics?

A strong-mayor system of government in Cleveland Heights would concentrate power in a single politically elected ruler. The proposal on this November’s ballot to do that lacks a modern ethics provision putting boundaries on how this power can be exercised.

Currently, city council is the sole legislative authority, with substantial say over the structure and powers of the city’s administrative units. Executive authority is in the hands of a professional city manager educated for the task—an at-will city employee who is hired, monitored and, when called for, removed by council. This distribution of governing authority is completely upended by the strong-mayor initiative.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:45 PM, 09.02.2019

'Soul-crushing mediocrity' makes case for change

After reading opinions in the Heights Observer in defense of a city-manager system, I am confused. We need to maintain the status quo because the residents of Cleveland Heights are easily persuaded sheep apt to fall under a Tammany Hall style of corruption, which will lead us on a path of ruin? But these same voters are smart enough to elect a council that is a paragon of pure virtue?

I’ve been very much on the fence in regard to altering our form of government, not because I think it is hitting on all cylinders, addressing major challenges with a council and city manager who have a bold, comprehensive and viable vision for the future—they don’t. My reticence has been due to my concern regarding who might be waiting in the wings to run for mayor.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:33 PM, 09.02.2019

CH Citizens for Good Government supports CRC's conclusions

Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government (CHCGG) is a political action committee (PAC) created by former members of the Charter Review Commission (CRC). I co-chair this group with Jack Newman, former CRC chair, and Lee Chilcote, former CH City Council member.

We provide continuing support for the conclusions of the CRC—a group of 15 CH residents who worked for 16 months to make recommendations to improve our government. We are committed to the citizens of Cleveland Heights, to clarify what is at stake on Election Day this November.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:30 PM, 09.02.2019

Separating fact from fiction in the elected-mayor issue

Incorrect assumptions, false accusations and—dare I say it?—“alternative facts” populate political discourse. Let’s consider the facts and clear up misinformation about Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) and the charter initiative on the November ballot in Cleveland Heights:

The mayor is full time. The initiative says the mayor “shall serve the city on a full-time basis” and allows for “limited outside employment” provided such “does not conflict or interfere with carrying out the duties assigned by this charter or general law.” The clause, similar to Lakewood’s charter, provides a limitation on outside employment since none exists in the current charter. Typically, when an item is not addressed, it is permitted. The clause protects against unchecked outside employment.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:22 PM, 09.02.2019

Get all the facts before you decide

As the Committee for an Elected Mayor (CEM) steps up its campaign for passage of its charter initiative, I urge everyone to look closely at what [supporters] have written and what they are saying. I have attended CEM public meetings and have read the complete text of the proposed charter amendment on CEM’s website. To put it in the kindest way possible, I have found many inconsistencies.

During public meetings, members of CEM claimed that Cleveland Heights needs a full-time, directly elected mayor to be fully focused on the needs of the city. But CEM’s proposal specifically permits outside employment for the mayor. CEM members also said the mayor should be at city hall full time to be available to respond immediately to resident requests, and also spend 80 percent of his/her time on economic development.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:30 PM, 09.02.2019

It's time for an elected mayor to lead CH

I was honored to be appointed to the CH Charter Review Commission (CRC) in 2017, and elected vice chair of that body a number of months later. Despite being distraught at what I had characterized as a lack of vision and leadership in the city,  I saw the CRC as an opportunity to learn more about the structure of our city’s government and determine for myself, based on the evidence presented, whether the lack of leadership in the city was a structural or personnel issue.

I was frustrated with the lack of attention to core infrastructure issues, such as water and sewer. Both issues got “cleaned up” only when it finally got so bad it was a crisis.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:16 PM, 09.02.2019

Elected mayor would be a slippery slope

A former African-American Cleveland Heights council member for eight years, and now pastor of StartRightChurch for 13 years, I have stayed away from politics for almost 15 years. I enjoy the ministry that we do in the Caledonia neighborhood.

However, I feel the need to give my thoughts on the upcoming ballot initiative.

I believe that changing our form of government to an elected mayor would be a big mistake and not serve our community well. That type of change, if successful, would take us down a slippery slope and eventually lead to another ballot initiative asking that our city council be changed to an elected ward system. This would also be a big mistake.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:58 PM, 09.02.2019

Support for elected-mayor charter initiative

I’m supporting the Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) charter initiative because it is a citizen-led initiative powered by passion, leadership and vision from people right here in Cleveland Heights. 

