Change or status quo?
Thanks to a loose coalition of nearly 4,000 Cleveland Heights voters who signed petitions this spring, all CH voters will be entitled to vote on whether to add an executive mayor to city government. An effort of this scale done in just a few weeks is itself an encouraging show of the vitality that characterizes the community.
Cleveland Heights provides residency for people of many different walks of life and heritages. It has highly regarded public facilities—think of the library system, exceptional public safety and emergency services, great parks and multiple recreation venues, and the arts. Its demographic profile reveals a rich mix of races, religions, cultures and levels of wealth.
These valued features are all results of change, and the community’s sustainability depends on adapting to more change. That goes for the city’s form of government as well. Voting residents decide to keep or change their form of government, and Cleveland Heights residents are in that process now.
Neither the council-manager nor the popularly elected-mayor form is inherently superior—each may have advantages for certain situations and conditions. Neither is immune [to] corruption or mismanagement. They fail or succeed by their capacity to serve their voting constituency.
CH’s form of government was adopted nearly a century ago. Since that time, none of the many newer suburbs has [adopted] a council-manager government. In Cuyahoga County, ceremonial mayors and city managers are entirely unique. I see this as a handicap for Cleveland Heights because its circumstances require more attention, collaboration and occasionally contention with other municipalities, government agencies and institutions.
Would effective executive authority have allowed Severance to decline without a serious fight?
Economic forces are being dealt with in this region by executive mayors rather than part-time ceremonial ones, or managers employed by part-time council members. As the largest first suburb on the east side of the county, CH needs the stronger voice of an elected executive mayor to avoid being marginalized or left out of what happens outside city hall.
A serious challenge for the city is the preservation, revitalization and development of its residential assets, in all price ranges. The economic crisis in the last decade is a call to action that requires new strategies, policies and procedures that fit current and future circumstances of this housing market. The dwindling owner-occupancy of housing and loss of property tax base value is a systemic threat. No single department—housing, building, planning, economic development or law—can fix it. The problem requires the mobilization and coordination of all departments.
The community also needs to engage positively to ensure sustainability for all neighborhoods, not only for a fortunate few. While good PR is helpful, it’s not sufficient to deal with deep challenges below the surface.
I sense a persistent waning of confidence in the current city government by many longtime Cleveland Heights advocates. This is distressing when it detracts from the critical support for constructive changes to sustain the community’s vitality. We need an educated awakening to 21st-century realities that put Cleveland Heights’ sustainability in doubt. It does not seem that those favoring the council-manager approach are making a persuasive case for success with the status quo.
This is why I urge fellow voters to add a citywide elected mayor to upgrade the community’s capacity to advance toward a more just sustainability for all. More importantly, I urge voters to become alert to the social, economic and cultural dynamics already changing our civic environment. Knowledge, not nostalgia, is the most essential change of all.
Kermit J. Lind is clinical professor of law emeritus at Cleveland State University. Lind now writes, consults and lectures on community development law and public policy.