Change the charter to directly elect CH mayor

I drafted a statement of my opinion and submitted it to the CH Charter Review Commission (CRC). I would encourage everyone write in and let your voice be heard.

I have attended two CRC meetings. At one, a resident stood up and said that he didn’t care who the elected council members wanted as mayor; he cared who he, as a voter, wanted as mayor. I thought this simple statement got to the heart of the debate between having a mayor directly elected by the voters as opposed to a “mayor” selected by four of the seven CH council members.

If we are focused on American values and the accountability of our government officials, the mayor elected directly by the people wins. It comes right out of the democratic ethos and is the dominant form of government for municipalities in Northeast Ohio.

A directly elected mayor sets the tone, or the vision, for the municipality in ways that a city manager cannot. The manager reports to seven people—each of whom may have his or her own vision—and must give equal weight to each. The skills of a CEO, such as management, public speaking, motivating, selling ideas, and a variety of other skills, are needed or at least preferred for a mayor. And we, the voters, [would] directly evaluate the skills of the [mayoral] candidates without having our judgment filtered [through] council.

The council-elected mayor needs to be a “presider” over a small group, not a CEO. That presider needs to keep four people satisfied with his or her performance. The council is electing a presiding officer over its own deliberations. These skills of a presiding officer are important, but they are not really what we need a mayor to be doing.

An elected official, like a mayor, needs to be the CEO that residents can hold accountable. The city manager should act as the COO reporting to the mayor, as CEO.

There are those who argue that “it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.” We have a good city manager and an active council and are well served by both. But to get a policy idea, like the Community Development Corporation, adopted took years too long. It would have been available to mitigate the damage caused by the downturn and the foreclosure crisis if it had been implemented earlier.

Our city charter was last revised in 1986, 32 years ago, when our population was 11,000 souls higher. I believe that we are losing population because of the slowed reactions of a city government that cannot respond quickly, especially to economic development opportunities. In 1986, technology was very different than it is today, and speed was not a virtue. Acting more quickly is a necessity at times. Today, the actions of the state, federal and county governments can affect us locally swiftly. An elected mayor with a vision for this city would serve us better, in my judgment, than our present, slower-to-make-decisions system.

I have worked in places where I have had more than one boss. What happens if I do something that one of my bosses likes, and the other does not? I don’t do it, that’s what. With seven bosses this dynamic of “inaction is safer than action” is magnified. I am unabashedly and wholeheartedly for changing to a directly elected mayor with CEO authority.

Gary Benjamin

Gary Benjamin is an attorney in private practice in Cleveland Heights who has been active in local governance since 2009.

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 1:48 PM, 03.01.2018