Death by Delay
It is a puzzle. It appears that a new slogan may be added to the legislative lexicon when it comes to describing the decision-making process of the University Heights City Council: Death by Delay.
Most issues that come before this legislative body are routine; but some are not. The old adage—“Salesmanship begins when the customer says no”—is also true for legislators. Their ability, inclination and statesmanship are revealed when issues have voters supporting opposite outcomes.
Complex issues before council in 2008 are still with us in 2011. One of the most pressing is the need to update zoning ordinances. In 2008, then-Mayor Beryl Rothschild urged council to approve a proposal by planning and development consultants, D. B. Hartt Inc., to perform a zoning code update. This first appeared on council’s agenda on Jan. 20, 2009.
Lack of comprehensive zoning updates hinders economic development and pits neighbor against neighbor. When zoning issues are unclear, applicants file for variances. Recent conflicts include the Waterway Car Wash on Warrensville Center Road.; a McDonalds application for the same space; an application to operate a pizza shop in a house of worship; the conversion of residential housing stock into houses of worship on less than the legal minimum of three acres; and an application by John Carroll University for an ROTC office on E. Carroll Boulevard.
While an immediate yes-or-no vote by council is not always possible, applicants and neighbors deserve a timely resolution. Delays foment divisiveness among neighbors, and are costly to local businesses. Delaying simple votes makes people question council’s attitude toward business, which can be detrimental to our city’s economic development.
Council’s delay and the imposition of questionable conditions on JCU before granting the university approval for the ROTC office resulted in JCU filing a lawsuit against city council in federal court.
How much will UH spend defending the city in court for a position we are unlikely to win? How much will this delay cost our city? The D. B. Hartt proposal to study zoning updates now looks like a bargain at $7,000.
Council has already purchased other studies, totaling more than $83,000. Why are these also in the Death by Delay mode?
Garbage Should we keep backyard pick-up or go to curbside? Should we keep our own trucks and department or outsource or merge with another city? In order to make sound choices, council hired and paid GT Environmental $10,000 in 2009 for a solid waste collection analysis. The study was delivered October of that year—17 months ago. How much longer will council delay its review?
Outsourcing city services Are we better off keeping our own city services or should we outsource or merge with another city’s department? Another complicated issue, and one worthy of study. This time council paid Northeast Ohio Sourcing Office (NEOSO) $25,000 for an exception analysis, which was to study who should provide services to UH residents. Dave Akers, president and CEO of NEOSO, presented his recommendations in January 2010 in a 47-slide show, without an accompanying written narrative. Akers tried his best to explain how he obtained the information, what the slides meant, and how he calculated dollar amounts for the savings UH might gain by following his recommendations. Council may have understood the slide show, but taxpayers in the audience are still scratching their heads trying to decipher the $25,000 presentation.
Now, after a 14-month delay in reviewing this study, it has been suggested slide #39 may be a topic for council’s daylong retreat on March 15. Slide #39 recommends outsourcing or merging “opportunities” of our fire department, emergency rescue, trash and snow removal, jail, and other services to private businesses or other cities.
City Hall complex Do we need to update our municipal buildings? This item has languished on council’s agenda since 2008, when council members paid architects Herman Gibans Fodor $10,486 for a needs assessment study. The recommended complex will take “five to seven years to complete.” On Dec. 21, 2009, then-Mayor Rothschild urged council, again, to evaluate this study. Why this delay?
Master Plan In municipal government, long-range plans and wish lists are called master plans. In 2003, council paid Hunter Morrison & Associates $38,000 to produce a master plan for University Heights. This may also be a topic for council’s upcoming retreat, and not a moment too soon. Master plans have a shelf life of about 10 years. Delaying longer will require a new plan.
The problems the studies are intended to ameliorate are still with us. Council approved $2,000 for its March 15 retreat. Let’s hope it includes a plan to review $83,000 worth of studies and put an end to Death by Delay.
Anita Kazarian is a marketing professional, founder of Noah’s Landing, LLC, and a longtime resident of University Heights. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.