What I'd like to see from CH City Council and the school district in the next four years
The 2013 election was unusually important for both the City of Cleveland Heights and the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.
Six of the seven council members who had been serving Cleveland Heights in 2009 retired after long and distinguished service: Mayor Kelly, Nancy Dietrich, Bonnie Caplan, Mark Tumeo, Ken Montlack and the late Phyllis Evans. All did great things for the city.
The passage of the increase in school millage will improve the educational experience offered in the CH-UH school district. The juxtaposition of a new council and new hope for the schools presents great opportunities for Cleveland Heights.
In this article, and another to follow next month, I suggest some approaches we can take to guarantee a strong future for Cleveland Heights.
First, I ask council and school board [members] to look at every policy and tax as if you were a person or family considering moving in. Everyone wants a good school district. Strong schools mean a strong community. So an improved school system should attract families. But high taxes make it increasingly difficult for people to choose CH-UH as we are often competing with other suburbs which have lower taxes and schools rated better than ours. I call this the “residential equation.”
Second, we need more openness. We have many talented people who can be enlisted for ideas to make our government more effective. A detailed budget should be posted with basic information about each department, such as number of staff. With this information residents can more easily make suggestions that might help us grow.
The ‘committee of the whole’ practice should be ended. Council meets as a ‘committee of the whole’ before [its] regular meeting. Debate takes place there and that is where members determine how they are going to vote. This gives the appearance of secrecy because debate seldom takes place at the televised meeting. We would be better served by more public debate.
The city should openly analyze its income, expenses and priorities for the future. We need to ask, “How can we best structure the city to position it for the future?” A public budget, public debates, and publicly posted basic information would involve those of us who have ideas that would be valuable.
Third, coming from Detroit, I learned that a divided region creates weak cities and weak suburbs. All council members need to be involved in some regional effort whether it is trying to combine services or helping Cleveland improve.
As Cleveland goes, so go its suburbs. I want to know how council will work with Cleveland to improve our ability to attract residents. It may seem counterintuitive that I suggest that we improve Cleveland so that we can grow Cleveland Heights. But a strong and vibrant Cleveland is an economic engine from which we will all benefit.
Fourth, little things do matter: pothole repair, maintaining vacant buildings and not boarding them up, maintaining lawns and vacant lots. Seeing a boarded up storefront on a main business strip is bad marketing for Cleveland Heights.
Council needs to be attentive to these little things and make sure they get taken care of quickly.
We need policies that encourage people to move in and stay. We, as citizens, must keep the focus on attracting new people to the city while keeping those who already live here as residents. This ‘residential equation’ needs to guide every action the council and school board take.
Gary Benjamin moved to Cleveland Heights in 2008 from Detroit. In 2009 he ran unsuccessfully for city council. A lawyer, licensed in Ohio and Michigan, he is best known here for his work on health care reform with UHCAN Ohio. He is married to Melody Hart.