CH voters may face competing charter revisions in November

Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM), a grassroots campaign to change the structure of Cleveland Heights’ government, has been collecting signatures since mid-May to put a voter referendum on the ballot this November. The proposal would revise the city charter to allow residents to elect the mayor directly.

In the current system, in place since the original city charter in 1921, citizens elect seven part-time city council members, who in turn hire a full-time city manager to run the city. A so-called “weak mayor” is a member of council, chosen by council as a first among equals.

Meanwhile, the Charter Review Commission (CRC), appointed by CH City Council, has spent 18 months assembling a wide-ranging set of proposed charter revisions—but declined to include the change to a strong mayor.

City council members will decide which, if any, of CRC’s proposed revisions will go before CH voters in November.

This means there could be two competing issues on the ballot this November—one, based on CRC findings, recommending dozens of small changes; and the other, from CEM, recommending a single large change.

Tony Cuda, 64, is chairman of the effort by CEM. He teaches sociology and government at Shaker Heights High School. He grew up in Cleveland Heights and graduated from Heights High. After years outside the city, he has lived here continuously since 2003.

Following is a distillation of a May 2 conversation with Cuda:

Confidence that CEM’s referendum will be on the ballot this November: “We will be there 100 percent. I don’t see a way we won’t do it.”

Concern about confusion, if voters are presented with two competing issues: “First, it’s not certain the city will be ready with its own [ballot issue]. The Charter Review Commission has about a hundred items to go over. . . . What they’re doing is very time-consuming. It’s a tall order to get it done in time.” [As an elected body, CH City Council does not need to go through the same petition process as a citizen referendum, but it faces the same procedural deadlines.]

“We knew early on that there would be an important education piece to this. We had volunteers talking with people on their way out of the polls last November, and most . . . were surprised to learn that we don’t elect our own mayor. So am I concerned about confusion? Yes. But we have a pretty simple message: Do you want to elect a mayor or continue to have an appointed mayor?”

Why do it this year, given the possibility of confusion? “This is the year that people who care about local government show up to vote. Next year is 2020; we’ll all be dealing with the national issues. We need to do it now because the issue has been raised and elevated. . . . I give city council credit for doing the charter review, because it brought the issue to light. If it comes to a head-to-head thing, I like the choice: Either you want an elected mayor or not.”

When there are two competing issues, how does it work? “As we’ve been advised, people can vote for one, or the other, or both. If both pass, the one with the most votes wins and the other loses. Both issues can fail, but only one can win."

Bob Rosenbaum

Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 9:31 AM, 06.03.2019