We’ve recently learned that the PAC formed to oppose this measure, Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government, is being funded with up to $25,000 from a D.C.-based lobbying firm that fights to retain city-manager forms of government all over the world. They’re hiring Burges and Burges, well-known political strategists, to come to Cleveland Heights and craft a compelling message to convince voters not to change our current form of government.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:01 PM, 09.02.2019

To protect abortion rights, we need to say 'abortion'

I’ve recently been criticized for using the word abortion too much because it makes people uncomfortable. 

Well, you know what makes me uncomfortable? Abortion bans. Abortion stigma. People who have never been in my shoes, who don’t know what’s in my heart, ridiculing me, judging me, and calling me tunnel-visioned or clueless because I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to fighting for abortion access. 

I’m a small business owner in Cleveland Heights. I’m civically active. I’m a parent of a young child who will grow up in the Cleveland Heights–University Heights school system.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:11 PM, 09.02.2019

CH needs strong responsive leadership

The campaign over the “strong mayor” charter amendment has barely begun, and the scare tactics that always accompany government-reform efforts are well underway. We are being warned that cronyism and corruption will descend upon us if we dare let people vote directly for Cleveland Heights mayor. Rumors of ulterior motives and conspiracies—some even involving me—have already begun making the rounds.

This is as silly as it is unfortunate. Cleveland Heights can't be afraid of voters. We can't fear our future. And we don't have any reason to be scared.

So, let me state my position and put speculation about my motives to rest: I strongly support and fully endorse the proposed charter amendment. Also, when the amendment passes, I will NOT run for the position.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 11:35 AM, 08.19.2019

Heights Observer local candidate policy

With the November election approaching, the Heights Observer is publishing its policy for contributions by candidates for local office.

As a community newspaper committed to equal access for everyone, the Observer is unique among publications in providing opportunity for any member of the Cleveland Heights and University Heights communities to raise and discuss issues of local interest.

At election time, however, this commitment creates a challenge in managing the finite space that is available for community members who are running for public office.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 7:48 AM, 08.27.2019

Strong-mayor systems risk conflict and cronyism

Why uproot Cleveland Heights’ long-standing collaborative, professional government in favor of creating a one-person, political power center to face off with city council?

Proponents [of change] claim we need “checks and balances”—as if our seven separately elected citizen council members need to be “checked” or “balanced” by some other elected person who wields veto power and appoints (and removes) all city administrative personnel, including the very highest officials. As we see all around us, it is often a prescription for conflict, waste, and civic paralysis. A few nearby examples demonstrate the point.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 1:02 PM, 08.01.2019

Politics and the proposed change in CH government

Proponents of getting rid of the manager-council system of government in Cleveland Heights want a full-time elected mayor who will appoint a full-time professional city administrator. They believe this will result in a partnership between an administration focused on efficiency and an elected official focused on the big picture. But they ignore how poorly this system necessarily would work in practice because of politics.

The proponents want one supervising administrative official, hired by a mayor, to organize daily activities of government. At first, this sounds like not much of a change from the professionalism of the present manager-council system. But a city manager (CM) works for an entire city council. No one council member can fire a CM. The proposed new system instead would substitute a city administrator (CA) working only for one person. This CA would be a mere instrumentality of the mayor’s sole exercise of power. A CM will have the true formal education, training and experience of a public administrator. A CA, as a purely political hire, might not have any of that. What is proposed therefore would be very different from what we have now. City government would become more political and less professional.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 1:01 PM, 08.01.2019

TOH drawings lack details and warn of quality issues

The Flaherty & Collins (F&C) Top of the Hill (TOH) drawings (dated 6/21/19) available for citizen scrutiny at Cleveland Heights libraries are schematic design drawings, not construction documents.

What is missing is a construction document called “outline specifications” (outline specs), which will call out the quality of the major building materials in the project.

In order to make a value judgment on what's being proposed, the CH Architectural Board of Review (ABR) must insist that the architects provide outline specs along with their schematic drawings.

Construction documents are what everyone else is required to provide for the ABR.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:07 AM, 08.01.2019

Four problems CH voters should think about

Cleveland Heights voters will soon decide whether to replace our council-manager form of government with a mayor-council model.

