CH needs an elected mayor
Energy and excitement for a charter amendment enabling CH citizens to elect our mayor are building, buoyed by a wildly successful campaign to gather signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Why? Cleveland Heights residents are not satisfied with the status quo or the city’s direction. They want a more dynamic, responsive and accountable government. They want a better future. The proposed amendment addresses these needs in several ways, outlined below.
The full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator: The mayor will appoint the administrator on the basis of executive and administrative training and experience, subject to council’s confirmation. The mayor and city administrator will oversee all departments and divisions. The amendment provides the best of both worlds through a partnership of an internally focused administrator who makes sure the trains run on time and a mayor who, as chief executive, can focus on the community, neighborhoods, residents, businesses, and our position in the region.
The new structure would create more accountability to voters: An elected mayor position creates checks and balances between executive and legislative branches. Today, voters have no mechanism to show dissatisfaction with management of government. Since council appoints the manager, dissatisfied residents who want change must elect four of seven council members who agree. The new structure would put power in the hands of voters to directly elect their executive. The mayor’s appointments of the city administrator and the directors of law, finance and planning would be subject to council approval. The mayor will approve or disapprove council ordinances; if there is a disapproval, a vote of at least five council members will override the mayor. The mayor and members of council are subject to voter recall.
Residents in CH and across our region support having an elected mayor: At an April 2018 town hall meeting and in an online survey conducted by the Charter Review Commission (CRC), more than two-thirds of participants said they preferred an elected mayor. As 55 volunteers gathered signatures across the city, signers repeatedly told us the city needs the leadership and accountability that would come with an elected mayor. They want what 55 of the 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County have: an elected mayor as chief executive. The ability to elect one’s mayor is part of the political culture of Northeast Ohio.
The new structure would replace two current positions at no extra cost: City council’s 2019 salary ordinance has ranges of $105,314 to $168,585 for the city manager, and $94,030 to $150,522 for the assistant city manager, enough to pay for the mayor and city administrator that would replace those current positions. As an elected official working in city hall full-time, the mayor will be well positioned to attract revenue. Developers told the CRC the current structure made it challenging to do business here. Our city has missed opportunities for development and suffered declining population and housing values while cities around us with comparable demographics seem to be faring better. Just look at Shaker Heights or Lakewood to see what an elected leader with bold vision can help a city accomplish.
The mayoral election process is explicitly nonpartisan: The amendment proposed by our nonpartisan committee specifies that candidates for mayor will run in nonpartisan elections.
Democracy means the people, not the government or a commission appointed by it, decide how they want to be governed.
Michael Bennett and Tony Cuda
Michael Bennett is secretary of Citizens for an Elected Mayor. Tony Cuda is the group's campaign manager.