'Soul-crushing mediocrity' makes case for change

After reading opinions in the Heights Observer in defense of a city-manager system, I am confused. We need to maintain the status quo because the residents of Cleveland Heights are easily persuaded sheep apt to fall under a Tammany Hall style of corruption, which will lead us on a path of ruin? But these same voters are smart enough to elect a council that is a paragon of pure virtue?

I’ve been very much on the fence in regard to altering our form of government, not because I think it is hitting on all cylinders, addressing major challenges with a council and city manager who have a bold, comprehensive and viable vision for the future—they don’t. My reticence has been due to my concern regarding who might be waiting in the wings to run for mayor. I can see a scenario where two of three high-profile names end up in a run-off to be our elected mayor, and I don’t want ANY of those individuals having their hands on the levers of power.

As much as I fear unintended consequences, the city’s handling of Top of the Hill (TOH), and its actions and responses to 4,000 citizens seeking to have a vote on their form of government, makes me far more inclined to support moving to an elected mayor. It would seem that EVERY action taken by council for the status quo only makes the case for change.

I just assumed that members of council not responding to my inquiries or answering my questions was due to animosity toward me, but it would appear that contempt for members of the public and the inability to respond to correspondence applies to ANYONE who does not support them and their actions without question. The only positive to their behavior, while it is reminiscent of the occupant of the Oval Office, is that they do have a better vocabulary—no one has called TOH “beautiful.”

The city manager form of government worked well for the first 50 years of Cleveland Heights, as it went from a “borderland” of farms and country estates to a built-out (former) streetcar suburb. For the next 25 years, this system coasted with a risk-adverse, status quo mentality of small, incremental change, whose only concern was to avoid the disinvestment and decline that befell East Cleveland.

For the last 25 years this system has not worked. A council operating from a sense of noblesse oblige has been unable to help business districts weather the rise of big-box retail, and now the rise of e-commerce; has displayed veneer support for the public schools; has shown consistent ineptitude at infill development projects; and, 10 years after the Great Recession, is only beginning to take the smallest of steps in regard to systemic housing renovation efforts—25 years after it should have.

What boils my blood and draws my ire is, when I look at Cleveland Heights and examine our assets of location, amenities, walkability and housing stock, I fail to see why our leadership, year after year after year, fails to use the resources we have and make us a destination. We have assets that the “hot” areas wish they had; yet we seem mired in quicksand, fearful that ANY movement will sink us.

When I hear from council members, IF I hear from them, I do not hear passion. I do not see vision. I do not feel humility. I am merely told “trust us.”

I don’t know if an elected mayor can bring the change we need, but I do know that doubling down on the soul-crushing mediocrity we currently have will not get us to where we can and should be.

Eric Silverman

Cleveland Heights resident Eric J. Silverman was a member of the CH-UH Board of Education, 1994–2002 and 2014–18, and a member of Heights Libraries Board of Directors, 2003–09.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:33 PM, 09.02.2019