CH City Council should respect citizens' park initiative
Congratulations to Cleveland Heights residents for a successful exercise in democracy! We were able to gather 4,619 signatures (a Herculean task) in support of a public park on the 1.07 acres at the corner of Meadowbrook Boulevard and Lee Road. A sufficient number of the signatures were valid, so we can take the next step to place the initiative on the ballot.
Every one of those signatures required one person talking to another and explaining what the petition was about—so there were 4,619 conversations, and we shared lots of concerns and suggestions about our community and our local government. Democracy is a long hard slog; democracy always has been and always will be one person talking to another and getting a signature on a paper petition. Our initiative proves that if you care about something, you must act. Everyone who helped mattered, and everyone who acted owns this success.
That next step for the initiative involves Cleveland Heights City Council. It was quite discouraging to watch the Jan. 10 Council Committee of the Whole meeting (posted online at https://youtu.be/viYNlFhlLXk). City council members did not celebrate this exercise in democracy by the citizens they represent—the same citizens that just elected them with high hopes for a new form of government, and to whom the newly elected officials had promised greater transparency and citizen engagement and communication. Instead, council members appeared to be discussing how the initiative could be managed to help Flaherty & Collins, and talked about a possible lawsuit—which has confused and alarmed some citizens.
City council members have been fully informed of the park initiative since August—by e-mail, personal discussions, and numerous public comments made in council meetings. We turned in the petition on Nov. 29, prior to the city acting on the developer agreement. Nota bene: I made a public comment about the developer agreement at the Dec. 8 city council meeting and suggested that the city insert a clause about the initiative in the agreement, to prevent confusion if we prevail at the ballot box. Unfortunately, it did not do so.
The petition was a litmus test of our community. A measure of our values. The community said that what is green stays green. The community said it wants a public park—a place to be together. The community said it has creative fresh ideas about public space and what we want our city to look and feel like—how we want to live together.
How council treats this petition is its litmus test. Do council members value citizen participation; the democratic process; good governance; a progressive, creative community; our city charter? Or is their relationship with the developer all that matters?
The city has not given citizens, who are heavily subsidizing this project, a complete explanation of the complicated finances of the Flaherty & Collins developer agreement. Council abdicated the political process to the developer, and by doing so generated unnecessary conflict among us.
Council could negotiate with Flaherty & Collins for both the 1.07-acre public park and a modified development, couldn't it? The projects would energize and support each other.
Council should move the [park] initiative forward as quickly as possible, stop advocating for the developer (let the developer advocate for itself), get out of the way and let citizens decide what they want at the ballot box, as our charter provides.
Fran Mentch is chair of the executive committee of the Northeast Ohio Sierra Club group, and a community activist who worked to turn the former Oakwood Country Club into a Metropark, not a Walmart.