Group seeks charter amendment to elect CH mayor
A group of Cleveland Heights residents is seeking to amend the Cleveland Heights charter to enable citizens to directly elect a full-time mayor. Currently, Cleveland Heights voters elect seven part-time Cleveland Heights City Council members. Council then elects one of its members to serve as mayor.
“Cleveland Heights is not served well by a part-time mayor who has no executive responsibilities,” said Tony Cuda, campaign manager of Citizens for an Elected Mayor, the organization seeking the change. “We need a full-time, visionary leader who can address the city’s challenges, such as declining population, housing values that are not recovering as quickly as in similar suburbs, and slow progress on economic development.”
Cuda said a full-time, directly elected mayor would be more accountable and responsive to citizens, and visible across the community and region as the city’s spokesperson. The group will work to gather signatures to place an amendment on the November ballot.
Since Cleveland Heights became a city in 1921, it has had a council-manager form of government, in which voters elect council, and council appoints a city manager. The manager reports equally to all seven council members, a majority of whom is required for the manager’s appointment or removal. Out of the 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Heights and Bedford are the only two with this structure of governance.
“The system worked well to manage a growing city in the early days,” said Rhonda Davis-Lovejoy, a member of Citizens for an Elected Mayor. “Given today’s realities, we don’t need someone simply to manage. We need a bold leader who can collaborate with neighborhoods, businesses, developers and regional partners to create new opportunities that ensure Cleveland Heights reaches its potential.”
Citizens have shown support for a council-mayor structure. At an April 2018 town hall meeting, and via an online survey, more than two-thirds of participants said they preferred an elected mayor to a council-manager. The council-initiated Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission (CRC) gathered the information. In a draft of its proposed charter amendments, presented at a Jan. 24 public meeting in advance of preparing a final report for city council, CRC retained the council-manager structure.
“We thank the commission for its service. They are offering some great suggestions to provide clarity and consistency to the charter,” said Susan Efroymson, another member of Citizens for an Elected Mayor. “We are disappointed to see they declined to recommend an elected mayor and give citizens the opportunity to vote on a new form of government.”
CH City Council can revise the CRC’s proposal before putting it on a ballot, according to Larry Keller, the facilitator that council engaged to work with the CRC. Cuda said council members he has spoken with do not seem inclined to change the structure of government.
“We believe enough citizens share the view that we should be able to elect a full-time mayor who is accountable directly to citizens, and look forward to working with the community to ensure our amendment is brought to citizens for a vote,” Cuda said.
Citizens for an Elected Mayor has scheduled two informational meetings to discuss its proposal. Both are free and open to the public:
- Wednesday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m., Lee Road Library, 2345 Lee Road.
- Thursday, March 14, 7 p.m., Noble Neighborhood Library, 2800 Noble Road.
Additional information can be found at www.citizensforanelectedmayor.com.
Michael Bennett, a 29-year resident of Cleveland Heights, is secretary of Citizens for an Elected Mayor.