If voters approve changing to an elected mayor this fall, the city’s first directly elected mayor would not take office until January 2022. During a time when Cleveland Heights is facing accelerating competition from its neighbors, and other daunting challenges, a caretaker government would run the city for more than two years. That’s a problem.

Our lack of a mayor-council government isn’t a problem, but the pervasive lack of understanding of our current council-manager government is, especially when the presence of an informed and involved citizenry is a hallmark of our city’s narrative.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:09 AM, 08.01.2019

Change or status quo?

Thanks to a loose coalition of nearly 4,000 Cleveland Heights voters who signed petitions this spring, all CH voters will be entitled to vote on whether to add an executive mayor to city government. An effort of this scale done in just a few weeks is itself an encouraging show of the vitality that characterizes the community.

Cleveland Heights provides residency for people of many different walks of life and heritages. It has highly regarded public facilities—think of the library system, exceptional public safety and emergency services, great parks and multiple recreation venues, and the arts. Its demographic profile reveals a rich mix of races, religions, cultures and levels of wealth. 

These valued features are all results of change, and the community’s sustainability depends on adapting to more change. 

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:12 AM, 08.01.2019

Powerful-mayor model carries risks

I lived in Cleveland Heights from 2006 to 2014. Moving here from a small town in the Pacific Northwest, I could not believe my good fortune in winding up in a community where there were more progressive, ethical leaders running for city council than open seats.

Cleveland Heights has a long history of engaged citizens and robust nonprofit organizations fighting for open housing, nondiscriminatory practices and preservation of the community’s unique character.

So there seems something off to me in the characterization of Cleveland Heights as a town in dire need of an immediate change in government structure.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:17 AM, 08.01.2019

Strong-mayor advocates omit details

In letters for a proposed ballot issue for a directly elected mayor, Citizens For an Elected Mayor (strong-mayor advocates) leave out important details about changes to our current form of government in Cleveland Heights.

In our current form we pay each of our democratically elected, part-time council persons a whopping $9,270 per year. Our council president earns an additional $2,570 per year to be a public face of council and to herd council members toward consensus, just like the speaker of the house for the Ohio House and the U.S. House of Representatives.

For the privilege of being council president, democratically elected by members of council, the city charter allows that person to be called the mayor. The mayor has a single vote on council, just like the other council members. We already democratically elect our ceremonial mayor.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:23 AM, 08.01.2019

CH and the strong-mayor dilemma

The room where it happens; The art of the compromise; Hold your nose and close your eyes; We want our leaders to save the day; But we don't get a say in what they trade away; We dream of a brand new start; But we dream in the dark for the most part.

—”The Room Where It Happens,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

On June 11, Cleveland.com reported that Citizens For An Elected Mayor (CEM), which seeks to transform the governmental structure in Cleveland Heights to a strong-mayor model, met the signature quota required to place its initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot (“Citizens For Elected Mayor exceeds petition goal for possible November ballot initiative in Cleveland Heights”). This initiative will counter the city’s proposal to retain a city-manager model. If the move to a strong mayor passes, an entirely new organizational structure for city government will have to be created. It’s a resource-heavy undertaking that deserves discerned deliberation.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:27 AM, 08.01.2019

CH development projects should await November vote

Cleveland Heights is a community defined by its citizens' engagement and leadership. This is especially true in times of transition and even crisis. The citizens of Cleveland Heights look to the future and will, when needed, challenge conventional wisdom by speaking truth to power through words and action.

  • In the 1960s, members from Cleveland Heights’ churches and temples organized and led efforts to stop “block busting” real estate sales in Cleveland Heights. The subsequent work of the Heights Community Congress beginning in 1972 became a model for community stabilization and restoration.
  • Also in the 1960s, “the ladies in tennis shoes” from Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Cleveland led the effort to stop the planned Clark, Lee and Heights freeways, which would have run through the heart of the North Park Shaker Lakes area, and the Cedar Lee, Coventry and Mayfield Lee neighborhoods.
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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:32 AM, 08.01.2019

City's original goals for TOH have been lost

What's refreshing about ascending Cedar Glen is that you're entering a new realm—a realm of greenery.

The city of Cleveland Heights and its Top of the Hill (TOH) developer have chosen to monetize the TOH land to the max by placing a confrontational wall-like structure at the city's most valuable and prominent property—a site which should be welcoming, not in-your-face.  

