Cleveland Heights CRC votes to retain current form of government
At its June 21 meeting, a majority of members of the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) voted to recommend retaining the city’s current council-manager form of government, comprising seven part-time council members elected at large (citywide) and an appointed city manager.
Proposals to change the form of government in Cleveland Heights, to one led by a popularly elected mayor and with some council members elected by ward or district, were rejected by the CRC.
CRC members took these votes after six months of deliberations and community input. At the April 19 community forum sponsored by the CRC, 53 attendees indicated they favored changing to a popularly elected mayor, while 31 favored staying with the current council-manager government. In the CRC’s online survey, 95 respondents favored a popularly elected mayor, while 16 favored the council-manager government.
Of the 15 CRC members, 10 voted against the proposal for a popularly elected mayor: Craig Cobb, Michael Gaynier, C. Randolph Keller, Howard Maier, Jack Newman, Vince Reddy, Maia Rucker, Katherine Solender, James Vail and Sarah West. Two, Carla Rautenberg and Allosious Snodgrass, voted to support the proposal; and one, Jessica Cohen, abstained. Two CRC members, Patricia Ajdukiewicz and David Perelman, were absent from the June 21 meeting, but had previously expressed opposition to the popularly elected-mayor option.
Speaking in support of a government led by a popularly elected mayor, Cohen stated that this form of government provides two critical elements that are missing from the current government in Cleveland Heights: “an elected executive to articulate a strong public vision” and an electoral process that “allows citizens to hold him or her accountable.”
Rautenberg agreed, saying, “We have a vacuum in leadership in Cleveland Heights. I don’t know how we can expect seven people to be ‘a leader.’"
West countered, asking how one person can provide leadership when seven people cannot. She also stated that a mayor-council form of government guarantees conflict in the governance of the community, through disagreements between the elected mayor and the elected council.
In response, Rautenberg said that where some see conflict between the mayor and council, she sees “the opportunity for a healthy system of checks and balances.”
Speaking in support of retaining the current council-manager form of government, Vail said that people qualified to lead the city are more likely to apply for a city manager position than to run for mayor. With respect to accountability, he said the election of seven council members currently ensures that the government is accountable to local residents.
Regarding the composition of city council, three CRC members, Carla Rautenberg, Allosious Snodgrass and Howard Maier, voted to support changing to a city council that would include some members elected by ward or district, with other council members elected at large. The nine other CRC members who were present at that point in the meeting, Craig Cobb, Jessica Cohen, Michael Gaynier, C. Randolph Keller, Jack Newman, Maia Rucker, Katherine Solender, James Vail and Sarah West, voted to reject the inclusion of ward-based members. (Vince Reddy had left the meeting prior to that vote.)
Near the conclusion of the June 21 meeting, CRC members agreed to move forward with the process of preparing possible charter amendments, working within the context of the current council-manager form of government.
Snodgrass commented that the group’s decision to leave the basic structure of Cleveland Heights’ government intact would cause some citizens to pursue a petition drive for a ballot issue to amend the charter.
The CRC's next meeting will be held on Thursday, July 5, 7 p.m. at Cleveland Heights City Hall.
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.