CH Charter Review Commission plans community forum
On April 19, the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) will hold a community forum to invite broader citizen participation in the process of considering changes to the city’s charter.
The CRC made this decision at its March 1 meeting, its sixth, and plans to determine the time and place of the forum at its regular meeting on March 15.
Also at the March 1 meeting, Les Jones, Forest Hill Home Owners president, and Tom Wagner, Lakewood Charter Review Commission member, spoke.
Jones, a 40-year Cleveland Heights resident, told the CRC that the Forest Hill Home Owners association has worked well over the years with the city government. He said, though, that he favors changing the charter to allow citizens to elect the mayor directly, and would support changing the current at-large council to include some members elected by ward.
Jones said he believes that a popularly elected mayor could be a catalyst for moving more quickly to address community needs, and would be a better spokesperson in promoting the city and its interests. He cited the long-term vacancy of the former Medusa building on Monticello Boulevard as an example of a problem that should be addressed more aggressively.
Jones also said that he would support retaining a position somewhat like that of the current city manager to administer the day-to-day operations of the city. (At a previous meeting, Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken told the CRC that he is assisted by a chief administrative officer in managing the city’s day-to-day operations.)
Wagner told the CRC that Lakewood’s Charter Review Commission voted 5-4 to retain that city’s mayor-council form of government, and said that he was one of the four who favored changing to a council-manager form of government.
Wagner explained that he favors the council-manager form of government because he believes that running a city is a professional occupation that is best handled by a professional city manager rather than by an elected official who may not have the necessary skills.
Lakewood’s current, popularly elected, mayor, is well respected in leading the city, said Wagner, but that was not the case with some previous mayors. He referred to such mayors as “monarchs,” and the mayor-council form of government as a “monarchy.”
With respect to Lakewood’s city council, Wagner explained that it comprises four members elected by ward and three members elected citywide. This system works well in Lakewood, he said, because the four wards are fairly diverse economically, resulting in a situation in which all council members seem to represent the broader interests of the community.
After the CRC finished asking questions of Jones and Wagner, the commission’s members discussed the mid-course community forum that had been requested by citizens attending the Feb. 15 meeting, and discussed how CRC meetings have been publicized.
All members agreed to hold the community forum as soon as possible in order to give citizens more opportunity to share their opinions with the CRC before it drafts recommended charter amendments. CRC members agreed that the most useful way to organize the forum would be to allow attendees to break into small groups, giving everyone more time to comment and discuss the local governance issues.
On the subject of public comments, Jack Newman, CRC chairperson, said that he found the public comment session at the end of the commission’s Feb. 15 meeting to be lacking in decorum and dignity. He noted that some citizens disregarded the three-minute time limit and the admonition against repeating comments, that there was clapping by audience members, and that a couple of citizens passed notes to CRC members during the meeting, suggesting questions to be asked of the invited guests.
In response to comments that CRC meetings had not been well publicized, Newman said that the CRC had gone above and beyond its responsibility for public notice, stating that only citizens “who don’t care or are living under a rock” would be unaware of the meetings. City staff noted that meeting publicity had been expanded recently in response to citizen requests.
Newman said a suggestion had been made to him that the CRC write an article for the Heights Observer explaining the CRC and its processes. He stated that recent coverage had not given the public a fair view of the CRC’s activities. Other CRC members said that they saw no need for the CRC to write an article at the present time.
The next meeting of the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission will take place on Thursday, March 15, 7 p.m., at Cleveland Heights City Hall. Citizens can e-mail comments to the commission through its facilitator, Larry Keller, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information can be found on the CRC’s recently updated Web page, www.clevelandheights.com/875/charter-review-commission.
Robert Brown is a city planner with more than 40 years of experience, including nine years as Cleveland's city planning director. A resident of Cleveland Heights for 40-plus years, Brown serves on the board of FutureHeights.