City council members, in desperation to get TOH done on their watch, somehow lost control of the design process and its original development goals. Goals included in April 2018, but now gone (or nearly so), were:

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:27 PM, 06.27.2019

Great? TOH design isn't even good

CH officials have repeatedly said that citizen input into the Top of the Hill (TOH) design is a matter of personal opinions and not worthy of serious consideration. They say design decisions should be left to credentialed architects and city planners who understand principles of good design. At the suggestion of a city official, I’ve read some key city planning texts. I found not only that the principles are easy to understand, but that the current TOH design violates at least four major principles of good design.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:24 PM, 06.27.2019

History proves council-manager plan works well

A proposal to change the Cleveland Heights form of government would reject the past. Before supporting such a drastic change, please consider the history of Frank Cain.

Cain came to Cleveland Heights when it still was a village. He was elected to village council in 1909, and became mayor in 1914. When Cleveland Heights became a city in 1921, Cain headed a charter commission that defined a new council-manager plan, still in use. Elected as first mayor under this new plan, Cain headed a slate of council members that went undefeated for 18 elections. He retired from city government in 1946.  The city had a population of 3,000 when he began service, and 60,000 when Cain retired from city government in 1946.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 11:56 AM, 06.27.2019

How long a shadow does a 50-foot dump pile cast?

Between 2014 and 2017, Arco Recycling in East Cleveland—on Noble Road, just minutes from the north side of Cleveland Heights—operated a dump that Diane Bickett, director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District (CCSWD), described as “a sham facility that was going to take in material, claim to be recycling it, make money off of having the material dumped there, and pocket the money and then abandon the site,” in an article by Nick Castele (www.ideastream.org/news/how-publicly-funded-demolitions-fed-an-east-cleveland-dump). Full of noxious waste, including carcinogenic drywall, the Arco site filled a space the equivalent of five football fields, in a residential area.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 11:54 AM, 06.27.2019

CH needs an elected mayor

Energy and excitement for a charter amendment enabling CH citizens to elect our mayor are building, buoyed by a wildly successful campaign to gather signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Why? Cleveland Heights residents are not satisfied with the status quo or the city’s direction. They want a more dynamic, responsive and accountable government. They want a better future. The proposed amendment addresses these needs in several ways, outlined below.

The full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator: The mayor will appoint the administrator on the basis of executive and administrative training and experience, subject to council’s confirmation.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:27 PM, 06.24.2019

Directly elected mayor would not be more accountable

Should we abandon our long-standing system of democratically shared power in Cleveland Heights? The group favoring centralized executive authority (including power of veto and political appointment) in a single directly elected mayor believes this will make our political leadership in Cleveland Heights more democratically accountable to voters. Let’s examine this contention.

A strong mayor would face election only once every four years. In Cleveland Heights, where political affiliation overwhelmingly favors a single party, a strong mayor would likely be from, and supported by, that party. It would be very difficult for any challenger to replace an incumbent, even if the office holder turned out to be less skilled, less effective, or less ethical than voters had originally believed.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:05 PM, 06.24.2019

CH residents should support our council-manager governance structure

The Heights Observer has published news articles and opinion pieces regarding Citizens for an Elected Mayor, a local group that advocates abandoning Cleveland Heights’ existing council-manager structure in favor of a “strong mayor-council” form of government. This position is inconsistent with the recommendation of the Charter Review Commission (CRC), which voted 10-2-1 (1 abstention) against adding a strong mayor, and 11-2 to retain our council-manager structure.

The CRC was tasked by Cleveland Heights City Council to answer the question: “What is in the best interest of the residents of Cleveland Heights?”

The CRC undertook an extensive 16-month study of our charter and best governance practices for Cleveland Heights, as we look toward our future.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 9:20 AM, 06.03.2019

A city manager form of government works well

A pending proposal seeks to change the Cleveland Heights city manager form of government to a strong mayor form, via a charter amendment proposed for the November 2019 ballot. Before any rush to judgment, we all should consider what our present form of government is.

