Charter Review Commission should discuss before deciding
Months of opinion-gathering and fact-finding by the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) went to waste at its June 7 meeting.
Instead of engaging in thoughtful discussion about our city’s form of government, and evaluating of hundreds of comments from residents, commission members stated their preferences, with a majority in support of preserving the current city manager-council form. This derailed the conversation, discomfited several commission members, and did little to move the process forward. A bit of conversation surfaced toward the end of the meeting, but the damage was done; the tenor was such that anyone even considering an elected mayor form of government had little ground on which to take a stand.
I urge the commission to get the deliberation train back on a better track at its June 21 meeting and beyond, for this and all other charter issues. Potential charter changes are too important to let the strongly and frequently expressed opinions of several preclude open and honest deliberation among all.
My understanding was that CRC members were chosen because they had no preconceived ideas of what charter changes would best serve residents. They spent months interviewing elected officials, stakeholders and others, and convened a community town hall meeting and online survey.
Yet there was no discussion of all that information before opinions started flying around June 7. At least one member (and perhaps more) did not even know about a 32-page report detailing solicited community opinions, which overwhelmingly favored an elected mayor form of government; there was no reference to any of the thoughtful comments it contained on both sides of the debate.
CRC members have selflessly given a lot of time and attention to this vital public service. I am grateful for their role and appreciate any toll it has taken on their lives at home, work or other volunteer engagements. But now is not the time to shy away from more hard work. (There was a reference at the meeting that it would be easier to avoid major changes.)
At some point, yes, they will need to take a stand and a vote. Well before then—or even well before a show of hands indicating which way they are leaning on any issue—they should discuss and deliberate all the evidence they have gathered, starting from a point of neutrality.
CRC members could, for instance, review and discuss key takeaways or questions they had from the lineup of speakers over the past months. They could delve into the 32-page report and spend an entire meeting reviewing it to gauge the temperature of the community they represent. They could openly discuss comments from residents and council members that have been posted online as submissions to the Commission—hopefully members have been reading and absorbing the information, but it is too valuable to not see the light of day in open discussion.
Charter reviews don’t happen often—the city’s charter says CH City Council only has to determine once every 10 years whether to appoint a review commission. I hope the CRC will take sufficient time to deliberate carefully. I hope even more residents will engage in the process by attending commission meetings, submitting written filings to the commission, and sharing their thoughts with city council members—they, ultimately, will take action on any recommendations the commission offers. For more information, go to www.clevelandheights.com, and click on the Charter Review Commission link.
Michael Bennett is 29-year resident of Cleveland Heights. A former newspaper journalist, he works at a nonprofit that inspires and connects people to transform our region. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.