Cleveland Heights citizens meet to discuss city leadership and concerns
On July 8, a group of citizens, organized by longtime resident Diane Hallum, convened at the Lee Road Library. Hallum brought the group together under the name Citizens in Search of Leadership because she hoped to identify potential leaders within the city and encourage them to run for Cleveland Heights City Council.
“I hope to create a coalition of many into a single, organized voice to present three-to-four top grievances to city hall in some fashion,” wrote Hallum in an e-mail.
At the meeting, about 20 people introduced themselves and expressed their concerns about the city: high taxes, a dwindling tax base, vacancies in commercial and residential properties, the process of three-year special assessments, and school levies. The group included both longtime residents and young professionals who moved to the city as recently as three months ago.
Susan Miller, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, said that she had ideas for saving money and saving the environment. Miller said she is concerned with the way vacant homes sit for months on end without anyone caring for them. "I want to see a robust economy but my hopes are dashed at every turn, from city hall to every time I turn on the news and watch the federal government,” she said. “Banks purposely delay taking custody of vacant homes because of the cost of repairs, upkeep, taxes, fees, etc." Miller said she is growing weary of caring for vacant homes in her neighborhood on her own.
“Cleveland Heights is sinking fast,” said Stephen Rajki, another longtime resident. “The city should get busy and start improving buildings that exist. Most of the problems with properties are from benign neglect compounded over the years.” Rajki said that the city needs to “look at where to sell in the Heights, and market those areas to the broader region.”
Nick Wilkenson, a 1990 Heights High graduate who returned to the city a few years ago, said he was concerned about the lack of professionalism within the Cleveland Heights Police Department. “Home invasions are called in and homeowners are made fun of when officers report to the home,” he said. He questioned the benefit of police cars speeding on residential streets without the headlights on. He acknowledged that it might sometimes be necessary when patrol cars receive a call, but said that it is happening too often and "someone is going to get hurt."
Not everyone present expressed dissatisfaction with the city. Carol Staiger, a longtime resident, said that she had come to hear the presentation and that she has had an "enjoyable experience in the Heights." Rick Ferris, an empty nester who moved from Kirtland, Ohio, said that he thought Cleveland Heights, with its rich culture, eclectic shopping districts, and walkable neighborhoods, was the best place to live in the Greater Cleveland area.
Hallum had invited current city council members to attend the July 8 meeting.None were able to attend, however, because the meeting took place the same night as a regularly scheduled city council meeting.
One declared candidate for a seat on city council, Melissa Yasinow, a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University's School of Law, was in attendance. She promised that she would “listen intently to the concerns of Cleveland Height's citizens.”
Miller said that the current council members don't respond quickly enough, or fail to respond at all, and wanted to know if she could "reach out and touch" Yasinow when there is a problem in the city. Yasinow assured her that she would be available.
After the meeting, Hallum sent a summary of the group’s concerns to members of Cleveland Heights City Council. She said she had talked with the mayor and other council members and presented two of the group’s suggestions at the council’s July 15 meeting.
The next meeting of the group, which Hallum said she is now calling Citizens Leadership, will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Aug. 8 at Lee Road Library, 2345 Lee Road. She invites interested citizens to contact her at 216-691-9386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Hanson is a graduate of the Urban Studies program at Cleveland State University.