The city manager system adopted in 1921 was a “good government” reform to put less emphasis on political decision-making. Our municipal corporation operates like a traditional corporation. Voters are “stockholders.” They elect a city council as a “board of directors.” Council members are elected at large, not by wards. This board elects one member as its presiding officer with the title of Mayor. It hires a city manager as the “chief executive officer.” Managers are chosen based upon qualifications and experience. Cleveland Heights has prospered with this system for almost 100 years.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 9:03 AM, 06.03.2019

Forest Hill Swim Club—My summer home

Most times when you hear people talk about spending the summer in Cleveland Heights, you hear the same remarks: “There’s nothing to do,” and, “When I’m older, I’m moving somewhere less boring.” Despite these common claims, I have never felt this way about my summer days here. This is because whenever I feel like I’m on the verge of being “bored,” I have a convenient place where I can go to change that. A place where I can spend my summer days and nights with my friends and family. A place where I can cool off, relax, and enjoy my dad’s famous grilled cheeseburgers. A place I call my summer home—more commonly known as, Forest Hills Swim Club (FHSC).

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 1:27 PM, 05.08.2019

Concerns about Top of the Hill

While the design and massing for Top of the Hill (TOH) are extremely disappointing, what irks me to no end is the math behind the project and the answers I receive from City Hall.

What no one has been able to explain to me is why—with land that is ostensibly “free” at the most developable site in the city, with a parking structure that makes the project viable, paid for with taxes that would otherwise go to the public schools—the developer is unable to secure financing and the city is covering a funding “gap.”

No one at City Hall is able to tell me why there is a “gap,” why the city is covering $1.85 million of this “gap,” or what $1.85 million in public money is paying for. As the city does not have $1.85 million sitting around, it is going to borrow this money, which means the cost will be around $2 million with interest.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:52 AM, 05.02.2019

CH Branding Survey needs second round

[The writer sent the following as a letter to Cleveland Heights City Council on April 17. City Manager Tanisha Briley responded promptly, and a possible meeting is in the works.]

The most recent issue of Focus magazine provided a synopsis of Cleveland Heights’ self-appointed Brand Steering Committee’s branding initiative findings, and the committee’s plans for translating those findings into a new city logo and tagline.

While no one should fault the committee for its intentions, there are deeply concerning issues with its approach, most especially regarding how it sought respondents for its online brand survey and subsequently reported those responses.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:47 AM, 05.02.2019

Cleveland Heights announces new council member

To the editor:

Last week, I was very pleased, on behalf of City Council, to announce the selection of Cleveland Heights resident Craig Cobb to fill the unexpired term of former Councilperson Cheryl Stephens.

It was a truly rewarding process with over 30 residents applying for the position, and each one bringing a variety of experiences and interests to the table. We are thrilled to welcome Craig to the Council and believe he will be a great asset to us and to the city. Craig’s knowledge and experience with city government will be immediately capitalized on as we go forward with a number of important issues.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 1:27 PM, 04.09.2019

Beaumont students need athletic fields

It was with great interest that I read Colin Compton’s opinion, “In opposition to Beaumont’s plans to demolish the Painter Mansion." As the president of Beaumont School, I’d like to add additional perspective on this issue.

The Painter family sold the building in 1942 to the Ursuline Sisters, who found the house in severely deteriorated condition when they assumed ownership. Most of the interior had been stripped bare, including wood paneling, the electrical system and even the doorknobs. While the Ursulines invested heavily to try and restore the property, it was a structure that required significant expenditures simply to maintain in habitable condition as a convent. Even before Beaumont assumed ownership in 2009, outside experts provided the opinion that the cost to renovate the building and convert it back to an academic use would be cost-prohibitive.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 2:08 PM, 04.01.2019

In opposition to Beaumont's plans to demolish the Painter Mansion

Stewardship is defined in many ways. Environmentalists may classify it as actions taken to protect natural resources. In financial terms, it could mean prudent supervision. A religious person (a nun, for example) may interpret it as responsibility to care for the world in order to leave it better off than how one found it. In a broad sense, Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

Careful and responsible.

To these definitions, I’d add that stewardship is equally applicable to the ownership of historic buildings. The owner is a caretaker, not a sole beneficiary. This is why I oppose Beaumont School’s proposed demolition of the Painter Mansion.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:04 AM, 03.26.2019

A view from the bench: CH court cut budget and added cases in 2018

In 2018, the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court cost taxpayers almost $70,000 less than in 2017, while hearing about 1,500 more cases, according to our just-released annual report. The court managed the savings while improving its Web access and providing more services for defendants, thanks to good planning and management by our capable and dedicated staff.

Part-time magistrates replaced a full-time magistrate. Other cost savings in 2018 included reducing the number of vehicles from two to one, and spending less on books, because the same information was already available on existing electronic research services.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 1:37 PM, 04.01.2019