With elected mayor, partisan politics would be the norm
Proponents of a new form of Cleveland Heights government offer several arguments. None justifies drastic change they advocate.
Argument One: A full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator. We already have talented city managers who are full-time professionals. Proponents of change insist that an elected mayor who also is a “chief executive” can focus on “the community, neighborhoods, residents, businesses, and our position in the region.” But such focus already exists. It comes from our city council with its proven record of working in cooperation with city managers and in-house professional staff to create and implement new strategic plans. The Top Of The Hill project is one good example and the project to redevelop the Noble Road commercial corridor is another.
Argument Two: A new structure would create more accountability to voters. The proposed new structure would mean less accountability. Average tenure of a city manager has been about 11 years. The result has been stable and efficient local government even as membership on city council has changed. Several past managers have been fired, which demonstrates their accountability to those we elect to represent us. And, of course, city council members themselves are accountable to voters on a regular basis for the performance of city managers they retain. An elected mayor could be [voted out] every four years, but a city manager could be fired at any time. It therefore is obvious which form of executive leadership is more accountable.
Argument Three: Residents in CH and across our region support having an elected mayor. Some residents signed a petition for a vote on proposed charter changes, but they did not promise how they would vote. Their mere signatures do not prove their eventual support for such changes. Highly respected members of the Charter Review Commission carefully considered arguments both for and against change. Then, they voted 10-2-1 (1 abstention) against recommending a [directly elected] strong mayor, and 11-2 to recommend retaining our present council-manager structure. Petition signers only heard one side of a story from partisan petition circulators. Commission actions show how they may feel about change after learning there is another side to the story. The claim that there is public support for an elected mayor is at best premature.
Argument Four: The new structure would replace two current positions at no extra cost. Proponents claim that a mayor and a city administrator will cost no more than a city manager and a vice city manager cost right now. Maybe. Maybe not. What if a city administrator wants to have a vice city administrator? Proponents expect more work will be done with the same number of workers. That is neither logical nor likely, in my opinion. From my own experience in government, I would expect extra cost.
Argument Five: The mayoral election process is explicitly nonpartisan. Electing a mayor is per se political and the political world is competitive. An election for mayor therefore will result in a more partisan process. To imagine otherwise is wishful thinking.
Our present system already has features of good government that advocates of change want. It has professional administration. It has accountability. It is non-partisan. CEM’s prime objective is to elect one person as a strong mayor. [Its members] wish to exchange our purposely non-political system for a purposely political one. After that change, we would not have better government in Cleveland Heights. Partisan politics will be the norm.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council 1980–1987, and was CH mayor 1982–1987.