UH charter review commission -- why now?

I got concerned when I first heard about the charter review commission for University Heights.

I wanted to know where the idea came from. And more importantly, I wondered why now?

A partial answer comes from council members Steven Bullock, Frank Consolo and Kevin Murphy when they said in the Sun Press that they are interested in a city manager form of a government.  This would require changing the charter. The review commission is the first step.

But their answer does not address a central question: why change the form of government? And their answer doesn’t give the public full disclosure. 

The council has been discussing this topic since the beginning of the year, when it met for a retreat. But that fact has been left out of releases about the need for a charter review commission. It is more than disingenuous just to present the commission as something that is necessary for the good of the city. It is an insult to the intelligence and the thoughtfulness of the residents of University Heights.

During the retreat, the council heard a presentation from Sy Murray of the Levin College at Cleveland State University.  He is a nationally respected expert on governmental structure and, had been a city manager for many years.

But he did not recommend that form of government for University Heights. He rather suggested that the council instead have a city administrator, who would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

After the retreat the council had a number of “council of the whole” committee meetings to discuss these options. These meeting apparently failed to achieve consensus among the council members. Now suddenly we find that it has become imperative to form a charter review commission.

If our council was not engaged in political maneuvering, it should have been willing to make its debate about this issue a lot more public. Having public hearings would be an appropriate way to determine whether the city’s residents want to hire a city manager, a city administrator, or leave the system as it is.

But council members seem to have chosen not to allow public discussion over the past seven months. While they have met the bare letter of the open meetings law, they have violated the spirit of that law, which lets citizens know what their government is doing.

For example, the Aug. 11 agenda of the council’s civic information committee included the creation of the charter review commission with “change in form of government issues.”  The announcement of this meeting was sent to the clerk of council on Wednesday, Aug. 6, too late for newspaper publication that could have informed the community about the meeting.

 Even though council committee meetings traditionally do not have a mechanism for public comment, interested parties could have become aware of what was happening.  The tight lead time certainly prevented the full dissemination of the committee agenda among the community.

Council persons present on Aug. 11 voted to prepare an ordinance to create the commission. They also debated how the commission would be formed.

On Aug. 13 (again a Wednesday preventing press notification to the community), Councilman Consolo requested a special council meeting be held on Aug. 19 to vote on this ordinance.  Apparently, the vice mayor’s insistence that changes be considered to the prepared ordinance led to a sudden cancellation of that meeting and a transfer of the ordinance to the Sept. 2 meeting.  On Sept. 2 council members voted in favor of an ordinance to create a review commission; and, the next day, the mayor vetoed it. What will happen next is unknown, but certainly the residents of University Heights deserve better of our representatives. 

When we elect someone to “represent” us, it implies that they are willing to listen to what we (those that they represent) have to say.  Unfortunately, in this case few if any have been aware of the discussions to be able to give their input. 

Win Weizer is a 17-year resident of University Heights and a former member of University Heights city council.

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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 9:57 PM, 09.01.2008