Developers speak at CH Charter Review Commission meeting
How does Cleveland Heights compare to other local communities in attracting development?
Developer Peter Rubin and architect Paul Volpe addressed that question, and others, at the May 3 Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) meeting, where the two shared their opinions with commission members and others in attendance. Tom Malone, former Cleveland Heights finance director, also spoke at the meeting.
Rubin said that he considers Cleveland Heights to be a “post-maturity” city that now faces two choices. “One would be to manage decline,” he said, “and the other would be to create and execute a new vision, one that puts the community on a positive trajectory.”
Cleveland Heights has not created that vision, said Rubin. He cited the lack of swift action by the city in addressing the collapse of Severance Town Center as an example of the lack of vision and leadership in the current government.
Volpe agreed, saying that for a community like Cleveland Heights to prosper, it needs a vision and it needs collaboration in implementing that vision. In Cleveland Heights today, said Volpe, “We can’t seem to do that.”
With respect to a vision for the future of Cleveland Heights, Volpe said, “We should be looking inward rather than outward. Our connection should be to University Circle and the city of Cleveland. That’s our strength. That’s our future.”
According to Rubin, Cleveland Heights’ proximity to University Circle could make it an “incubator city—an incubator for housing, business and health care. But we don’t have that vision."
Asked what form of local government is most effective, Rubin replied, “The city manager form of government is especially effective during the process of birth to maturity, because the direction you are going is clear.
“It’s cloudier as to its effectiveness when you are at maturity or, as we are, in post-maturity, where it requires power and the ability to change direction and the authority to lead and inspire. We are not doing that now in Cleveland Heights, certainly not the inspire part.”
Volpe said he has concluded that Cleveland Heights needs to be led by a popularly elected mayor, and commented, “We are a community that has the ability to have people of high caliber step up and run for mayor if we created that position.”
The second part of the meeting was devoted to an interview with Tom Malone, who served as Cleveland Heights finance director 1998–2012.
Malone compared his time in Cleveland Heights, working under a city manager, with his prior work as finance director in Fairview Park, working under a popularly elected mayor. He opined that both forms of government worked for the respective communities. “In Cleveland Heights,” said Malone, “the current form of government works.”
After the interviews with Rubin, Volpe and Malone, Larry Keller, the CRC’s facilitator, reviewed responses from the April 19 community forum. He said that a summary of the responses, as well as complete copies of all survey forms, would be placed online for public review.
The meeting ended with comments from several residents.
Garry Kanter focused his remarks on the need for greater transparency and accountability in Cleveland Heights government. He also advocated for “head-to-head” elections for city council, rather than the current elections with a pool of candidates.
Tony Cuda compared Cleveland Heights’ current form of government to a company that is led by a full-time chief operating officer but has no full-time chief executive officer. He said that this form of leadership is ineffective, and advocated for a popularly elected mayor paired with a professional chief administrator, as is the case in Shaker Heights.
Shirley Schaefer said that residents of Cleveland Heights would be better served by a city council that includes some members elected by ward and others elected at large.
View video of the May 3 meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtYPTwavWhI&feature=youtu.be.
The CRC’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 17, 7 p.m., at Cleveland Heights City Hall. The speakers will include Brenda May of the Noble Neighbors organization, George Maier from the city of Mentor, and Karen Knittel of the city’s planning and development department.
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.