CH residents share views on charter review at public forum
On April 19, approximately 80 Cleveland Heights residents participated in the first community forum held by the city’s 15-member Charter Review Commission.
The meeting began with a presentation that described the current council-manager form of government in Cleveland Heights, in which seven part-time city council members are elected on an at-large basis and are assisted by a full-time city manager, whom they appoint.
The presentation also described other forms of municipal governance, including the one most common in Cuyahoga County, in which there is a popularly elected mayor, and a city council to which some or all members are elected by ward.
Reference was also made to “hybrid” forms of local governance, such as that of Shaker Heights, in which a popularly elected full-time mayor works with an appointed professional manager who holds the title of chief administrative officer.
After the presentation, participants gathered in small groups to discuss and answer the following two questions:
- What type of government do you prefer for Cleveland Heights and why? Council-Manager (current form), Strong Mayor, Hybrid, Other
- What other elements should be added to or changed in the city charter to improve our local government?
The 13 groups spent about an hour discussing the two questions, then each reported to the full audience the outcome of its discussion.
Their reports revealed that a majority of the participants favored changing the form of government in Cleveland Heights to one that includes a popularly elected full-time mayor and a council that includes some members elected by ward or district. Specifically, 52 participants said they favored a popularly elected mayor, and 25 supported the current council-manager form of government. (One table spokesperson did not provide a breakdown by individual).
Each participant was also given the opportunity to write his or her individual comments, anonymously, and submit them to the commission for the commission’s staff to analyze and tally. (The results were not available at the time this article was written.)
Many of those supporting a popularly elected mayor also supported pairing the mayor with a professional chief administrative officer who would focus on day-to-day operations and services while the mayor focused on setting and implementing policies and a vision for the city’s future.
Among the reasons given by residents proposing this change were that a mayor would provide the bolder, more decisive leadership needed by the city and would be more accountable to the public, allowing residents to know that the “buck stops here,” with the mayor.
Residents who expressed support for the current council-manager form of government cited a preference for the professional, non-political management that can be provided by an appointed city manager. Some also cited the danger of concentrating too much power in an elected mayor who may lack good management skills.
Issues regarding the composition of Cleveland Heights City Council were discussed in answering the second question.
Residents who supported a change from the current all at-large city council to one that includes some members elected by ward said that certain neighborhoods have been under-represented on city council and may, as a result, have received inadequate attention in addressing their challenges. Others said that ward-based council members would provide a more direct connection to the city government for residents, particularly with respect to advocacy on local issues.
Residents who supported the current all at-large city council cited the benefits of all council members focusing on the needs of the city as a whole, as well as the danger of ward-based members taking too parochial a view of the city’s needs.
The Charter Review Commission expects to continue its deliberations until November, at which time it would submit its recommendations for any charter amendments to city council. The city council can then choose to put all, some, or none of the commission’s recommendations on the ballot in 2019.
The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for Thursday, May 3, 7 p.m., at Cleveland Heights City Hall.
The CRC has posted an online survey at www.clevelandheights.com/1046/charter-review-commission-community-surv.
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.