CH resident issues plea for access to information
In 2019, I voted for an elected-mayor form of city government, and the following year I voted for Kahlil Seren. I want him to succeed because, if he does a good job, we all win. I supported his candidacy because of positions he took regarding accountability to voters, community involvement, and an effective working relationship with city council.
I don’t know where that candidate went when he became mayor, but I want that first guy back. Although he’s been on the job for a short time, it is important to many of us that his current approaches to leadership be re-evaluated and improved.
Candidate Seren was an avid supporter of resident involvement, but Mayor Seren seems less so. In the LWV Voters Guide, the candidate spoke about his dedication to not overstepping the executive role, and to the vital exchange of information between branches of city government needed for an effective relationship with council and for informed decision-making.
Examples of Seren’s departure from his campaign rhetoric include his disparaging public remarks about the city’s refuse and recycling task force and a proposed environmental sustainability committee, his subcontracting the city’s learn-to-swim program to an outside group without input from the residents who use that program, the removal of staff from citizen advisory groups, and the directive to staff to avoid answering questions from members of city council or from residents.
Residents of Cleveland Heights want and expect to be involved in city government. To do that, we need access to information about how our city is being run. We want our advisory groups to have actual policy input. We want answers when decisions are made on our behalf without public discussion.
Most of what I know about the role of the executive and legislative branches, I learned in my ninth-grade civics class. Our council should be setting policy and enacting legislation. Council members need unfettered access to information to do their jobs effectively. Preventing council members from communicating with city staff is overstepping the executive role, full stop! My assumption is that council members and the mayor have as their mutual goal a well-functioning community. Access to information is critical to achieving that goal.
The lack of access to information affects other aspects of community life, as well. When I recently requested information about sharing facilities with University Heights from the CH director of parks and recreation, I was told that I needed to get that information from the mayor. Requests for that information from the mayor were met with silence.
I understand that the mayor cannot possibly respond to each and every citizen inquiry. But if staff are not permitted to respond, how can residents and council members get the information they need? That is not what I voted for.
This letter is a plea to the mayor for improvement. Some have suggested that the mayor needs more time to settle into his job and to acquire the skills needed to be an effective executive. I am of the group that believes it is vital that Mayor Seren immediately review and expeditiously implement the positions he took as a candidate.
Robin Koslen, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a mom, grandma, retired teacher, part-time activist, full-time rebel.