CH development projects should await November vote
Cleveland Heights is a community defined by its citizens' engagement and leadership. This is especially true in times of transition and even crisis. The citizens of Cleveland Heights look to the future and will, when needed, challenge conventional wisdom by speaking truth to power through words and action.
- In the 1960s, members from Cleveland Heights’ churches and temples organized and led efforts to stop “block busting” real estate sales in Cleveland Heights. The subsequent work of the Heights Community Congress beginning in 1972 became a model for community stabilization and restoration.
- Also in the 1960s, “the ladies in tennis shoes” from Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Cleveland led the effort to stop the planned Clark, Lee and Heights freeways, which would have run through the heart of the North Park Shaker Lakes area, and the Cedar Lee, Coventry and Mayfield Lee neighborhoods. Cleveland Heights, as we know it, would not exist if these freeways had been built.
- Recently, the community came together to pass a $150 million bond issue to rebuild its public school buildings. The outstanding restoration of Heights High is evidence of the success of this citizen-led effort.
- Currently, the Citizens for an Elected Mayor committee collected 3,181 valid signatures to put a charter referendum on the ballot. This initiative is another example of citizen engagement and future-looking leadership.
This is an historic and defining opportunity for the citizens of Cleveland Heights to decide the city’s form of government—city manager and council or elected mayor and council. The outcome will determine the structure of the city’s executive and governing administration, and accountability. The voters will either accept the status quo ante or vote to change the government structure to an elected mayor who is directly accountable to voters. The future of Cleveland Heights will be determined by this vote.
Given the importance of the outcome of the charter initiative, the city must stop and hold in abeyance all development activities for the Top of the Hill, Meadowbrook and Lee, and Severance projects. This vote determines the future governing structure of the city, and ultimately the future of the city. Each of these projects is important to the future and fabric of the city. Their design, structure and financing must only be decided after the voters have decided by ballot the governing and accountability structure of the city government, and not before by a city council that may not be part of the future of Cleveland Heights.
This is the opportunity for city council to make its case to the voters—that the current city manager structure is right for the future. Conversely, the elected mayor advocates must make the case and demonstrate to voters why a change to an elected mayor will bring a more effective, responsive and accountable governing structure to the city.
Using these development projects as bargaining chips or examples of “effective” government does not address the fundamental issue on the November ballot: the future of the city led by an elected, effective, responsive and accountable city government, for all residents. The city must cease work on these projects immediately, allowing voters to consider the initiatives unhampered and undistracted by the noise around these projects. Voters’ interests come before [those of] developers. A good government is one that trusts voters to make the right decision.
Michael Knoblauch, a 40-plus-year resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former board member of FutureHeights and sponsor of Citizens for Great Design.