Is UH council at risk of becoming a rubber stamp?

In the past four years, University Heights City Council has kept a watchful eye on the city administration, exercising the checks and balances of government, as they should. This will change with the 2012 council.

Many on the new council, along with the mayor, have close ties to one another and to Jeffrey H. Friedman, an attorney. Most members are supported and/or endorsed by both the mayor and Friedman.

This change is important to understand. Why? With a cozy relationship among our elected officials, legislation and administrative action may be expedited--expedited without the strict scrutiny that protects taxpayer interest, and expedited without full disclosure and public discussion.

Jeffrey Friedman is active in city politics, raising money to support favored candidates. Although he maintains a house in University Heights, he is actually a homestead resident of Marco Island, Florida, and is registered to vote there, not in University Heights.

The 2012 council members are Pam Cameron, Tom Cozzens, Phil Ertel, Frankie Goldberg, Susan Pardee, Steve Sims and Adele Zucker.

The newly-elected members—Zucker, Cozzens and Cameron—are Friedman’s handpicked candidates and come with the active support of Mayor Susan Infeld and former Mayor Beryl Rothschild.

These ties also extend to Pardee and Ertel. In 2008, then Councilwoman Zucker had one appointment to make to the charter review commission and she appointed Pardee, Friedman’s choice. In the crowded field of 2009 candidates for council, Infeld publicly supported Ertel.

Vice-Mayor Goldberg was ward leader in the University Heights Democratic Club through the 2011 elections. Her executive committee had four endorsements to hand out in the council elections. Three went to Friedman’s slate. The fourth endorsement, expected to go to the only other Democrat, incumbent Councilman Sims, was unused.

To summarize, Friedman was actively involved with Infeld’s election in 2009, the election of three new council members in 2011, and the recommendation of Pardee in 2008. Given Friedman’s active involvement in the 2009 elections, it is reasonable to believe he also approved the mayor’s support of Ertel. Friedman stated, during his 2011 campaign meetings in July and August, that he expected to endorse Goldberg in her 2012 campaign.

With this much alignment before people are even elected, it raises the concern of expensive consequences for the taxpayers.

For example, in June 2011 the mayor presented council with an ordinance to create a new city job—human resources manager. Council members refused to create the costly new staff position, citing that our city is small, departments are cutting back employees, and other, less expensive options, are available to taxpayers.

In November 2011, following the election of the Friedman slate, Infeld said she will reintroduce the ordinance to the new council with the expectation that the motion will pass.

Meanwhile, the city is running without a full-time finance director at a time when it faces major budget challenges and cuts. Sims, a former certified public accountant, heads the finance committee.  

Sims will need the cooperation of the mayor and the new council members if he is to successfully help navigate our city through responsible budget cuts.

Jeffrey Friedman enters the picture again. In his Oct. 6 letter to the Sun Press, he made derogatory statements about Sims. Neither the mayor nor the new council members distanced themselves from the Friedman statements.

By not distancing themselves, they may attempt to marginalize the only person left at city hall with a strong background in finance. The only influence we expect of our elected officials is from UH residents.

We face questions about backyard garbage pick-up, combining our fire department with another city, to name just two. We look forward to real transparency from this administration and council. We hope council will not become simply a “rubber stamp.”

Anita Kazarian

Anita Kazarian is a marketing professional, founder of Noah’s Landing, and one of the two council candidates who withdrew from the Friedman slate. She can be reached at anitakazarian@gmail.com.

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Volume 5, Issue 1, Posted 10:39 AM, 01.05.2012